Indigenous, youth and poverty top US bishops’ spring agenda

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Bishops attend Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Nov. 14, 2022, on the first day of the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

(OSV News) — Liturgical texts, Indigenous Catholics, youth and young adults — along with funding for a decades-long anti-poverty effort — are under discussion when the nation’s Catholic bishops convene in June for their annual spring meeting.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced May 13 that its 2024 Spring Plenary Assembly takes place June 12-14 in Louisville, Kentucky. Public sessions of the gathering, the agenda for which has not yet been finalized, will be livestreamed June 13 and 14 via the USCCB website.

Cardinal Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the U.S., and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, president of the USCCB, will address the bishops at the assembly.

2024 Spring Plenary Assembly

The bishops — who meet in fall and spring general assemblies each year to conduct business and to discuss various canonical and civil issues — are also set to receive updates on the Synod on Synodality, the National Eucharistic Revival and its attendant July 17-21 National Eucharistic Congress, the USCCB’s recently launched mental health campaign, migration and the possible opening of a canonization cause for Adele Brise, a 19th-century Belgian immigrant and woman religious whose visions of Mary near Champion, Wisconsin, were deemed worthy of belief in 2010 by Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Before their public sessions, the bishops — whose schedule includes communal prayer and dialogue — will evaluate the status and future of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Established in 1969 as the official anti-poverty agency of the U.S. bishops, and funded by an annual nationwide collection, CCHD has to date awarded over $440 million to almost 12,000 community organizations working to end the root causes of poverty in the U.S.

However, declining donations to the campaign and a shift in available post-pandemic resources — plus long-running criticisms, both doctrinal and political, made by some with respect to the projects funded by the CCHD — have brought the initiative to an inflection point, although the USCCB did not indicate in its spring meeting announcement if any formal votes on the campaign are on the horizon.

Pastoral frameworks and liturgical texts

Among the action items up for vote at the plenary are pastoral frameworks for ministry to Indigenous 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” 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 divine office.

Father Dustin Dought, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Divine Worship, told OSV News that some of those texts relate to feasts within the liturgical year that Pope Francis had inscribed into the General Roman Calendar in 2021 — the July 29 obligatory memorial of Sts. Martha, Mary and Lazarus (formerly dedicated solely to St. Martha); and the optional memorials for three Doctors of the Church: Armenian abbott St. Gregory of Narek (Feb. 27), St. Hildegard of Bingen (Sept. 17) and St. John of Avila (May 10).

The bishops also will assess “other non-Scriptural” texts within the Liturgy of the Hours, among them “supplementary texts (such as) antiphons, long responsories, short responsories, versicles, introductions before the feasts of saints, and introductions to the Lord’s Prayer,” said Father Dought. He added that another Liturgy of the Hours item entails the translation of its general instruction, and “new translations of the psalm headings, the rubrics, the decree and the (Liturgy of the Hours) apostolic constitution” (“Laudis Canticum,” promulgated by St. Paul VI).

Native Americans and Indigenous ministry

The proposed pastoral plan for Native Americans and Indigenous ministry — which the bishops will take up at the spring meeting after tabling it last fall pending further discussion — has been “a long time coming in terms of a process that has involved consultation with various groups,” Chieko Noguchi, USCCB executive director of public affairs, told OSV News.

Currently, the U.S. government recognizes 574 American Indian nations and tribes and Alaska Native entities — although this is not an exhaustive account of Indigenous peoples as some do not have federal recognition. Noguchi noted that any pastoral framework for Indigenous and Native ministry must be “wide enough that it encompasses” the “many different cultures that are affiliated with Native and Indigenous communities.”

“There are vast cultural differences among the various tribes,” she said. “For the statement to be useful to those who work in that ministry area, (the bishops) wanted to address that (point), which is why (the plan) was withdrawn from a vote (during the fall assembly).”

Noguchi also said the document — prepared by the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, and titled “Keeping Christ’s Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry” — is “expected to acknowledge the church’s historical failings (regarding Indigenous peoples) and to suggest concrete ways to better listen and respond to the needs of Native and Indigenous people today.”

Issue of boarding schools

She told OSV News that “among the things that will be addressed is the issue of boarding schools,” through which both the U.S. and Canadian governments sought to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples by separating children at an early age from their parents, families and communities — including those who had been Christian for some time — and depriving them of their languages, cultures and identities.

Historically, Catholic Church leaders were co-opted by government officials into participating in these violations of natural law engineered by the government, with clergy and religious abandoning the Church’s previous model of missionaries integrating into Indigenous communities, sharing the faith through their cultures, and providing education locally. The residential school system ended up severely damaging the familial and social fabric of Indigenous nations, and saw thousands of students physically, mentally and sexually abused.

In July 2022, Pope Francis embarked on a penitential pilgrimage to Canada, during which he apologized for the Church’s role in that nation’s residential school system in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Yet the wounds of the residential school legacy still ache, admitted Jenny Black Bear, a member of the Lakota and director of religious education for St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

“We see a lot of generational trauma from that,” Black Bear, who serves as a consultant to the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, told OSV News. “It’s like it’s rolling down into the next generation, and the next generation. So our challenge here in teaching our faith and trying to evangelize our people … is to overcome that, and to work with people and let them know that it’s OK to be a Lakota Catholic. I’ve had so many people over the years tell me they were told they had to choose to be a Lakota person or choose to be Catholic. … It’s OK to be both.”

Black Bear also said that “leadership and faith formation,” along with an increase in priests and religious to serve Indigenous communities, are also top needs.

At the same time, Black Bear told OSV News that she is “hopeful that our people will continue to grow in our faith and come back to our faith if they’ve been away, and come back and realize … the love of God, the love of Jesus.”

Youth and young adults ministry

The proposed pastoral plan for youth and young adults reflects “three of the biggest issues” for those generations, said Paul Jarzembowski, associate director for laity at the USCCB’s Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

The document, “Listen, Teach, Send: A National Pastoral Framework for Ministries with Youth and Young Adults,” underscores that “young people want to know that they’ve been heard (and) they want to be listened to,” he told OSV News. “They want to know they are a valuable part of the church and a part of our lives.”

In addition, the bishops “felt we need to share the faith in a way that’s compelling, that’s dynamic,” he said. “Let’s figure out how we … really touch their minds and their hearts (with) the fullness of all that the church offers.”

Lastly, “we constantly want to make sure that young people know they have a vocation, that they have a place in God’s plan,” Jarzembowski said. “The notion of that third word (in the document title), ‘send,’ really touched on addressing the vocational challenge: ‘How will you change the world?'”

With the U.S. surgeon general issuing a 2021 advisory on a mental health crisis among the nation’s youth, Jarzembowski told OSV News that “mental health will certainly be addressed in the framework,” especially since the U.S. bishops launched a National Catholic Mental Health Campaign in October 2023.

While a given pastoral framework provides guidance for ministry, Noguchi highlighted the importance of recognizing there is no “one size fits all” approach — and that the documents, once approved by the bishops, will only come to life as they are put into action.

“Those who are working in those specific issue areas will know their audiences best and the nuances (at hand),” she said. “It’s going to be in the implementation of this that you’re going to see a lot of fruits emerge.”

Gina Christian

Gina Christian is a National Reporter for OSV News.