Who says AMTRAK can’t rise above its reputation once in a while. The “Silver Meteor” from Orlando with myself on board made a truly meteoric run from Orlando to Baltimore arriving in this city thirty minutes early this morning and allowing me to be present for the start of this year’s annual meeting about which I wrote yesterday. Whatever inhibitions or doubts I had about making the trip were somewhat and quickly erased by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York’s first presidential address to his brother bishops. It was what I have been waiting a long time in this Assembly to hear, a call to get back to inviting people back to Church. I strong suggest that you read the text in its entirely by clicking here. With his customary wit and command of history, Archbishop Dolan squarely confronted the reality that as a Church we have been losing membership and suggested that our task as bishops is to go “fishing” to win them back and bring others in. One might say, well what else is new but for a number of years we have focused on our disagreements and disputes and little time and attention has been given to what Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI term “the new evangelization.” Any effort to recover ground and membership must begin with an admission that the Church, the bride of Christ is not always beautiful and at times it and we bishops sin. He captured the ground work necessary for a successful evangelization effort very well, I felt. It buoyed my spirits and my brothers gave him once again a long affirmation through a standing ovation, often reserved for any President’s last address at the end of his term and less frequently for one’s first attempt. He concludes his first year in office with a classic Archbishop Dolan talk delivered in his own inimitable style. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening to it.
Also speaking to us for the first time was our new nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano who arrived to begin his ministry of service in this country only last Saturday. Recalling his personal loss of a good friend of forty years in our recently deceased nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Archbishop Vigano promised to work with the bishops of this nation in building a stronger Church. He was warm, measured as any diplomat always must be, and greeted with the respect that is due his office. He will now resume the process of seeking new bishops for service in the many dioceses of the United States. At one time the United States was the second largest hierarchy in the world, behind Brazil and Italy was also a large national Church. The role of the papal nuncio is an important one as he represents the Holy Father and the Holy See to the government of the United States as well as the Organization of American States which is also located in Washington, D.C. With just shy of 190 dioceses and eparchies (the Eastern Rite name for dioceses), many of which have auxiliary bishops,just keeping up with the inner-Church workings is a major task. We wish Archbishop Vigano well in his mission and will pray for him.
The morning ended with a long address by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport on the erosion of religious liberty in our beloved nation. He heads a new Ad Hoc Committee to help the Church in the US respond aggressively and effectively to this new reality.
Our agenda was indeed so light that the afternoon session came to an end approximately forty-five minutes before the scheduled conclusion. There just is not that much happening in our conference these days. We still managed to raise our assessment in support of the USCCB by three percent, however. One interesting matter which was dealt with in an introductory fashion this morning by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, chair of the Committee on National Collections, is a new document on how these collections should be treated by the dioceses. It may generate some lukewarm heat tomorrow when it is presented for final consideration. In Florida, it is true that the Diocese of St. Petersburg is the third largest diocese in the state (we used to be second) behind the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of Orlando yet, in all but one collection, it raises and remits significantly more in the national collections than either of its two larger (arch)dioceses. One has to wonder and I have been wondering for fifteen and a half years now.
There was a general reception for the new Apostolic Nuncio to the United States following the conclusion of the afternoon session and Archbishop Dolan has invited me to join the Nuncio and a few others for dinner this evening. For this one member, the highlights of the sessions today were Archbishop Dolan’s talk and getting to know the Holy Father’s new representative to our country. Tomorrow we should be done by noon with our public business and executive session will begin and perhaps end tomorrow afternoon. These meetings use to consume three and one half days.
Finally, today is the anniversary of the death of my mentor and friend, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. He was a true “prince” of a man and I and this conference still miss him. Those of you who were present for my ordination and installation as a bishop may recall that he preached the homily on that occasion although already in great discomfort from his cancer and broken ribs. Every year after the Chrism Mass, I replay the disc of his homily and remind myself that his counsel to me at the time was to always be myself in the service of others. He died fifteen years ago today, eight and one half months after being present in our Cathedral of St. Jude at the age of 68. Even in death he still suffers from occasional slings of outrageous revisionist history at the hands of some but the people of Chicago still love him in death.
All for now from the inner workings of the bishops’ conference on the banks of the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, the first diocese in the United States.