By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published October 2, 2014 | En Español
Every other year, including this year, the priests of the Archdiocese of Atlanta meet with me during an extended assembly called convocation. The theme of our convocation varies but always touches upon a common pastoral concern for priests. But more important than any specific theme of our convocations is the time that we spend together in prayer, in fraternity, and in thanksgiving for the Lord’s priesthood that we share.
Convocations are a somewhat recent innovative opportunity for bishops and priests to be together in fraternity. In past times, there were Confirmations, Forty Hours devotion or penance service dinners that brought priests together. While those occasions still take place, they include only a limited number of clergy and often many other pastoral ministers, so the occasion is an apportioned time with the bishop and others who generously serve the spiritual needs of our folks.
Convocations are held singularly for priests and their bishop, with only a few staff personnel involved with our assembly to facilitate the encounter. The gatherings are several days in length, and so they provide many opportunities for meals, conversations, table exchanges and casual contact that are all intended for priests to come to know one another better and to interact with the bishop.
In an archdiocese like ours with more than 275 priests serving in many varied pastoral situations, it is not unreasonable to find that some priests might not know the youngest or the most senior priests in our midst. Religious order priests who are new arrivals in the archdiocese want to meet the diocesan clergy, and the retired priests need to reconnect with those who are carrying on the good works that they themselves may have started in years past.
Convocations have become commonplace in most dioceses—either annually or less frequently but always a significant moment in the life of the local Church. Unlike retreat times that also bring together a large number of our priests, convocations are designed to maximize our joint time in dialogue and exchange as their very purpose and intent.
It is vitally important for the priests of a diocese to find opportunities to be together—not just with their close friends or those of the same age, ideology, culture or language, but all of the priests of a diocese need to spend time together in prayer, dialogue and conviviality. Convocations are designed to foster a spirit of unity, harmony and bonding that strengthens a local Church.
I have heard from many of the priests who attended our most recent convocation that they really enjoyed our time together and found the days very fulfilling and worthwhile.
While our priests are away on convocation, a few of the ordinary pastoral services are suspended in our parishes. When our people first may have heard about convocations, they might have been somewhat irritated that the daily Mass was not available for several days or that an appointment had to be rescheduled or some other activity was adjusted.
Now, after the tradition has become more widespread and customary, the annoyance has lessened since people want their priests to grow in holiness, unity and friendship with their colleagues in the ministry. I apologize if some event had to be suspended or a pastoral need was not answered as quickly as usual. Convocations here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta occur only every other year, but they remain an important moment in the lives of our priests and in my life as the bishop of this local Church.
If a presbyterate learns how better to love and connect with all its members, chances are we will all be much more effective in responding to and serving our people with a common spirit of joy and hope. And that outcome more than vindicates any pastoral adjustments that need to be made to allow our convocations to flourish and succeed.