A flame illumined the darkness of uncertainty as two ancient words heralded the beginning of a new era. The declaration of “Habemus Papum” launched a celebration throughout the universal church upon the election of Peter’s successor. At the age when many see retirement on the horizon, he had been summoned to Italy, the land of his ancestors, where he would be called to embark on a new mission as Francis, Bishop of Rome.
From his earliest moments on the global stage until today, Pope Francis models humility and openness rooted in his life as a Jesuit. His command of language ignites the imagination of those who take his message to heart. Like Jesus’ narratives on the Good Samaritan, and the Merciful Father, Francis’ words draw an immediate and visceral response. Seeing the church as a field hospital caring for the wounded, he desires “a church that is poor and for the poor”.
Long before becoming Francis, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio experienced beauty in the simple lives of those who struggled to have their dignity recognized in Argentina. From experience, he knows “the smell of the sheep” as a grace received through encounter, the transformative process of accompanying those on the margins. He encourages his brothers to do likewise.
Speaking to the bishops of the United States during his Apostolic Visit of 2015, the Holy Father stated: Dialogue is our method…The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue.
Inspired by his advocacy, Gathering for Mission engages all levels of Church leadership in dialogue with the voice and vision of Pope Francis as it makes available to ecclesial leaders and seminaries practical experience in the dialogic process. Gathering for Mission is a five-year project of Catholic Committee of the South (CCS) in partnership with Glenmary's Commission on Peace, Justice and Care of Creation, and Maryknoll Media.
CCS, a 501(c)3 organization, is a network of Church leaders, field workers, and grassroots organizers across the south committed to solidarity with those on the margins. The mission of CCS is to listen to the cry of struggling peoples, identify the injustice, bring the voice of the Gospel to the reflection, and encourage the faith community to take action.
CCS acquires the smell of the sheep through its extensive experience in dialogue and encounter. The network was founded in 1939 as a regional effort for bishops to address issues of land, labor, and race. CCS’ Bishops Advisory Council, headed by Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, provides oversight of Gathering for Mission. Other members are: Bishop Michael Duca of Shreveport, Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson, Bishop John Noonan of Orlando, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler. Gathering for Mission moves CCS beyond its region to serve dioceses and seminaries throughout the United States and Canada.
Upon the invitation of the bishop, Gathering for Mission first offers a day-long experience of the dialogic process including deep listening and deep sharing for clergy. Experience shows that participants quickly recognize how their newly acquired skills can enhance missions and benefit dioceses. Subsequent Gathering for Mission visits are scheduled for diocesan staff, and other leaders according to the dynamics of the diocese and the bishop’s desire. The focal points of the facilitated gathering are video triptychs from a new series commissioned by CCS and produced by Maryknoll Media. As Gathering for Mission expands, the voice and vision of Pope Francis becomes a touchstone for bishops wearing the smell of the sheep. As they move to the margins with a deeper sense of missionary discipleship, they and their dioceses experience transformation.
The smell of the sheep was present at Together in Mission, United States Catholic Mission Association’s 2016 conference. Inspired and affirmed by the Pontificate of Francis, the gathering was a touchstone for those who experience missionary discipleship as a calling, a way of life. Like the lanterns in the conference room, they burn to dispel darkness along the peripheries, domestically and abroad. They are like safe houses along the Underground Railroad with a flame in the window providing hope to the marginalized.
For more information on Gathering for Mission, contact the project coordinator, Sister Mary Priniski, OP, at SisterMary@gatheringformission.org or 678-982-9441. The web site is being developed, but Gathering for Mission is active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.