By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy agency for the Catholic Church in Missouri, was founded in 1967 in response to the educational discrimination of parochial and private schools. Beginning as a statewide organization promoting the interests of Catholic school students, it rapidly expanded to include non-educational issues. Today the MCC is composed of the state’s four diocesan bishops as its Board of Directors and a public policy committee made up of 15 Catholics of diverse backgrounds from the four dioceses in the state.
In 1996, the first Missouri Catholic Conference Assembly was held at the Capital Building in Jefferson City, attended by about 700 people. On Oct 8, the 20th annual Assembly, was attended by some 400 people. In recognition of it occurring during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the theme of the 2016 Assembly was A Little Bit of Mercy Makes the World Less Cold & More Just.
A number of Kansas City area Catholics decided to make the trip a pilgrimage by bus, with activities organized by the diocesan Human Rights and Respect Life Offices. The pilgrims were entertained by writing Catholic billboard poetry and inspired by several prayers and a film, Ocean of Mercy, which provided an overview of the lives and works of St. Faustina Kowalski, St. Maximillian Kolbe and Pope St. John Paul II.
Opening and Closing ceremonies were held in the House Chamber. As it has for 20 years, the Assembly followed a pattern: A Keynote address followed by morning workshops focusing on current issues of interest or concern to Catholics in the state, lunch, then afternoon workshops, again on current issues. Following closing ceremonies, the assembly concluded with a Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral, around the corner from the Capitol Building.
The Keynote Address was given by recently the installed Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Edward M. Rice, and focused on Mercy. He reminded his listeners that in the Bull announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wrote, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” That sentence, the bishop said, “immediately tells us that mercy, when practiced, unites us to the Father through Jesus.” He added that God’s mercy can be learned by studying Jesus’ words, actions, “the entire person of Jesus,” since he reveals the Father to us.
Bishop Rice explained the challenges within the Year of Mercy: the first is growing in a relationship with Jesus. The more time spent in silent prayer, with the Sacred Scriptures, in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or … experiencing forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, “each of us will individually experience what I call the ‘theory’ of mercy. We make it real and tangible, and in so doing, realize that we are recipients of mercy.”
He quoted Pope Francis — “The ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us is through mercy.” Thus, Bishop Rice said, “mercy, whether initiated by God, in Christ, or by one of us, is a Divine Activity. With every corporal or spiritual work, we become part of God’s mercy. Through participation, we share in the work of Divine Mercy. We claim mercy and in turn become instruments of mercy for others.”
Visual images bring what is written or said to life. Bishop Rice again quoted the pope, calling attention to a visual image he uses. “’Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man — opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever, despite our sinfulness … and the bridge that is uniting us is Jesus Christ himself. Jesus on the cross, … who is one with us, who dwelt among us, who became our flesh at the Incarnation — that’s who we encounter.” Without that encounter, he warned his listeners, we may be “mere Cultural Catholics, veneer Catholics,” having little or no foundation in the living God.
Following the conclusion of Bishop Rice’s address, attendees dispersed to the morning and later to the afternoon workshops.
All the workshops pertained to mercy — Morning: Mercy Meets Compassion at the End of Life (True compassion calls us to embrace the dying —every stage of life is precious — not provide them the means to end their lives); Mercy Meets the “Unemployable” (former gang members and criminals, and others struggling to find the right path, often written off by potential employers as unreliable and unemployable); Mercy Meets the Affordable Care Act (signed into law in 2010; it was intended to increase the quality and affordability of health insurance, reduce health care costs and lower the rate of uninsured Americans; after six years what is it and what does it mean for us and for the future of healthcare); Mercy Meets the Catholic Legislator (How do Catholics elected to serve in the Missouri General Assembly bring their values into policy decisions in the capital’s political culture?); and Mercy Meets the Poor and Marginalized (College students bringing the Good News to the poor and oppressed). Afternoon: Mercy Meets a Culture of Violence (How do we, as Catholics, respond to the violence permeating our culture and why we cannot ignore its moral and human costs); Mercy Meets the Refugee (the Catholic Church is taking a lead role in helping resettled refugees adjust to their new homeland and how we can work together to shower them with mercy); and Mercy Meets the 2016 Election and Beyond (the tough choices in the 2016 election and an analysis of the shaping of the social and political landscape by Catholic young adults with real visions of hope, joy, suffering and mercy).
During the closing ceremonies, one person from each diocese, was honored with the MCC Citizen Recognition Award for going above and beyond to promote scriptural values and services reflecting Catholic teaching in their ministries.
Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph: Father Michael Gillgannon. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 1958. While serving as assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Warrensburg, Father Gillgannon got his start in campus ministry at Central Missouri State College, now the University of Central Missouri, in 1962. Beginning in 1965, he served as Director of Diocesan Campus Ministry and as chaplain for UMKC in Kansas City. In 1966, he was named to the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference advisory committee for the post-Vatican II reorganization of Campus Ministry in the U.S. That committee founded the new Catholic Campus Ministry Association.
For the next eight years, he was involved with the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, founding and coordinating a campus ministry continuing education program, and serving as a member of the orientation team for new Campus Ministers at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Colorado. From 1971-73, Father Gillgannon served as Secretary -Treasurer of the National Catholic Campus Ministry Association.
He was loaned to the Archdiocese of La Paz, Bolivia in 1974, serving as a missionary priest in the Bolivian Missions, remaining in that service until his retirement in 2012.
During his 38 years in Bolivia, Father Gillgannon served in parish, pastoral, youth and campus ministries. In 1994, he founded the Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of La Paz, serving as its director until 2011. He also served as Chaplain to the State University of La Paz (70,000 students) and the La Paz Teachers College (3,500 students) and from 1998-2000 as National Chaplain for Bolivian Campus Ministry.
In 2008, he turned the State University Campus Ministry program to the Archdiocese of La Paz and focused on pastoral ministry projects in La Paz. Father Gillgannon retired in 2012 and returned to Kansas City. He now assists in parishes with Hispanic parishioners and ministries.
The other recipients included Stephana Landwehr, Jefferson City, Margaret Ann Mhoon, Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Gloria Lee, Archdiocese of St. Louis.
In his Closing Mass homily, Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City remarked, “When you come together at the Capital City, you bear powerful witness … proclaim year after year, ‘You cannot chain up God’s word!’”
The Gospel reading was the story of the Grateful Leper, the only one of the 10 Jesus healed of leprosy who returned to thank him and pay him homage. Bishop Gaydos said that if that happened today, the Grateful Leper might not have returned to thank Jesus, he might have gone on home and posted a Facebook update or tweeted about his cure.
The new media offers us many opportunities for evangelization, Bishop Gaydos said. But he cautioned the congregation to “be aware of the underbelly.” Negativity, ridicule and untruth can be posted on Facebook and Twitter so easily.
“We need to trust in God,” he said. “He breaks down the barriers and shows us his merciful love.”