JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CNS) — Pope Francis’ diplomatic representative to the United States hailed the Missouri Catholic Conference as a shining example of missionary discipleship and the joyful proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
“For 50 years, the Missouri Catholic Conference has boldly embraced its responsibility and mission,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre, stated in a keynote address at the conference’s 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 7.
Six Missouri bishops and about 400 Catholic laypeople, priests and religious from all over the state attended the anniversary event at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
The daylong event included a video presentation on the conference’s history; workshops on Catholic education, pro-life and social justice; a catered lunch; and Mass with the bishops.
Founded in 1967, the Missouri Catholic Conference, on behalf of the state’s four dioceses, advocates in a nonpartisan manner for laws and policies that reflect Christian values in the public square, such as family life, the dignity of human life, care for people who are vulnerable and marginalized, fairness in education, religious freedom and the common good.
Former Missouri House Speaker Kenneth Rothman once called the conference “the conscience of the Missouri Legislature.”
“For 50 years, the Missouri Catholic Conference has been building up the kingdom of God by living and acting in a collegial way; journeying together as a province, as particular churches and as the people of God,” Archbishop Pierre said in his address.
“Reading the history of the Missouri Catholic Conference, one cannot help but marvel at how the spirit of God has been at work in you in the defense of Catholic school students, marriage and family life, in protecting the unborn, disabled and vulnerable members of society, and in your genuine concern for the poor and migrants,” he said.
Noting the conference lobbies in the halls of the state Capitol for the common good of all citizens, he commended it for its advocacy work in such areas as education, marriage and family life, the end of capital punishment, protection of the unborn, rural life and farming issues.
He encouraged the bishops, the conference staff and the Catholics of the state to continue evangelizing, looking to Mary as their model of discipleship.
With the 50th anniversary event taking place on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Archbishop Pierre gave a brief reflection on the joyful mysteries of the rosary, relating them to the Catholic Church’s call to discipleship and vigorous evangelization.
Regarding the first joyful mystery, the Annunciation, Archbishop Pierre noted the significance of Mary’s silent acceptance to be the mother of God. “(She) teaches us that everything must be surrendered to God,” he said.
Missouri’s Catholics to “go out,” like Mary did, and welcome those in need, he said, as illustrated by the second joyful mystery, the Visitation.
The third joyful mystery is the birth of Our Lord, who as the Christ child did not appear initially to the wealthy and the powerful but rather to those on the peripheries — the shepherds, the archbishop continued.
“What are the peripheries in Missouri?” he asked. “Where does the Prince of Peace need to bring joy and light?”
He encouraged the Missouri Catholic Conference to continue standing up for those who suffer not only from material poverty but spiritual poverty as well.
Archbishop Pierre reflected on two aspects on the fourth joyful mystery, the presentation of the Jesus in the Temple.
The first, he said, is that Mary is told that her heart will be pierced by a sword.
“The devotion to the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin emerges from this verse,” the nuncio stated. “One of the great sorrows of the world and of this country is the attack on the innocent. Your conference has been prophetic in this regard; nevertheless, the mission of combating the throwaway culture and creating communities and conditions in which every life and all of creation is valued continues.”
The second is that Mary’s sorrow is juxtaposed with the joy of Simeon, who cries out to God: “My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people — a light to reveal you to the nations; and, the glory of Your people Israel!”
The archbishop explained that the church has been described as a lighthouse amid the fog, winds and storms of the world, providing security, direction and refuge.
“But what about those who struggle to make it to the lighthouse or who simply cannot make it there, because they are too hurt or wounded?” he asked.
“The image of a church that goes forth in procession with candles or torches is an important one,” he said. “Here, the members of the church are carrying light into the darkness to find those who are lost and to bring them light in the darkness.”
About the fifth joyful mystery, finding Jesus in the temple, Archbishop Pierre said: “Our journey together is about gathering God’s children together in the Father’s house. The church, in a permanent state of mission, is always evangelizing, trying to draw more people into the joy of being in the Father’s house.”
He called on the Catholic conference and those gathered for the anniversary event to “reflect more deeply upon how to inspire others to meet the Lord. How can our structures be more inclusive, particularly in welcoming the stranger?”
“If we are to propose God’s word to the world,” he added, “then we must do so positively — with the joyful yes of our whole life” as “the model missionary disciple” — Mary — “did with her life.”
Joining Archbishop Pierre at the altar for Mass were: Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso of St. Louis; Bishop John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City; Bishop James V. Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph; and Bishop Edward M. Rice and retired Bishop John J. Leibrecht of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
O’Neill writes for The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City.