Fraternal spirit manifested at Louisiana Priests’ Convention

What struck you the most about the three-day Louisiana Priests’ Convention that was held last week in New Orleans? 

What struck me the most was the spirit of fraternity, a spirit of mutual support among the priests. What came through to me was men humbly appreciating their call to priesthood. That spirit was in the air. Also, at the prayer services and at the Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, to hear 435 priests praying and singing together was very impressive. The talks by Cardinal Dolan (New York), Bishop Flores (Brownsville, Texas) and Bishop Kicanas (Tucson, Arizona) on the various dimensions of the priesthood gave us food for thought by viewing Christ the Good Shepherd through the lens of priest, prophet and king. The conference helped us all realize that in everything we do every day, we are to be a priest like Christ, a prophet like Christ and a shepherd like Christ.

This convention was attended by priests from the seven dioceses of Louisiana, which comprise the New Orleans Province. Does any other province in the U.S. hold a similar gathering?

The only other province in the United States that does something similar is Alaska, and if you put together the two dioceses in Alaska, there are not too many priests – fewer than 100. So we believe this is unique. We hold the Louisiana Priests’ Convention every four years, and this was our seventh gathering. We’ll do it again in 2021. I did not hear one criticism or one complaint over the three days of the convention. There was a real spirit of gratitude, fraternity and appreciation among the priests. The planning committee headed by Father Rodney Bourg and Father Ronnie Calkins – and a lot of other priests from every diocese in the state – did an outstanding job. They worked on this for two years.

Besides the main talks, what else was offered at the convention?

We had four breakout sessions, which were each offered three times during the day, meaning the priests had a chance to attend three of the four. They were all very well attended. Mary-Rose and Ryan Verret explained their “Witness to Love” marriage preparation program, which has shown incredible results over the last five years in lowering the incidence of divorce in the early years of marriage. The idea is for the engaged couple to be mentored by an older couple that they admire and is practicing the Catholic faith. One of the great fruits of that mentoring relationship is that the engaged couple has a place to turn if there are issues in their marriage that come up over the first few years. Dr. Emily Cash, a psychologist with the Saint Luke Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, explained the scope of pornography use and addiction in the U.S., and how that affects laity and clergy. The scourge of pornography is something we in the Archdiocese of New Orleans are addressing through a partnership with a national company called Covenant Eyes. Father Gary Thomas, who is a priest of the Diocese of San Jose, California, gave a fascinating presentation on the power of intelligent evil in the world and how the church, in a very careful and healing way, uses the rite of exorcism to ask for Christ’s help in driving out demons in persons who are possessed. There is a very detailed protocol before the rite of exorcism can be used. This is not the stuff of Hollywood or books. Satan does exist and sometimes finds an open door into a person’s life. The church is there – along with medical professionals who can probe the root cause of a person’s problem – to provide spiritual healing. That is a very important ministry. And, finally, Father Philip Bochanski, who serves in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, talked about how the church can minister in love to persons with same-sex orientation and to their families. These were all very practical presentations that will be helpful in a priest’s day-to-day ministry.

Overall, the three days were a marvelous opportunity for us to come together, renew our fellowship, pray together, learn together and lift each other up. My prayer is that these days provided refreshment and ministerial development that will help every priest reflect Christ the Good Shepherd to his congregation.

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