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U.S. prelates gather in Baltimore for first in-person meeting in two years

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BALTIMORE — More than 200 bishops and archbishops and six cardinals concelebrated the opening Mass for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fall assembly, as the prelates gathered in person for the first time since November 2019.

The pandemic moved their last three full meetings to videoconferencing.

Archbishop José H. Gomez, conference president and archbishop of Los Angeles, was the principal celebrant. The bishops, masked and adequately spaced, along with some lay people, filled the pews of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Mass Nov. 15.

Among the concelebrants were Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, Pope Francis’ representative, who addressed the bishops Nov. 16.

One of the most contentious items on the bishops’ agenda for the meeting was to be discussion and action on a new document, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.”

Preliminary discussion in June about such a document was extensive and showed some division among the bishops about the themes of the document and even whether the conference should issue one.

In his homily, Archbishop Lori welcomed the bishops to the basilica, noting that this year, America’s first cathedral marked the 200th anniversary of its dedication by Archbishop Ambrose Maréchal, the third archbishop of Baltimore.

“Not only does this church reflect of the genius of architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, it also remains after more than two centuries a parish vibrant in faith, worship and service, and for us and for our nation, it stands as the home of American synodality,” he said.

He noted that plaques on the walls of the church commemorate the seven Provincial Councils of Baltimore that were held there 1829-49, as well as the three Plenary Councils held in 1852, 1866 and 1884. Those synods led to the annual meetings of the U.S. bishops and eventually to the creation in 1917 of the episcopal conference that is now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“While those synods were not as inclusive as the synodal path pointed out by Pope Francis, they were nonetheless indicative of a desire on the part of the bishops to meet, to pray, to talk things out, and where possible, to reach consensus, and to do so for the good of a growing church in a restless and divided nation,” Archbishop Lori said.

“It seems appropriate, then, that we celebrate a tradition of synodality, in these days when the ‘Synod on Synodality’ is underway throughout the church,” he said.

The church in the U.S. and around the world is engaged in a listening phase in preparation for the World Synod on Synodality, called for by Pope Francis, around the theme, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” Diocesan phases of the synod are in progress through August 2022.

Gunty is associate publisher and editor of Catholic Review Media.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021