Spiritual reflection and episcopal fraternity are priorities on the agenda this week as the U.S. bishops gather in San Diego for their annual June assembly.
Unlike the bishops’ fall assembly, which is open to the media, the spring gathering is a private meeting.
In addition, it is the policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) every three years to set aside usual business matters in June and concentrate instead on recollection and fraternity. That’s the plan for this year’s assembly taking place June 13-17 at a San Diego hotel.
Bishop David B. Talley of Memphis, Tennessee, discussed the 2022 special assembly in two memos, dated March 7 and April 4 and sent to all U.S. bishops. CNA obtained copies of the memos.
A working committee of multiple bishops and their staff helped organize the event, known as a special assembly.
A central verse of the gathering is from Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P., of Sydney, Australia, will provide the bishops with special reflections each day.
Talley said that organizers asked Archbishop Fisher to reflect on the main theme “Episcopal Fraternity and Communio.” The theme uses the Latin word for “communion” or “community,” terms with multiple meanings in Catholicism.
“The image is that of the Lord Jesus Christ calling the apostles and forming them into a community around Himself,” Talley told the bishops.
“This communion with Himself suggests for us bishops unity in Christ as His apostles.” Though the special assembly is not a formal retreat, he said, the event is “a time for us to grow as bishops intellectually, pastorally, and spiritually.”
Besides Fisher’s reflections, a key aspect will be time for “fraternal interaction” and “opportunities for private prayer and reflection,” according to Talley.
The special assembly was set to begin Monday evening with Vespers, an opening address by Fisher, a reception, dinner, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
As of April 4, the special assembly schedule included group prayer, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, time for private prayer and reflection, and sacramental confession. Time was set aside for fraternal dialogue and reflection and social time, as well as receptions and dinners.
Fisher will give various spiritual talks Monday through Friday. His topics, Talley said, will include episcopal fraternity and communion in the teaching of Christ, in the experience of the apostolic generation, and in the traditions of the Church. He will discuss the Second Vatican Council’s use of the language of collegiality and developments after the council, including the topic of “synodality.” Fisher will reflect on the implications for bishops’ spirituality today, and for bishops’ friendships, preaching, and other actions.
Talley’s March 7 memo reported that the organizing committee had also suggested that Fisher address topics like unity and mutual support among bishops; bishops’ struggles with isolation, loneliness, and a national culture that is secularizing; the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic on a personal and institutional level; division and polarization in the country and in the Church; and themes of suffering and healing. Other suggested topics include unity with the Pope; unity with Jesus Christ; the centrality of the Cross and the transformation of suffering; and how to do fraternal correction with love.
The bishops also will celebrate Mass together throughout the week.
On Tuesday, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, was scheduled to celebrate Mass with the bishops at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas was scheduled to celebrate Mass on Wednesday, while Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, recently chosen by Pope Francis to become a cardinal, was scheduled to celebrate Mass on Thursday. Archbishop Fisher was scheduled to celebrate the closing Mass on Friday.
The special assembly was preceded by bishops’ committee meetings, held from June 11-13.
According to Talley’s memos, these meetings included sessions on: the National Review Board and the Committee for the Protection of Young People; the Church in Latin America; a board meeting for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network; the Church in Africa; Doctrine; the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; Divine Worship; National Collections; Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe; the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; Black and Indian Missions; Catholic Relief Services; the Pontifical North American College, and the advisory group for Eucharistic Revival.
Post-assembly optional events for bishops included a visit to the San Diego Zoo, a visit to the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier-turned-museum, a trolley tour of San Diego, and golf.