BISHOPS PLENARY – FIRST DAY
After an opening Mass in the hotel, the bishops began their annual Fall plenary assembly by spending the morning in what are called “regional meetings.” Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina are all in “Region XIV” so the bishops of the twelve dioceses of those four states comprise the regional grouping. I know that one of the topics which the bishops were asked to discuss is the number of seminaries spread across the United States at this time. This discussion comes at a moment when it appears that vocations are on the rise and seminary enrollment is increasing. As I mentioned earlier here, St. John Vianney College Seminary opened in September with about 80 seminarians (the highest ever) and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach opened with about sixty seminarians but a total enrollment of eighty is not more than a year or two away. Seminaries are expensive operations but there are strong regional arguments to be made for them (training future priests for ministry in Spanish to Hispanics, for example.) No one wants to close their seminaries in this country so I wonder tonight what suggestions may have come from the regional meeting discussions this morning.
The Plenary opened with an hour and twenty minutes of formalities including an address by Cardinal Francis George, our President, and the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi. These two talks have always been a part of the opening “ritual” for the meetings. Cardinal George began by speaking about the importance of priests to the ministry of bishops and painted a fine picture of what the Church might be like if there were no priests. He did this largely in the context of this being “the year for priests” as declared by Pope Benedict XVI. It was a fine reflection for we bishops about how important and vital our priests are not just to the Church which is obvious to all of our people, but to our own ministry as bishops.
The Papal Nuncio’s talk spoke about the qualities needed of the bishops in light of love for the Church. He opened with a long quotation from Pope Paul VI prior to his death about the gift of love from Christ to the late Pope in the Church. He then outlined three necessary qualities for bishops: fidelity (allowing here for some application of creativity in addition to preserving the treasury of the faith), prudence, and hope. He paid special tribute to a national meeting of Diocesan Vocation Directors recently held in Newark, finding the Directors to be impressive, resourceful and full of hope. Our own Father Len Plazewski is the President of the National Vocation Directors and God knows he reflects all those adjectives. The Nuncio ended his remarks by sharing a letter which he received from a priest asking for the appointment of “more positive” bishops. “Check, Archbishop. And thanks for your remarks.”
The rest of the afternoon was given over to the introduction of the “action items” which the bishops will begin to debate and vote tomorrow morning. The assembly had only ninety minutes, max, to submit formal amendments to the Action Items.
Finally, my successor as Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, gave the assembled bishops a wonderful picture of CRS today, along with a stirring four minute video. The archbishop noted that only 22% of Church-going Catholics could identify CRS as the Church in the US’s overseas disaster relief and development agency.
Cardinal George asked the bishops assembled to support a statement which he wished to make on health care reform. We’ll download that statement for you here as soon as it is available.
Tags: Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Bishops, Bishops' Meeting, Catholic Relief Services, Fr. Len Plazewski, Francis Cardinal George OMI, Healthcare, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Paul VI, Priests, Seminarians, Seminary, St. John Vianney College Seminary, USCCB, Vocations