Serving the Ministry of Bishops and the Portion of God’s Flock Entrusted to Them in the United States
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gathers for its fall general assembly, this week also marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of this country’s national conference of bishops in service to the Church. What we know today as the USCCB has its roots in the National Catholic War Council, which was formed in 1917 to facilitate contributions of the Catholic faithful for the care of troops during World War I. This was succeeded soon thereafter by the National Catholic Welfare Council, which subsequently became a conference, to focus on such concerns as peace, education, immigration and social action through the lens of Catholic social teaching.
Later, the Second Vatican Council placed renewed emphasis on collegiality and affirmed the good and value of associations of bishops from a given area working together (Christus Dominus, 36-41). The bishops here responded with the creation in 1966 of the dual National Conference of Catholic Bishops to attend to Church affairs and the United States Catholic Conference, which also utilized religious and lay staff to address issues of concern in the larger society. In 2001, these structures were combined once again to become the USCCB that exists today.
Like the college of bishops as a whole, the U.S. national conference has taken its lead from the preaching and teaching of the Holy Father. In turn, it has invited all Catholics to active participation in the building up of the kingdom of God through the implementation of these shared priorities.
Over the last century, the bishops’ conference here has focused on such wide-ranging issues as catechesis, including publication of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, health care and guidelines for Catholic facilities, peace, labor and economic justice, faithful citizenship, migrants and refugees, multi-cultural diversity, and the sin of racism. In addition, the USCCB last year adopted a strategic plan that identifies five areas of priority today: evangelization, marriage and family life, human life and dignity, vocations and religious freedom.
These priorities, which pick up key themes of the pontificate of Pope Francis and are being carried out through the work of diocesan and parish ministries, point to the unity that binds this archdiocese and other local Churches with the Church Universal. In fact, the Holy Father has asked that conferences see their work as an action of the whole Church – that is pastors and flock, walking and working together to explore the needed pastoral responses to the challenges of today.