ORLANDO, Fla. (OSV News) – Meeting in Orlando for their spring assembly, the U.S. bishops moved ahead on some efforts to advance the church’s mission in the U.S., including new pastoral initiatives aimed at activating Catholics as missionary disciples. The gathering’s June 15-16 plenary sessions proved relatively smooth, but featured moments of vigorous discussion at a few points, particularly around the formation of priests.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services gave his first address as U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president presiding over the bishops’ plenary assembly. He covered a variety of issues of concern to Catholics, such as the need for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform and for an end to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., and other prelates listen to a speaker June 16, 2023, during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring plenary assembly in Orlando, Fla. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

“We cannot fail to see the face of Christ in all of those who need our assistance, especially the poor and the vulnerable,” he said.

The papal nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, made his case to the U.S. bishops June 15 that synodality, oriented to Jesus Christ as their “true north,” unleashes missionary activity.

“The purpose of walking this synodal path is to make our evangelization more effective in the context of the precise challenges that we face today,” Archbishop Pierre said in his address at the U.S. bishops’ spring plenary assembly in Orlando.

The archbishop also singled out Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell of Los Angeles, who was shot to death earlier this year, as “a model of synodal service, combined with Eucharistic charity.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops gathered voiced their approval for the advancement of a cause to canonize five missionary priests from Brittany, France, known as the “Shreveport martyrs.”

“They demonstrated heroic charity during the third worst pandemic in U.S. history,” said Bishop Francis I. Malone of Shreveport, noting they were all young men who voluntarily sacrificed their own lives to journey with the dying and bring the Eucharist to the faithful.

In their message to Pope Francis, the bishops also strongly condemned an execution that the state of Florida carried out June 15 in the evening following their meeting.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, updated the bishops on the progress of the 2023-2024 global Synod on Synodality. Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, presented on the National Eucharistic Revival, and outlined how the “small group initiative” in the parish year could help deepen people’s relationship to Christ in the Eucharist.

“We all know how much our church needs to move from maintenance to mission … this is really the heart of what we’re attempting to do,” he said.

Most votes taking place had near unanimous approval, such as the agenda items related to retranslating the Liturgy of the Hours into English, including having the future edition include some prayer texts in Latin.

The bishops approved the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Latino Ministry with 167 in favor and 2 against and 2 abstentions. The 62-page plan seeks to respond to the needs of about 30 million Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the U.S. and strengthen Hispanic/Latino ministries at the national, local and parish level.

Ahead of the vote, Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, California, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs, told OSV News there was a great need to “get moving so that (the new pastoral plan) can be implemented in our dioceses and parishes.”

A day before the vote took place, Detroit Auxiliary Bishop J. Arturo Cepeda, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, called the plan a sign of the times that recognizes Hispanic/Latino Catholics — who account for more than 40% of U.S. Catholics — as “missionaries among us” that can reinvigorate the life of the church.

The most contentious discussion took place regarding the proposed second edition of the “Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests.” Some bishops took to the floor to object they had not had time to read the document, or that it was so lengthy priests would likely not read it and dismiss its contents.

Other bishops expressed concern that the discussion on “spiritual fatherhood” needed to be fleshed out, expressing concern that otherwise it could fuel the “narcissistic tendencies” and “hubris” of some priests.

Bishop Steven R. Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming, said he appreciated the document’s beautiful description of the Christian relationship to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “What I find lacking is that communal relationship to the Body of Christ … that puts us in solidarity with one another as brother and sister,” he said.

However, other bishops pushed back against delaying the document, noting the hard work that went into developing it, and that the document was meant to be a guide adapted to the realities of local churches.

Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt, ordained as a priest for the Servants of the Eucharist and Mary, who is an auxiliary for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, said the term “spiritual fatherhood” is “actually a term that is more familiar and clear for those who are younger in the priesthood.”

Ultimately, the bishops approved the formation document with 144 voting in favor, 24 against, and 8 abstentions.

The discussion and vote on priorities for the 2025-28 USCCB strategic plan were put on hold so that the bishops could reflect upon and, presumably, include some of the discussion from the synod conversations.

In a voice vote, the bishops approved beginning the process of consultation and revision of ethical directives for Catholic health care facilities to guide them in caring for people suffering from gender dysphoria and who identify as transgender.

Bishop Flores said potential changes would be “limited and very focused” in nature, and involve extensive consultation. He praised the calls from bishops on the floor for a “pastorally sensitive” approach to the complex topic.

The U.S. bishops also voiced approval for the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth to move ahead on drafting a new pastoral statement for persons with disabilities.

“We do believe a new statement is needed to address disability concerns in the 21st century,” Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, the committee’s chair, told the bishops June 16. The intended statement aims to emphasize the giftedness of persons with disabilities, eliminate outdated forms of referring to persons with disabilities, and would be inclusive of persons who have mental illnesses.

During the discussion, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston joined Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo, North Dakota, in noting the importance of Catholics being allied with the disability community against assisted suicide, and the cardinal asked for more attention to support parents of children with autism.

The bishops also heard an update on the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, and were encouraged to have their own stateside events for youth and young adults “to form them as missionary disciples.”

Finally, just before the bishops concluded their assembly, Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, Michigan, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, discussed The Catholic Project’s 2022 study of 10,000 Catholic religious and diocesan priests that found most priests distrust their bishops with only 24% saying they had confidence in bishops in general.

Bishop Boyea encouraged the bishops to help priests “feel kinship and fraternity with us” through better personal communication, such as recognizing important moments in their lives, and better lines of communicating information to them.

“This is not the completion, but a beginning, to heal our relationship,” he said of the report.

At the conclusion of their assembly, recognizing it was the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the bishops prayed together the Litany of the Sacred Heart, invoking Jesus’ heart repeatedly to “have mercy on us.”

(OSV News) — The U.S. bishops approved a new National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry to multiply pastoral responses addressing the realities of close to 30 million Hispanic Catholics in the U.S.

On June 16, with 167 supporting votes out of 171, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops resoundingly approved a comprehensive plan aimed at responding to the needs of Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the U.S. and strengthening Hispanic/Latino ministries across the country at the national, local and parish level. The last time the U.S. bishops put forth such a plan was in 1987.

With a recent Pew Research Center analysis showing that 43% of Hispanic/Latino adults self-identify as Catholic in 2022, down from 67% in 2010 — and that the number of Latino Catholics drops to 30% for those ages 18-29 — the urgency to provide pastoral care for Hispanic Catholics is a high priority.

File photo of worshippers reciting the Lord’s Prayer during a Mass celebrated in honor of the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Dec. 9 in San Diego. The church was first founded to serve the recently arrived Mexican population in San Diego and has since then become a cornerstone of the local Latino Catholic community. On June 16, 2023, the U.S. Bishops approved a national pastoral plan to address pastoral needs of Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the United States. (CNS photo/David Maung)

Ahead of the vote, Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, California, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs, told OSV News that there was a great need to “get moving so that (the new pastoral plan) can be implemented in our dioceses and parishes.”

The plan has been in the works since the four-year the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (V Encuentro) process that culminated with a national gathering in Grapevine, Texas, in 2018, though its advancement suffered a setback during the COVID-19 pandemic. It directly responds to the pastoral priorities and recommendations generated through the V Encuentro process.

The priorities listed in the plan include formation, accompaniment of families, immigration and advocacy, care for those on the peripheries, the promotion of vocations, and the need to engage with youth and young adults.

The pastoral plan calls on “pastoral leaders ‘to exercise their prophetic role without fear’ and to develop or promote specific pastoral responses to the issues that pervade their local communities, while also inviting the faithful to promote the common good on the national and global levels.” It also recognizes the unique ways Hispanic Catholics engage in their faith.

“For Hispanic/Latino ministry, evangelization also requires a deep appreciation for the gift of the living popular piety in our communities, a spirituality understood as mística, referring to ‘the motivations, profound values, traditions, prayer, music, art and methodologies that give life to a process of the people, create experiences of faith, and generate a spirituality that incentivizes faith and ministry,” said the document.

The document offers a renewed vision and mission for ministry among Latinos in the context of a culturally diverse Church and recommends the comprehensive response of the U.S. Catholic bishops through specific objectives and activities to be implemented over the next 10 years, Detroit Auxiliary Bishop J. Arturo Cepeda, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, said June 15, a day before the vote took place.

This “living document,” he said, is a sign of the times that recognizes Hispanic/Latino Catholics as “missionaries among us” that can reinvigorate the life of the church.

The pastoral plan encourages coordination between diocesan staff dedicated to serving the Hispanic/Latino community and other offices to prevent a “siloing effect,” noting that specific pastoral needs may vary from diocese to diocese. A key component of effective outreach at the diocesan level is to encourage vocations.

“The number of Hispanic priests and religious in the United States is not proportional to the number of Hispanic Catholics in the United States,” Bishop Cantú told OSV News. “There are social, economic and even legal reasons for that — and cultural ones. There’s a real need and desire to … create a culture of vocations among the Hispanic communities.”

Hispanics account for more than 40% of U.S. Catholics, yet media reports indicate that of the 37,300 U.S.-based priests, only 3,000 of them are Hispanic/Latino and of these, 2,000 are foreign-born. One of the plan’s added amendments mentioned at the spring assembly was to include the need to pray for vocations, particularly to the priesthood and religious life, in Eucharistic adoration and other forms of prayer.

In response to a comment during the presentation of the plan, in which a bishop mentioned the recent Pew analysis and the steady decline of Latino adults who self-identify as Catholics, Bishop Cantú acknowledged “the need for evangelization in the Hispanic community and simply pastoral care.”

“It has been five years since the national Encuentro in Grapevine. The community is waiting for this document,” Bishop Cantú said.

He added that many of the goals of this plan are already being implemented throughout the country and that the plan “will provide impetus and some guidance for our dioceses and our parishes for further development of activity.”

Recognizing the reality that many young Hispanics in the U.S. may be English-dominant, the pastoral plan also called for an active engagement with youth and young adults in both English and Spanish.

“Hispanic/Latino young people are a great treasure to the Church — as both recipients and protagonists of accompaniment and pastoral care — and they are uniquely situated as bridge builders among cultures, languages, generations and ecclesial experiences,” the plan said. “Our faith communities need to be a privileged place for welcoming, engaging, forming, and accompanying Hispanic/Latino young people through a variety of youth and young adult groups, ministries and initiatives (both in English and in Spanish) that empower them to be young missionary disciples in the context of their culturally diverse communities.”

Included in this outreach to young people should be an effort by Catholic schools to enroll and graduate Hispanic students. Bishop Cantú noted that in Latin America, many Catholic schools are seen as elitist, which could prevent Hispanic families from considering Catholic education.

Recalling his own parents who struggled with English when he was a child, the bishop argued for the importance of having people available to welcome Spanish-speaking families in schools.

“To have someone at the front office who can receive them and welcome them in their own language, that’s not unreasonable,” he said. “A lot of it is to dispel the impression that Catholic schools are elitist, that they are only for the upper-middle class or the rich. They are accessible, scholarships are available.”

Another pastoral priority is for the church to be a prophetic voice advocating for those affected by immigration.

“The work of missionary disciples is urgently needed amid the inhumane and immoral treatment of asylum seekers, families and unaccompanied minors, particularly at the U.S. southern border,” the plan said. “The Church’s long-standing support for immigration reform is not merely a humanitarian gesture or a struggle to achieve a justice-unfulfilled. Rather, our support signifies our efforts to accompany communities that too often remain at the margins and demonstrates our solidarity with them.”

The pastoral plan also received input from consultations related to the Synod on Young People of 2018 and the ongoing Synod on Synodality. The Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs worked on the document during three years of consultation with diocesan and national leaders and with 12 USCCB committees.

Bishop Cepeda said the document “exhorts all dioceses, parishes, and other Catholic organizations and institutions to generate their own pastoral responses in light of the pastoral priorities, recommendations, and guidelines articulated in the plan.”

“It seeks to engage and form a new generation of Hispanic Latino leaders, both lay and ordained, who are interculturally competent and ready to serve the entire church and society in the United States of America,” he said.

The document called for initiatives of the plan to be implemented at the local level ahead of the 500th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe coming in 2031 and 2,000 years after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, coming in 2033.

“In a unique way, Hispanics/Latinos find God in the arms of Mary, the Mother of God, where they experience her goodness, compassion, protection, inspiration and example, particularly under the advocation of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” the plan said. “We need this same missionary spirit to continue creating a culture of encounter and to animate our pastoral ministries over the next ten years, helping us journey together as joyful missionary disciples going forth in solidarity and mercy.”

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The U.S. Catholic bishops are inviting the faithful to pray for challenges to religious liberty both within the United States and abroad during the upcoming Religious Freedom Week.

The theme for this year’s annual June 22 – 29 event is “Embracing the Divine Gift of Freedom.”

People hold rosaries while participating in a roadside prayer rally marking Religious Freedom Week at St. James Church in Setauket, N.Y., June 24, 2020. The U.S. bishops’ theme for Religious Freedom Week 2023 is “Embracing the Divine Gift of Freedom.”(OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz)

“Religious freedom allows the Church, and all religious communities, to live out their faith in public and to serve the good of all,” the event’s website stated. “Beginning June 22, the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, the USCCB invites Catholics to pray, reflect, and act to promote religious freedom.”

Both saints are English martyrs who fought religious persecution, notably objecting to King Henry VIII’s claims to be the supreme head of the Church of England. Both saints were executed after being charged with treason in 1535.

During this year’s Religious Freedom Week, the faithful are asked to pray, reflect, and act on key areas where there are risks to religious liberty, and seek the intercession of the saints as examples of faithful citizenship.

Two of the days are devoted to prayer for ending religious persecution in Nicaragua and Nigeria. In the former, the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is accused of the persecution of Catholic leaders, including Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who was sentenced in February to 26 years in prison the day after he refused to be deported to the U.S. with more than 200 other Nicaraguan political prisoners. In Nigeria, Christians have faced violence amid political and civil unrest.

Other areas of concern identified by the bishops include praying for the respect of sacred spaces amid incidents of vandalism at Catholic churches and pro-life centers across the country.

Another area is praying for the safety of the seal of the confessional in civil law. Some states are weighing whether or not to make such an expectation, adding clergy to their mandatory reporting laws for child abuse or neglect without an exception for the practice of confession. Church law strictly forbids priests from divulging what is revealed to them by penitents during the sacrament of reconciliation.

The faithful are also asked to pray for the safety of migrants and refugees, and for those seeking to serve them, citing efforts to restrict the ability of Christian groups to care for them as a threat to religious liberty.

Other areas identified for prayer include that schools and universities, hospitals and medical practices, and business leaders build a culture of respect for people of faith and for conscience rights.

The USCCB provides “Pray-Reflect-Act” resources at usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek.