Bishops’ spring meeting focuses on anti-poverty arm, Eucharistic revival, mental health

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, during a news conference June 13, 2024, at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Spring Plenary Assembly in Louisville, Ky. At right is Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Service. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (OSV News) — The first day of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ public meetings during their spring assembly June 12-14 began with a closed door session on the future of its anti-poverty initiative and closed with a lively open discussion surrounding its ongoing campaign to address the mental health crisis.

The morning of June 13 was spent entirely in an executive session in which the Catholic Campaign for Human Development was discussed. CCHD, the domestic anti-poverty initiative of the U.S. bishops, has suffered in recent years from declining donations; questions about its spending decisions regarding available resources for grants; and long-running criticisms, both doctrinal and political, with respect to the projects funded.

In an afternoon press conference, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services USA, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed questions about the bishops’ closed-door discussions on CCHD.

He said the bishops gave feedback to the subcommittee overseeing CCHD, and the subcommittee will review all the comments and incorporate that advice. Beyond indicating that it would be put under the U.S. bishops’ national collections, the archbishop said there were no real decisions as yet.

“In all of these discussions, there’s been an ongoing commitment to the vital work of fighting poverty in this country,” he said.

The bishops’ public session in the afternoon addressed both the National Eucharistic Revival, which will mark its high point with the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis July 17-21, and the ongoing Synod on Synodality, which is holding its second and final session in Rome this October.

In his address, Christophe Cardinal Pierre, the papal ambassador to the U.S., spoke extensively to the importance of the bishops’ national effort to revive belief in the Eucharist. He noted Pope Francis’ calls for Catholics to recover the practice of Eucharistic adoration, which is connected with the Church’s mission of “washing the feet of wounded humanity; accompanying those who are frail, weak and cast aside; going out lovingly to encounter the poor.”

“We want people to turn to the Eucharistic Lord, to walk with him and to be led by him. … We want our people to come to a renewed and deeper appreciation of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist,” he said, adding this needs to take place “in the context of community.”

Cardinal Pierre also told the bishops that the Eucharistic revival wasn’t simply for others.

“We need Eucharistic revival, too. Let us be attentive in our own hearts to what the Lord is saying and doing among us,” he said, asking, “Are we experiencing in our own lives the Eucharistic transformation that we want our people to experience?”

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, and Archbishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Dubuque, Iowa, both gave a presentation on the U.S. synthesis for the upcoming global synod.

Bishop Flores, who served last year as a president delegate of the Synod assembly and a member of the synod’s preparatory commission, highlighted that the purpose of developing synodality in the Church is to “foster communion and create space for relationship,” and this was key to “moving forward together.”

The process of getting there, he added, “is not magic,” but it is “an invitation to the humility of the Gospel as we try to get out and listen and to think together with our people about how to be about what we should be about, which is the concerns of Christ the Lord.”

Archbishop Zinkula reflected on the existence of “tensions” within the Church, but noted that managing these tensions can contribute to the Church’s health and holiness. He echoed the benefits of the “conversations in the Spirit” introduced to the bishops from last year’s Synod on Synodality, saying they can “alleviate” and “transform” those tensions.

“If the work of the new evangelization is to be fruitful, we must be able to encounter these tensions while still striving toward unity within our diversity,” Archbishop Zinkula said.

The bishops’ public meeting also focused on the critical need for peace as global armed conflicts are at their greatest height now since World War II. In their afternoon session, the bishops approved a message to Pope Francis, joining him in praying for peace in the world — particularly for “peace in Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Myanmar and Sudan” — and in calling for diplomatic solutions that affirm human fraternity.

The bishops’ message also thanked Pope Francis for sending Luis Cardinal Tagle as his delegate to the National Eucharistic Congress, sharing their expectation it would be “a time of abundant grace.”

Archbishop Broglio gave a presidential address that began with a reflection upon the American sacrifices to liberate Europe from Nazi domination that were made 80 years ago at D-Day on the blood-soaked beaches of Normandy, France, and concluded with his thoughts on the National Eucharistic Congress.

Within that arc, he focused on how various Catholic agencies and individuals were bringing the Church’s witness to peace amid ongoing conflicts — many of which the rest of the world has otherwise forgotten. He stressed the importance of the Church’s witness domestically, and, with respect to migrants at the Southern border, said that while the bishops respect the law, they will nevertheless “respond to the divine law that speaks to us about care for the poor, the homeless and the unborn.”

He also thanked the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith for releasing the April declaration “Dignitas Infinita,” emphasizing it offers a “clear message” about many issues, including gender theory, which he said Pope Francis identified as “one of the greatest threats of our age.”

The bishops also heard presentations on action items up for vote June 14, including pastoral frameworks for ministry to Native Americans and to youth and young adults, along with decisions relating to texts for the Liturgy of the Hours, the Roman rite’s form of the Church’s divine office, which consists of canonical “hours” — set times of prayer observed throughout the day by clergy, religious and laity. Typically, clergy and religious — but not laity, although it is highly encouraged — are obliged to pray the hours.

Bishop Chad W. Zielinski of New Ulm, Minnesota, reintroduced the pastoral framework for Native American ministry — which had been pulled at last minute from the agenda at the bishops’ November meeting.

The bishop, who chairs the bishops’ Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, noted the document was a “framework” — not a pastoral plan — and now reflected feedback from Western and Southwestern U.S. bishops who had wanted more time for consultation.

“I firmly believe we have in front of us a very solid document we can all stand behind,” he said. The bishop received no questions from the floor.

Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, introduced amendable texts regarding the Liturgy of the Hours, which is undergoing a new revision in English, and texts for the Roman Missal, along with their lectionaries.

Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and chair of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, introduced the pastoral framework for youth and young adult ministry, which he hoped would be a “watershed moment” in how the Church accompanies youth and young adults and forms them for “missionary discipleship and Christlike leadership in society.”

In response to a question from the floor, Bishop Barron said the committee tried to listen to a wide variety of youth and young adults, not just those already engaged.

The most engaged part of the open portion of the day’s session involved the update on the bishops’ mental health campaign, which was followed by a 25-minute discussion of the issue of mental health at the bishops’ tables and some open floor discussion.

Kerry Alys Robinson, CEO of Catholic Charities USA, presented to the bishops on the importance of being a “trauma-aware Church,” and she invited them to work closely with Catholic Charities in comprehensively addressing the mental health crisis. She pointed to data showing that more than half of American families have experienced the mental health crisis either personally or with a family member.

Bishop John P. Dolan of Phoenix took to the floor and affirmed the importance of Catholic Charities’ work. But the bishop, who has lost family members to suicide, also made clear parish engagement with mental health is vitally important for saving lives from this scourge, saying deaths of despair drop 68% among women and 33% among men who are going to church weekly.

“We’re bringing people back into the framework of Church through accompaniment,” he said. “And I can only applaud you for that.”


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