Posts Tagged ‘Biography’

ANNIVERSARY WALTZ

Friday, May 13th, 2011

May is the month when most of our priests celebrate the anniversaries of their priestly ordination. Now that I am on the “giving” side of ordinations as opposed to the “receiving” side (as pictured on the left), each year I ordain I  realize even more the grace of God in the moment and the joy and hope each ordination brings not just to the ordinand but to the whole Church. Sadly this year we have no ordinations but I can reasonably assure you that this is the last year for that phenomena. If God gives me the strength of days and good health, there is just the possibility that I will ordain just about as many to the priesthood in my final four years as in the sixteen years since my episcopal ordination. That thought alone is exciting and much of the future joy goes not just to the Holy Spirit but to Father Len Plazewski who worked the vineyard very hard searching for and cultivating vocations both to the priesthood and religious life. I think the Vocation Director(s) get about as amped at ordinations as the ordaining bishop. I know that Fathers Blum and Melchior await that moment with great expectation as do I.

Many priests allow their ordination anniversary to pass generally unnoticed. I realize that many married couples do the same, leaving the feelings, memories, joys and struggles to one another and moving on in their marriage without pausing to pay too much attention to the day they were married. Servant leaders usually take their cue from the Lord Himself who came to serve and not to be served and therefore any major acknowledgement or recognition of an anniversary day is the farthest thing from their mind. Sometimes priests will quietly acknowledge the day with a classmate in ordination, having dinner together and telling robust and raucous stories often centering on or about their bishops (just kidding). But I think every priest I know on the anniversary of their priestly ordination approaches the celebration of Mass on that day with a profound sense of thanksgiving and gratitude for the gift of priesthood. Some struggle, some rejoice, some are tired, some are renewed, some are worried, some are serene, some count the years until retirement and some fear the thought of retirement. But at the end of the Eucharist, perhaps in those few moments between communion and the closing prayer most priests thank God for the gift of serving as a priest. In my two rounds of overnights with the priests of this diocese over the last three years, many have in some way or another said, “if I had it to do all over again, I would do the same thing.”

Serving the people of God lies near the heart of our happiness, but making Christ present in the Eucharist and the other sacraments reserved to priestly ordination is the true epicenter of our joy and sense of satisfaction. For a priest, a day goes downhill from the moment he leaves Mass which is understandable in the light of our recent Eucharistic initiative where we clearly affirmed that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and life in Christ. That certainly does not mean the day is not without its highlights, it means simply that particular moment of a priest’s life is likely not to be recaptured that day.

You can pretty much go to the bank that at least most of the diocesan priests at your service will be celebrating anniversaries of ordination in the next ten days and a  few in June as well. Except for the major milestones of 25,40 and 50 years of ordination, the day will pass with little notice and no attention. That’s the way we want it – just between us and Christ. But prayers for your priests this month are most welcome. I know each day of this season who was ordained on that date and check the list every morning with the intention of offering Mass for them for a bishop without priests is worse than a day without sunshine. Happy anniversary my brothers in priesthood! God’s people love you and so do I.

+RNL

BLESSED POPE JOHN PAUL II – PART FIVE

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

When World Youth Day 1993 came to an end and knowing that my eleven year service to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops-United States Catholic Conference would most likely end on February 3, 1995, I was certain that my life as a U.S. “travel agent” for Pope John Paul II would come to an end and that in Denver I watched for the last time his plane leave these shores for Rome. Imagine my surprise when in 1994 we received notice that the Pope had accepted a second invitation from the United Nations for a visit later that year which would include Newark and Baltimore. Both Archbishop McCarrick (now a Cardinal) and Cardinal Keeler, archbishops of Newark and Baltimore respectively, had successfully lobbyed the Holy Father to visit their cities during what was to be simply a three day sojourn back in the United States. Once again my friends in Rome, Father Tucci, Monsignor Tscherrig and Dr. Gasbari got in touch with me and said, “guess what?” This trip was to be different, I was told, as it would not be a pastoral visit per se but a response to the U.N. which would include brief stops in the two cities.

The United Nations always likes to throw its weight around and in 1979 and again in 1994 did not want the Church to take control of the New York visit, or to put it bluntly, they did not want anyone else “raining on their parade.” In 1994 the papal representative to the United Nations shared their vision, so planning which the Holy See sought from the bishops’ conference became something of a challenge. I asked Archbishop McCarthy, of my home archdiocese of Miami, to lend me Father Michael Souckar to represent my office in the planning and the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the U.N. and the Office of Protocol of the United Nations basically told him to stay away from their moment. I might also add that even though the United States Secret Service was responsible for the Holy Father’s safety from landing to take-off, the U.N. did not “cotton” to their presence either. So the planning was somewhat challenging. To the disappointment of the United Nations, the arrival from Rome was to take place at Newark International Airport, not Kennedy, and the Pope would follow his usual custom when visiting a new arch/diocese of going directly to pray in the local Cathedral or Church in thanksgiving for his safe passage. This meant the magnificent and beautiful Cathedral in Newark. Then to top it all off, when the visit to the United Nations was finished, the Pope would celebrate Mass in what was then the new Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Unlike in 1979 when the Pope stayed at the Cardinal’s residence on Madison Avenue in New York, attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this time the case was made that he would stay at the very small residence of the Permanent Observer to the United Nations from the Holy See on the East side.

Baltimore was to be the final stop on the visit prior to departure from the United States and its inclusion was due to the respect which the Pope had for Cardinal Keeler and the fact that Baltimore was the first diocese to be erected in the United States. After a couple of months of planning and preparation, the Holy Father fell in the shower and broke his leg, the trip was to be postponed for a year and I was home free. He eventually did all that I have outlined above in 1995 but I had left the bishops’ conference and personally felt that I had “done my time” with huge papal events.

I would see the Holy Father next in 1997, just after concluding my first year as bishop of St. Petersburg. The occasion was the Ad Limina Visit which is required of every bishop in the world whereby we visit the Successor of St. Peter, report on our diocese, and pray at the tomb of the Apostles which means Mass at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls where it is believed the mortal remains of St. Paul are buried and at St. Peter’s Basilica. Being always a gracious host, Pope John Paul II scheduled four occasions in one week in which the bishops on their Ad Limina (meaning to the “threshold of St. Peter) visits would be with him: concelebrate the morning Mass in his private chapel, pranzo (the midday meal), a private twenty minute audience with him in his office, and a final session in which he would offer a discourse to all the visiting bishops from each region in the United States. On my first visit, he said to me “You were the General Secretary?” As quickly as I replied “yes,” he said, “and now you are in St. Petersburg?” “Yes, thanks to you Holy Father,” I replied. And then without hesitating he said to me, “How is Bishop Larkin? Give him my best and my blessing.” When the Holy Father was a graduate student priest in Rome he lived at the Belgian College and Bishop Larkin as a young priest was there as well. In fact, Bishop Larkin and the future pope would take long walks in the afternoon during which Bishop Larkin taught Karol Wojtyla English. Then we made the obligatory trip to a large Rand McNally World Atlas on the table and he asked me to point out to him where St. Petersburg and the diocese was in the United States. We then sat down and he asked questions about vocations, the number of priests and religious, marriages, general information that I am sure we were all asked. When he was finished he would ring a bell and the papal photographer would magically appear from behind a curtain, take our picture together and on that occasion they brought Monsignor Muldoon into the office for a picture with the Pope as well.

My final time with Blessed John Paul II was a year before he died, April of 2004, and he was so infirm that I personally felt very guilty taking his time that day, as did all my brother bishops from the region. I have a picture of him taken with the group from what was then Region 4 of the USCCB – Wilmington, Delaware to Miami, Florida and I shall post it here. It was horrible taking my leave of him that day because I knew it would be my last time with a man who shaped my life in the Church and with whom I intersected on so many occasions and in so many ways. I only had similar feelings to those that day as a youngster in high school when I  would say “good-bye” to my aging grandparents in Boston during our once yearly visits knowing that I might never see them alive again. To this man I owed so many memories, so many blessings, the gift of my episcopal office. I never ever saw him mad, angry, distressed. He was always so serene and so supportive. Twenty-five years had passed since that moment when in Boston he came down for coffee at Cardinal Medeiros’ residence at 4:30am in his cassock, largely unbuttoned. Vigorous, athletic, needing practically no sleep, pumped by crowds and sharply focused when saying Mass, it was hard to see him laboring for breath and to be understood. There was a part of me that wished to embrace him, hug him, say thanks, but I knew he needed what was left of my time to prepare to see the next bishop in line and one did not do that with popes. My time with this saintly man had come to an end.

My final time in the presence of this saint in the making with the other bishops of Region IV

I was at Paris Charles deGaulle airport when I learned that John Paul II had gone to His Father’s house. I was returning from a Catholic Relief Services visit to Banda Ache in Indonesia where in ninety minutes 212,000 people has lost their lives in the tsunami the previous December 26th. I found a quiet corner, took out my rosary and offered him to the Father, Son, Spirit and to Mary to whom he had offered everything (“Totus Tuus”). I grieved his death and celebrated his life with the people of the Church of St. Petersburg like Catholics all over the world. He was in many ways, my spiritual father.

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BLESSED POPE JOHN PAUL II – PART FOUR

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Blessed John Paul II with the author in Miami in 1987.

I remember so well my first up close and personal meeting with Pope John Paul II. I had met Pope Paul VI as a layperson and had my picture taken with him at a General Audience. His eyes pierced right through me and he looked right at me. While not as facile with English as Pope John Paul II was, we still had a brief moment of eye and speech contact. That night I did not want to wash my hands. The first several meetings with Pope John Paul II were similar occasions but prior to becoming General Secretary and in preparation for the trip of 1987, I had my first meal with him in his apartment and in his dining room. Archbishop Marcinkus had given me a private tour through the papal apartments one summer when it was being repainted and the Holy Father and his entire household were at Castel Gandolfo but the first time for lunch (pranzo in Italian) I can remember thinking only “wow, if the boys on the block could only see me now.”

Pope John Paul II truly opened his life to others. There were guests for his morning Mass, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cardinal O’Connor used to complain that he was always being invited to cena which is dinner and the Pope would usually only have soup, some small salad and a piece of fruit. The complaints made it to the papal kitchen apparently because for guests at night there soon were several courses set out but the Pope’s remained the same light meal.

The dining room was small, very plain but the table was expandable with limitations. Pranzo with the Holy Father would always consist of a small first course like prociutto and melon, a pasta course followed by a meat or chicken course, fruit and then dessert. The Pope ate fast and listened to all conversation but would only speak occasionally. My officers always had some business to do so “junior”  kept quiet most of the time. The meal would last about forty-five minutes and then we would accompany him to his private chapel where we would kneel in private prayer for about ten minutes and then he would take his leave for a rest. There would always be a small gift, usually papal rosaries, shared with us prior to our leaving the apartment.

His private quarters would have surprised almost any visitor. On the second floor where most guests were received the rooms are lit beautifully and there is damask and gold leaf cornices in the ceilings and beautiful but horribly uncomfortable chairs. If one was coming to see him in audience in the morning, you started in one room and were moved from room to room until you were finally in the waiting area nearest his office. His office was a large and spacious room almost totally devoid of furniture. He sat at a desk at one end and there was a chair for the visitor on the side of his good ear. His private bedroom struck me as so spartan that it was almost penitential. But the public rooms while they would never pass muster at the Ritz look richer than they are.  Popes live simply no matter what the world thinks.

I cannot remember an exhaustive discussion with the Holy Father on any of my trips and we went twice a year to meet with him and his officials of the Roman Curia. When we were there and the “iron curtain” was crumbling and Poland was beginning to smell the fresh air of freedom, he wondered out loud how his native homeland would fare since the people  had become so dependent on benefits from the state for which they would now have to work hard to replace. He disliked communism as both an economic and idealistic system but he also disliked unfettered capitalism, no matter what Republican and friendly writers say about his economic theory. I heard him personally too often on the subject. He was intrigued by religious pluralism in the U.S. which we were always at pains to say had served us well but never having tasted it he remained slightly skeptical. I would not call him a great conversationalist but then working in so many languages and doing it so well was in itself a major accomplishment.

The first moment when he called me his "Travel Agent" in the United States

He would occasionally, very occasionally, ask about a neuralgic situation in the Church in the United States or we would bring it up. Those conversations save one, which I will detail in the final of these reflections on Saturday dealing with clergy sexual abuse, remain largely confidential but minutes are in the archives of the episcopal conference in Washington and will be available to historians at the proper time. The administrative work of the Holy See did not interest him a great deal, most likely because there were others to attend to that, but one always had the sense that he was looking beyond the present generation to the Church of the future. It was almost as if when you were with him you could sense “today will take care of itself, it is tomorrow for which we must prepare.” Ever gracious, always hopeful, deeply spiritual, these are my memories of the man. A CEO he probably was not and sometimes perhaps the Church is better because of that but as a spiritual leader he had about himself a charism, a presence, a sense of serenity, which was disarming, assuring and hopeful.

I was never nervous or afraid in his presence. At times he was almost like an uncle one did not see often but who was always interested in how you were doing. He teased me on occasion like in Los Angeles when we arrived ahead of time for an event with oriental religions (Buddhism, Shintoism, Hindu, etc.) and were made to wait in the wings. He asked me, “What is wrong?” and I said “Holy Father we are early” to which he smiled and replied, “It will hurt my reputation to be early.” I laughed. The hardest question he ever asked me was at the University of South Carolina football stadium where he and Billy Graham were waiting in one of the portals to come out on stage and looking at the signage, he turned to me as asked “What is a Gamecock?” I told him it was a mascot and then he asked me what a “Gamecock mascot” was? I told him I would tell him on the plane later that night to New Orleans.

Most of all, however, I remember him in chapel and at prayer. Forty people could surround him at 645 in the morning in his private chapel  prior to Mass and one could almost hear him communicate with God from deep inside his being. They were the groans and sounds of a man in communication with something far deeper than most of us can ever go. It was eerie at times and certainly always mystical. There can be no doubt about his personal holiness.

+RNL

BLESSED JOHN PAUL II – PART THREE

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

In a long papacy and especially a historically important papacy like that of soon-to-be Blessed Pope John Paul II, significant milestones are passed and significant initiatives are begun. In the latter category, nothing should compare in modern Church history with the Pope’s desire to convene a World Youth Day somewhere in the world every two years. It was his idea; he called he first one, attended all the rest and seemed to draw inner strength every time. I became General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in February of 1989 and soon word began to circulate in Rome that the Holy Father wanted to celebrate a World Youth Day in the United States. My superiors were generally against it, at least my President, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati was, and for some good reasons. The United States did not have the infrastructure to gather so many young people in one place (trains, bus systems, etc. as Europe, for example ) and the potential cost. It also did not help that Cardinal John O’Connor of New York spoke vociferously against it on several occasions (mostly likely fearing that New York would be chosen). So there was a lot of internal opposition but there were also voices and minds open to exploring places and opportunities. My associate General Secretary at that time was Father Dennis Schnurr (now Archbishop of Cincinnati) and I gave him the principal task of site selection and putting together a proposal. They looked at a lot of places and finally began to settle on the Denver area, which Archbishop J. Francis Stafford (now a Cardinal) supported as long as financial and administrative help would come from the Conference. Denver was offered to the Pope for World Youth Day 1993 and accepted.

There were lots of challenges to be dealt with: transportation of the youth to and from Denver, weather variations from extremely hot in the day time to cold at night, infrastructure in Denver, transportation to the Vigil and Mass site, lodging a half million youth and lurking behind it all, both in Rome and the U.S. was the question of whether or not any young people from the US would actually come. Archbishop Pilarczyk handed the episcopal leadership of the planning over to his Vice-President, Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore who loved the “chase” so to speak and was a great help as well .

By 1993 the media in the United States had just about had enough of the Polish pope and the run-up to World Youth Day focused on how American Catholics were rejecting the Pope’s leadership on abortion, contraception, AIDS, you name it. They predicted that finally the Pope had made a bad decision in returning to the US and he would be greeted by nothing but protestors to his policies and dissent among the young. The trouble was that hard as they tried in Denver to find and interview a young attendee at WYD 93 to back up their claims of dissent, they failed. One young person after another stopped by a TV cameraperson or reporter and simply said something to the effect, “I love this Pope.” And the love affair continued.

At the conclusion of their longer than expected meeting, I am introduced to the President by the Holy Father

Shepherd One, the name I had given to the Secret Service in 1979 for the Pope’s plane arrived from Rome in Denver on a spectacular afternoon in August with President and Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea waiting on the tarmac. After the airport arrival, the Holy Father and President Clinton went separately to Regis College for a private meeting that was supposed to last only thirty minutes. At the end of the time set aside, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ and I went to the door where the Pope and President were meeting, opened it slightly only to have the Pope signal that he wanted more time with the young President. At forty five minutes they still had not emerged and finally Father Tucci sent Monsignor Dziwisz, the pope’s personal secretary and now a Cardinal, in to remind both that 70,000 young people were waiting at mile high stadium to welcome the Pope. Pictures were taken, gifts exchanged, and farewells shared and the mile-high World Youth Day was underway.

After the welcome ceremony the Holy Father took an unusual day off. Taking the Presidential helicopter, Marine One, he flew up into the east range of the Rockies and spent a whole day, mostly alone, walking in the forest (the Secret Service never far away but discreetly out of sight), praying, resting, gathering his strength for the World Youth Day activities which would follow. There were very few of our staff present with him and his closest staff that day and I know he loved the beauty of the American Rocky Mountains.

Young people were streaming into Denver by the hundreds of thousands (an estimated 550,000 attended the closing Mass) and their love of the Pope and their faith was infectious, about as infectious as the burning heat on the east slope of the Rockies on a hot summer afternoon. All those “doubting Thomases” in Rome and the US could not believe what they were seeing. Contrary to popular opinion, World Youth Day 1993 in the U.S. was on its way to being a great success. And did John Paul connect with the young people or not? It was simply amazing. I was so proud of Father (he was personally made a Monsignor in the Cathedral sacristy in Denver by the Pope in front of his parents) Schnurr and his whole group for planning and staging what will probably long be remembered as one of the most successful gatherings of young people certainly in this hemisphere and/or continent and this great Pope in a long time. There have indeed been larger crowds, especially in Europe and the Philippines and some South American countries but again it is easier for the youth to gather in those places. What we did so impressed Pope John Paul II that weeks after when we dined with him in Rome to review World Youth Day, he ordered his assistant to give Archbishop Keeler, the President, Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, the Vice-President, Monsignor Schnurr and myself four gold chalices, usually gifts to host bishops only. Monsignor Dziwisz presented them to us in the presence of the pope and four times said in Italian, molto prezioso which translates into “you had better not lose these!” The Holy Father still had Denver and our young people clearly on his mind and in his memory.

As he is beatified this Sunday, my mind will largely be on how effective he was with young people. They loved him. And even in his later, infirm and enfeebled years, they still loved him. Sometime after canonization, some Pope will declare John Paul a patron saint of something or other. I shall being praying that he might be declared the patron of young people. I shall never see the likes of him again in the brief time I have left and I doubt if the Church will for sometime either. I am happy that our country could make him so happy on that occasion and this time when he boarded an American Airlines 767 for home and Rome, with my own term as General Secretary drawing near an end, I thought for sure I was finished with papal trips. The Holy Father himself would refer to me as his “travel agent” in the U.S. There was now very personal recognition and a growing bond between us. Tomorrow I shall recall moments with Blessed John Paul II while I was serving as General Secretary, then the fifth installment will be reflections of our time together after he named me bishop and finally, some thoughts on his forthcoming beatification.

+RNL

BLESSED JOHN PAUL II – PART TWO

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The second visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States was radically different in many ways from the first. President Ronald Reagan had invited the Pope to make a pastoral visit this time and the United Nations was not involved. Since the last visit in 1979 both the Pope and the President were survivors of assassination attempts and so security concerns were ratcheted up significantly. More people and dioceses wanted the Pope even though the cost to the host diocese ran at least three million dollars a day and with nine years in office behind him, every US Church agency wanted a piece of the action. Disney World wanted him desperately for a meeting with the youth of the world at EPCOT (making me one of the few Floridians to ever say “no” to Disney and live to tell of it).

In Rome my dear friend Archbishop Marcinkus had been replaced by a new team of papal advance members led by the Jesuit head of Vatican Radio, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ who is now a cardinal. Assisting him were two of the finest men one would wish to work with, Monsignor Emil Tscherrig from the Secretariat of State and Dr. Alberto Gasbari from Vatican Radio. But John Paul remained the same, just a little older. There were two preparatory meetings with him, which included lunch in his apartment, and a meeting of all the host bishops and the archbishops of the United States with him in Rome in advance of the meeting. Tensions were running somewhat high as agendas were beginning to emerge in the United States. In the visit of 1979, only an address by Sister Theresa Kane, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had raised some concerns but I am certain that the Pope did not hear her. Little known to anyone at the time was that the young pope was near deaf in one ear and the sound in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was not advantageous for him to hear. Almost every picture ever taken with him never shows him looking at the person but turned so he could hear with his good ear.

But it seemed in 1987 everyone wanted an opportunity to speak to him, hoping to elicit a favorable response. So Monsignor Frank McNulty of Newark addressed him on behalf of priests in Miami, Donna Hanson, a lay woman from Spokane, Washington addressed him in San Francisco, Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop Quinn, Archbishop Pilarczyk and Archbishop Weakland addressed him in Los Angeles, the National Catholic Education Association, the Catholic Health Association, and many others spoke their concerns. The Holy Father always had a prepared response as those writing for him had advance looks at the texts.

The Native American Blessing with an Eagle's Feather

Three things gave him special energy in this visit. Although earlier in the day for the first and only time in his entire pontificate his Mass was interrupted and rained out in Miami, he was at his best that day in Columbia, South Carolina on the campus of that state’s University. He could lot believe the tens of thousands of students in a state he knew to be 1% Catholic would gather on the quadrangle and cheer for him and remain while he conducted a ninety minute ecumenical and interreligious exchange with religious leaders from throughout the United States. There were as many students still there when he exited as when he went in and he commented to me, “These young people, they are not Catholic?”  Later he and Billy Graham were to share the stage in the football stadium for a truly ecumenical prayer service, which was frowned upon by some of those travelling with him from Rome.

He also enjoyed a meeting with Native Americans in Phoenix, which included their ritual blessing with an eagle feather, also causing some alacrity with his travelling party that a largely pagan sign would be used with him but something, which clearly he enjoyed.

The Holy Father Meeting Young People at the Superdome

And as in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, in 1987 the meeting with the young people of New Orleans and elsewhere who would fill the vast Superdome brought him special happiness. He was more comfortable and at ease with kids than with bishops by far. Their spontaneous response to his obvious thrill of being with them and their love for him drew them closer to him always.

Popes carry burdens of soul, which few others have to carry. The 1987 visit was right when the AIDS pandemic was spreading and becoming better known in the U.S. Church teaching on condom use and abstinence were not well received in many quarters and to those involved in AIDS ministry and even to those suffering from the disease, the Church in general and the Pope especially seemed insensitive, uncaring, even cruel. When at the old Serra Mission in San Francisco at a prayer service for those with AIDS the pope picked up a child with aids and hugged an adult and embraced him, hearts melted and compassion marked the Gospel. It was quite a moment for me, one that I had helped arrange with the assistance of my Roman colleagues but somewhat looked askance at by others.

John Paul II arrived in Miami with a long and warm meeting between two men nearly killed by an assassin’s bullet and it ended with Vice-President George H. W. Bush offering farewell remarks in Detroit, a city added at the insistence of Archbishop Edmund Szoka which required flying back two thirds of the way across the U.S. and then West again into the Northwest Territory to Fort Simpson in Canada to keep a date he had to cancel several years prior due to fog precluding the landing of his plane at that time. The Holy Father was clearly weakened by his horrible moment with history and not exactly the same as in 1979 but he kept a hectic daily schedule nonetheless and there was always that time for meditation and prayer. Bone tired at midday, on this trip with a scheduled brief rest he would recover well enough to keep a schedule that would kill me at his age, drawing strength from inside himself and at prayer, never wishing to disappoint anyone, and renewed by the adulation of the masses of people who came to pray, listen and reflect with him, especially the young. On both occasions he was impressed with the vitality of the Church in the United States and liked the manner in which we prayed. He mentioned this to the officers and I after his trip in the Fall of 1987 at lunch with him in Rome. For this trip I asked Bishop Larkin if I could have the services of Father John Tapp to assist essentially in the care and feeding of the papal entourage who came with the Pope from Rome and he had his hands full. Also I hired a young lay man from Indiana to work for a year and a half with the Secret Service and the USCC Communications office in arranging for the needs of the local and traveling press (about 300 travelled with us on the full ten day trip). His name was Paul Etienne and he is now the Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

On the TWA 747 in Detroit I climbed the steps once again. This time he was ready for me having been reminded by someone of my quip in Washington in 1979 that he could come back but not too soon. He gave me that half smile and said, “Father, will I be welcome again?” Off he went to Fort Simpson and my life returned to normal.

+RNL

 

BLESSED POPE JOHN PAUL II – PART ONE

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Who can forget the chants from the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in and around St. Peter’s square six years ago for the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, “santo subito” roughly translated “make him a saint and quick.” On Sunday next the penultimate step will be taken, once again in St. Peter’s Square, when his long-time and trusted assistant, now his successor, Pope Benedict XVI raises John Paul II to the rank of “blessed” – the final and what will surely be brief stop on the path to sainthood. Each day this week I would like to share with some of my memories of my personal interaction with our late Holy Father.

My first encounter with the newly elected Pope John Paul II came in July of 1979 in the same St. Peter’s Square in Rome when I was introduced to him as the US priest who would organize his just announced first trip to the United States at the invitation of both the United Nations and President Carter. “I will pray for you,” he said and that was it – it said it all. He had seven months prior completed his first pastoral journey outside of Rome to Mexico and the Bahamas as well as his first return trip to his native Poland. Now he had announced a brief visit attached to a stop first in Ireland and then an address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York and I travelled to Rome to measure the magnitude of the man who would soon be coming to our shores.

Ordained only one year at the time and released by my Archbishop to the service of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for a period of four months which was all we had from announcement of the visit to its completion, I met my Vatican counterpart, the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus and the pope on the same day. The latter was easier on me than the former. During the coming months I would sit in meetings and occasionally say a Vatican prompted “no” to the Carter White House (the President and Mrs. Carter wanted a private luncheon for the Pope at the White House), Cardinal Cody and “Lady Jane Byrne” who was the Mayor of Chicago and practically wanted tickets for Holy Communion for a lot of Chicago political bosses in return for preparing streets, providing personal police protection, and readying Grant Park for the Mass. She and her Cardinal were not getting along.

Two trips in three months from the U.S. to the Vatican and the program was complete and agreed to and in a dense fog and rainy day in Boston, Aer Lingus 747 named “Saint Patrick” arrived right on time to begin an intense six day visit.

Almost everybody was on edge, save the Holy Father. He did what he was told when told and was easy to care for, except for that built in radar that found a child to kiss at Madison Square Garden, a wheel chair person to embrace at Lincoln Park in Chicago when leaving Marine One, the Presidential helicopter lent to him by President Carter for the visit, or spending more time playing with the college students at Catholic University who would endlessly chant “John Paul II, we love you” to which when he heard enough he would respond “John Paul II loves you too.” I thought it would never end.

My most profound memories in a kaleidoscope of challenges and events of the Pope himself, however, was his prayerfulness. On the first morning Archbishop Marcinkus and I had just finished saying Mass at 430am in the former Archbishop’s Residence in Boston when down the stairs and wearing his white cassock like a night robe came the Pope for first coffee and then a long hour of prayer in the chapel. Heavy, incessant pouring rain did not bother his meditation while saying Mass on Boston Common and no matter how late we completed the day’s program and got him home for the night for rest, he would dart to the chapel to be left alone with the Lord for final prayer.

When not giving a talk or kissing babies or blessing the physically challenged, out would come the Rosary or his Divine Office. He was young, vigorous then, deeply spiritual which he remained till his death, with more energy than I or anyone else in his travelling retinue. I knew when he walked into the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, minutes after his arrival from Ireland, and the priests stood on the pews shouting for joy and clapping their hands incessantly that I was about to participate in an introduction of an extraordinary person to my country.

DesMoines was added by +Marcinkus and myself when on the phone we concluded that there was more to the US than great cities and urban areas. True a farmer from neighboring Kansas named Joe Hayes had written to me to ask the Pope to come to America’s heartland for even just a few hours but it was the Archbishop who after a long conversation with me went upstairs to the third floor of the papal apartments and made the case for DesMoines and the Mass at Living History Farms. The Holy Father on the way to Chicago that afternoon uncharacteristically thanked +Marcinkus for including the stop.

A week in the presence of such holiness was I thought the experience of a lifetime and there was a frog in my throat when the Pope climbed the massive steps of the TWA 747 which I had chartered and paid for to return to Rome. He was amazing, I thought. What an incredible gift God had provided to His Church in the person of this successor of St. Peter and what a credible, living witness to the Gospel and to the work of evangelization. “Good night and thank you, Holy Father,” were my final parting words (earlier in the day at the Apostolic Nunciature speaking for the Secret Service, the six diocesan coordinators and my staff I had said to him, “It has been a great honor, Holy Father, to have had you among us and all of us hope you will come again, but not too soon as we are tired.”) He smiled broadly and knowingly that his energy level exceeded our own, and I came down the steps to the tarmac saying that would be it for the Pope and me. Wrong. More tomorrow.

+RNL

 

NECESSARY UNION

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

 

Few people are aware that in my younger days and prior to ordination I not only taught English in a Catholic High School in Columbus, Ohio, but I also organized and led that diocese’s first Lay Teachers’ Union. It is important that you remember that fact as you continue reading this blog entry. My father was all management having graduated from Holy Cross College in Worchester, Massachusetts with a BA degree and then the next year an MBA from Harvard. From boyhood he loved trains and worked in the summers as a crossing guard for the old New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad at Nantasket Beach, Massachusetts. When it came time in 1922 to look for a job, he was hired into management of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in Richmond, Virginia. Forty five years later he retired and returned to his original family home in Massachusetts. Though management, dad had great respect for unions and often told us that they were necessary to protect workers from unscrupulous employers. He himself worked hard to have good relations with everyone who worked on the C&O and when he retired, their affection and respect for him was evident.

He married and we were born in the ’40’s in a small town in West Virginia called Montgomery. To this day I have vivid memories of Dad being personally supportive of the unions representing coal mine workers and of their President, John L. Lewis. Though the mines were the largest shippers on the C&O, Dad would point out the dangers inherent in working in the mines and felt that the owners were too callous in responding to the miner’s worries. All of this was before the realization of the presence even of Black Lung Disease. So I had from childhood a respect for unions and in my summer employment on the railroad, I too joined the appropriate union. So when I started teaching in 1965 for $4,000 plus lunch and the married woman working in the classroom next to me made only $2,400 plus lunch because she was the second wage earner, my righteous (I hope) indignation welled up and we organized for collective bargaining. Opposed by 80% of the diocesan high school principals and the bishop but supported by the Superintendent of Schools, we successfully negotiated a starting salary of $5,600 for all with no lunch. The Lay Teachers Union in Columbus, Ohio remains to this day.

All of this is by way of far too long prologue to the point I wish to make here which is that I regret what legislatures are doing to unions throughout the country at this moment. The nation and the economy and especially workers need representation and the right to collective bargaining is a part of both Catholic social teaching and papal teaching as well. The situation in Wisconsin, Florida and Texas is regrettable. Unions are not a panacea but they are necessary. Workers without representation often become slaves of an economic system which can be cruel and insensitive to the rights of labor and laborers.

But unions also must show responsibility and they are, in part, in this current predicament because they have chosen to sink large amounts of dues into elections on behalf of political candidates. Unions would be better served to be far less partisan while politically representing the needs of their membership. Unfortunately, this moment in history seems to be payback time as legislators and governors whom they have vehemently opposed in the electoral process are hell-bent on weakening the unions. Unions also sometimes show too little cognizance of the economic realities of the present moment. So there is a part of me which says “shame on both sides” in the current moment. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful that cooler heads will prevail. As a nation we live our lives mostly as “centrists” eschewing both the radical right and left in politics and daily living. Workers have a right to be represented and protected but the body politic also has a responsibility to see that labor is recognized as an essential element of our economic engine and an “inalienable right.” The current rhetoric does neither side any good.

Now about that cat! In the heyday of its passenger service, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad boasted that on its trains, one “slept like a kitten” and “Chessie” became the symbol of the C&O. Never in my lifetime dreamed that someday I would use this image in a reflection on unions.

+RNL

ERA OVER? HARDLY!

Sunday, March 27th, 2011
PHoto from Wikimedia

Cardinal Bernardin

There have been a spate of articles lately announcing the end of the “Bernardin era” in the Church in the United States. These proclamations would be amazing in themselves given the fact that the much beloved and respected Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago will in a few months have been dead for fifteen years. They are even more amazing to me in that to my mind if there ever was a “Bernardin era” it ended in 1984 when Pope John Paul II chose Bishops Bernard F. Law of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and John O’Connor of Scranton to be archbishops of Boston and New York respectively. It was then shortly after the pastoral letter on war and peace that Cardinal Bernardin’s influence with the Pope and his curia became diminished. Likewise, in 1985, his ability to influence the appointment of bishops in the United States also diminished. During the same year, Cardinals Law and O’Connor talked Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia into hosting a meeting of the U.S. cardinals during which the newly arrived Cardinals introduced the topic of devising a strategy whereby the Cardinals might on occasion assume a larger role in American Catholic life than perhaps even the episcopal conference, might  approach the generally friendly though still bristling from the “war and peace pastoral” Republican administration and power block in Washington and, if necessary, might at times offer another voice than that of the body of bishops. In other words, redirect the political spotlight from the Conference and perhaps (following the death of Cardinal John Dearden, in the ’70’s by far the leading voice in post-conciliar ecclesiology) the leading spokesman for the Church in the United States away from the Archbishop of Chicago to others. The strategy worked to a certain extent and Cardinal Bernardin was left to lead the Church of Chicago and through both a false allegation of sexual misconduct against him and his life-ending cancer, won the hearts of the Catholic people of the Windy City who turned out in record numbers to say farewell before, during and following his funeral. Like his mentor Dearden, he could however throughout his tenure in Chicago bring the body of bishops to a hush when he rose to speak in plenary assembly. Many bishops admired him. So why bring all this up?

Yesterday’s NEW YORK TIMES devoted two full pages of print to the Catholic church in the United States, most of it negative but fair reporting. However, the lone bright spot was an article about the influence on the present Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, who in signing a bill from the Illinois legislature  abolishing the death penalty, attributed his difficult and soul-searching decision to whom? None other than Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. The article written by Samuel G. Freedman in a section entitled “On Religion” and in an article entitled “Faith Was On the Governor’s Shoulders” wrote eloquently and movingly how a minister of religion can influence the public square, even long after he has died. It was another victory for the “Consistent Ethic of Life” by which the Church has challenged its own members and society to end abortion, euthanasia, poverty, nuclear war, and capital punishment. Governor Quinn was the second Catholic governor to take this brave step. Several years ago in New Mexico, Governor Bill Richardson, citing his faith and the influence of present Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, did the same thing – banned the death penalty. Governor Quinn unabashedly held up at the time of signing the death penalty ban a copy of Cardinal Bernardin’s greatest book and a  run-away best seller, THE GIFT OF PEACE which he wrote as a diary during his dying days. Literally from the grave came once again a brave and intelligent voice for life, for sanity, for consistency, for advocacy, for witness.

Full disclosure suggests that I let anyone who might not know that the Cardinal and I were somewhat close throughout my life at the episcopal conference, and he preached the homily at my ordination as bishop here at St. Jude’s Cathedral after breaking yet another rib in his hotel room the night prior to the ceremony. I admired him and have tried to model my ministry on the stronger points of his: collegiality, shared decision-making, respect for all and a commitment to the seamless garment of life issues. The Cardinal as successful as he became, could be sometimes conflicted and to this moment I think he might have wished if he could choose only one of two options: either the respect and trust of Pope John Paul II (as he had with Pope Paul VI) or solely being remembered as a true shepherd of God’s people and a voice for the voiceless, on occasion might  have preferred the former if he could not have both. When Pope John Paul II called him a few weeks prior to his death, he was like a kid at Christmas or an employee looking for any sign of approval from his/her employer. My point is that when the major era of his influence passed, long before his death, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin spent himself for God’s people, one of whom was a young Patrick Quinn. The article can be read in full by clicking on the title above. Read it and I hope you will feel good about your church, and know that biographers and  Church commentators might just need a little more time before declaring someone irrelevant or their “era ended” or maybe we should see how the present moment survives in fifteen years and whose voices or work rises from their graves. No saint to be sure, but a very good bishop for sure.

Cardinal Bernardin preaches at Bishop Lynch's Ordination as a Bishop at St. Jude's

+RNL

LEAD ME, GUIDE ME, ALONG THE RIGHT WAY

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Recently, I spent some time with a brother bishop who had escaped his home diocese’s frigid climate for some of our Florida warmth (of sunshine and welcome). We were talking about the Church for which we were ordained and the Church we now serve. Both of us remembered the pre-Vatican Council liturgy, the excitement of “aggiornamento” or new birth that accompanied the papacies of Blessed John XXIII and Paul VI. They were heady days for us in which the seeds of our own vocations were sewn and our ministry begun. We recalled bishops who were either unknown to or to be feared by us. Pastors who locked the kitchen refrigerators so that a hungry assistant pastor could not “raid it at night” (in some of the northeastern (arch)dioceses, the whole Offertory collection went to the pastor who had the ‘duty’ to feed his assistants, if he wished). There was a lot about our early experience of Church which we liked and some which we found challenging. It was precisely the “opening” that in effect opened our hearts and minds to serve not a “new” Church but a “slightly different Church.” When I first began to study Scripture in the seminary, the professors were not even allowed to suggest that the Book of Genesis might have been the work of four distinct authors, that the first three Gospels could all trace their source to two ‘fountains’ and that the Evangelists may not have even known Jesus personally. But before we finished our studies, with the openness of the Council’s document Dei Verbum we were pondering all these possibilities, finally coming into harmony with other biblical scholars of other demoninations. I remember a wonderful Scripture professor at my seminary who one day came into class with a colorful book entitled Men and Message of the Old Testament by Peter Ellis, I believe, and he opened it to pages showing which verses of Genesis were likely written by which authors and with tears in his eyes said, “all my life what I have been teaching is not the truth, this book contains the truth.” That was in the field of Sacred Scripture.

Then we began to talk about the role of the bishop in today’s Church and particularly how it has evolved. We both shared common insights because I served as did my bishop friend an episcopate in this country which was markedly different than the one to which I belong today. The emphasis of the ’70’s and ’80’s was on collegiality and shared responsibility. Bishops focused their attention after implementing for the country the directives of the Second Vatican Council on issues of social justice and the Church in the Modern World. Speaking ill of another bishop was a violation of the “eleventh” commandment and public disagreements, even on matters like “communion in the hand” were done with deepest respect. I particularly remember a long discussion in a November General Meeting between the late Cardinal Cooke of New York, chair at the time of the Pro-Life Committee and Cardinal Medeiros of Boston over the Hyde Amendment. The Pro-Life Committee supported it even though it was imperfect legislation because it offered some protection against federal support for abortion but Cardinal Medeiros could not in conscience support it because it allowed for the exceptions for rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. Both men were kind to one another in the debate, recognizing the consciences of each, respecting one another. At the end of the discussion, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to support the Hyde Amendment’s adoption in Congress. I remember Cardinal Carberry of St. Louis who was unalterably opposed to the reception of communion in the hand. For a number of years he carried the day in the Assembly of Bishops, but then one November, “communion in the hand” was adopted and the Cardinal went back to St. Louis and allowed the practice. Were there differences of opinion in those days? Indeed. But there was a unity among the bishops which sometimes does not appear to exist today.

We commented at great length on how the theological and ecclesiological shift from a full embrace of collegiality as the driving force of working together began to shift in the mid-eighties to each bishop’s first obligation is to shepherd his own diocese and on occasion to break with or challenge collegial decisions. As an example of this I would point to the implementation of something as seemingly simple as women or girl altar servers where it is still not permitted in some dioceses and a good number of parishes. At least two of the dioceses in the United States refuse to allow outside auditors to examine their record on handling sexual abusers and even on whether or not they are complying with the strongly unanimous decision by the bishops to create a safe environment for children. I dare say these would likely have never occurred in the ’70’s and early ’80’s.

Bishops have lost credibility in the last decade. The sexual abuse of minors and how it was previously handled has contributed to it, and so have the liturgical wars. This loss of credibility in bishops extends also to some our priests and religious and to many lay people who  just don’t understand why so little time is spent by us on why people are leaving the Church in great numbers and what can be done about it. They do not understand how a hospital procedure in one local Church can be judged unacceptable yet be acceptable in many others. They do not understand why Catholic politicians can be denied the sacraments in one diocese but not in another. They do not understand why the President of the United States can be welcomed in some Catholic circles but not in others. The answer, of course, rests in the ecclesiologial truth that each bishop is the successor of the apostles in his diocese (or archdiocese) and can and must act as his conscience dictates but the danger rests in a growing sense of congregationalism, something every bishop fears in his diocese but can also occur in a national hierarchy and, I think is equally to be feared. I don’t foresee this changing unless and until it becomes so out-of-control that someone says, “stop”: we must face the future together and not divided.

My thoughts here are clearly in the minority among the bishops and I understand and accept that. And I do not bemoan the present though I think it has made the challenge of leadership of a local Church much more difficult. Most bishops, if they were truly honest, would speak of a tri-partite priesthood: there are those men  who experienced the enhilaration of the Council but who see retirement in the offing and simply say “all I want to do now is make it to retirement.” Then there is a second group who are dillusioned and unhappy with the direction in which they feel the  Church is going and do not know if they can make it to retirement or what retirement will be like for them.  And there is a third group who are quite satisfied, some of whom wish the “reform of the reforms” might continue. If a local Church is to “make beautiful music unto the Lord,” then the bishop must be a skillful conductor, allowing each section to make its contribution but to see that we are playing from the same “score.” It is a real task of leading and guiding to see that the local Church progresses along the right path.

+RNL

THE THREE-QUARTER POLE

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

To my beloved brothers, the priests of the diocese, thank you for your unfailing kindness to and patience with me the last fifteen years. To the deacons of this local Church, your sacrifice and service is beyond admirable. To the religious women and men, you have set the highest standard of love and service to Jesus through your ministry throughout the years and I am privileged to call you my friends. To the Catholic people of the five counties of the diocese, I began my service to and with you by recounting that marvelous line from the spiritual hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus” and fifteen years later I can add what friends Jesus shares with me in all of you whose witness, dedication, presence and love have enlightened my life over the last fifteen years.

Today I am passing the three-quarter pole and in a few months will round the final turn of 70 years of age and can set my sight on the finish line and the end of the race which has been my episcopal ministry to and with all of you. There is still a race to be won and I do not intend to let up on the reins in my hands until there is someone else in the saddle to lead and see this great thoroughbred of a Church to yet another lap. To those whom I have disappointed and hurt, and there surely are some, I deeply apologize, will try to do better by you, but assure you that relief is no longer that far away.

The past fifteen years have been a privilege I did not deserve but thank you so much for sharing your lives and your faith with me and, if God wills it, we can continue the love affair begun fifteen years ago today.

+RNL