Editor’s Note: Jennifer Mauro is part of a 12-member delegation from the Diocese of Trenton attending the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of The Gospel in America” evangelization event being held July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla. Called by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the historic convocation is bringing together roughly 3,500 Catholic leaders to focus on how the Pope's 2013 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel), applies in the United States. The invitation-only convocation aims to equip attendees with strategies and best practices for preaching the Gospel in a way that reaches today's culture.

Following are Mauro’s reflections on the second day of the conference.

By Jennifer Mauro | Associate Editor

What a good time it is to be Catholic in the United States. That’s one of the prominent messages that I have heard over the past few days at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Fla. 

Sure, after hearing some of the statistics in discussing the current landscape of the Church in America – such as in the past 15 years, the number of people with no religious affiliation has grown from 3 percent to 25 percent, or the startling statistic that one-third of those who call themselves Catholic don’t attend Mass – I was asking, “Wait, why is a good time to be Catholic?”

The answer (one of many, I would argue): opportunity.

Speaking to convocation delegates July 2, Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, said the major cultural changes in the past half-century could lead to us – yes, that’s you and me – helping the "new Catholic moment in the U.S." by embracing diversity.

Diversity was a main topic of conversation July 3 as we delegates heard presentations and engaged in dialogue about our work and witness in the Church. Father Paul Check, rector of the St. John Fisher Seminary Residence in Stamford, Conn., made it clear that in a time of globalization, when people of all different races and nationalities continue to come to America, the Church is here.

“If we can listen to the different ethnic and diverse communities, we have the potential to do something fantastic that no other country does,” he said, acknowledging the opportunities of empowering men and women of all cultures and races in the Church. “Let’s rise to the occasion.”

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles continued the thought, speaking about the No. 1 calling of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): reaching out to those on the peripheries, those in society who are struggling materially and spiritually.

“We need to go deeper into our love for Jesus Christ,” he said. “Jesus calls us to follow him; that’s an action.”

“You are here because you know God has a part for you to play in his mission,” he added.

I certainly felt my part in God’s mission on this third day of the convocation as I got to speak with bishops from the South and West Coast and priests and laity from all around the country, explaining my ministry in journalism and my hope to empower others through powerful storytelling and education. And by hearing their experiences, their successes and setbacks, I had the chance to grow, too.

In terms of opportunity, one of the greatest parts of this four-day gathering has been getting to interact with our U.S. bishops – from their energizing homilies and meeting them in the hallways  to the small-group breakout discussions they led during the day. During these sessions – divided into a dozen different topics – the delegates have not only gotten to hear the U.S. bishops’ thoughts on issues facing the Church (immigration, same-sex attraction, broken families, Latinos in the Church, parish life, to name a few), but they have encouraged our response. They want to hear from us – everyone from their respective ministries.

This conversation has especially inspired Franciscan Father Gabriel Zeis, diocesan vicar for Catholic education and chaplain in Princeton University and convocation delegate from the Diocese of Trenton.

“I think the bishops all believe that we are hearing from them right now,” he said. “This is their opportunity to address people who are boots on the ground in their ministries. They are using this opportunity to speak to us personally. To say, ‘We have not been far from you. We are going to evangelize what we believe and hope you take this out to the world.’”

Being able to hear not only from our Pope through the “Joy of the Gospel” but personally through interactions with our U.S. bishops over these past few days – yes, it is a good time to be Catholic in America. The challenge put before me, however, is what action can I take to better answer Jesus’ call to follow him.