This morning while pulling around the drive-thru at my nearest “arches” the vending machine made visible the headline of today’s St. Petersburg Times, “Bishop, Diocese Indicted.” My first reaction was why did no one tell me? Then I saw it was a New York Times story emanating from Kansas City, Missouri. When I got home I accessed the story in its entirety online and found the reporting of what is tragic from many angles was basically fair reporting and acknowledged that there is a presumption of innocence and the bishop and his diocese have pled “not guilty” and will attempt to prove it in court and at trial. I feel for the thousands of victims of sexual abuse by priests, nuns, religious brothers, deacons and other employees of the Church whose own pain rises to the surface when ever a story like this appears and brings back the awful memories. I also feel for my brother bishop and the people of his diocese who find themselves in the vortex of this developing allegation and I feel for all of you whose faith may be shaken again or whose embarrassment of the Church you love once again surfaces. It was a bad start to an otherwise wonderful day.
In late morning, I celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude for about seven hundred of our Hispanic brothers and sisters from throughout the diocese. It has become an annual event and each year we honor Mary under the patronage of one or the other country. This year we dedicated the Mass to Nuestra Señora de la Merced (in English, Our Lady of Mercy) who is the patroness of the nation of Peru. We were honored to have with us the Peruvian Consul to our area, the Honorable Juan Carlos Ibarra Schambaher and his wife.
Prior to the beginning of the liturgy, the flags of twenty-three Hispanic countries were carried in procession. The homily was given by Father Eugeniusz Gancarz, pastor of Resurrection parish in Riverview. The spontaneity and joy of the hundreds in the Cathedral began to lighten the day’s mood in this bishop. Our Hispanic sisters and brothers are great witnessed of faith in our midst and are a blessing. Caring for them as they deserve is something which I have not been particularly good at but as I often point out, this last census last year shows that in another decade or two for sure, they will account for forty percent of all the people living in our five counties. About twenty-five of our pastors and four of our deacons gave up an otherwise busy Saturday morning to show their support and love for our hermanos y hermanas.
In the evening I was invited by Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr., President of St. Leo University to formally bless the new Donald Tapia School of Business whose construction has just been completed on the main campus in St. Leo, Pasco County. The principal donor whose name the building bears lives in the Phoenix area and after retiring from a successful lifetime in business decided to acquire a Bachelor’s degree on line. He enolled in St. Leo’s on-line program and never set his foot on the campus until his graduation. Later he would earn an MA again on-line from St. Leo. He is now chairman of the Board of Trustees while in his seventies and proud of his alma mater. Joy and pride was also evident in this occasion as St. Leo University continues to grow in enrollment and respectability in academic world. The expansion of facilities in recent years has been truly amazing and every St. Leo student I meet, especially those who I know who have graduated from our high schools love going there. Signs of robustness and a growing Catholic identity mark our single local Catholic university and it makes me proud and I hope it does you as well. A dinner followed which I was happy to attend and now I am about ready to retire for a day which began poorly and with God’s grace improved throughout the day. It was fun and full of joy to be with two distinctly different but joyous Catholic communities.
One of my favorite writers on all things Catholic is John Allen and recently he was approached by one of his secular journalistic colleagues and interviewed about his feelings for the Church which he covers so fairly and well and its recent coverage in the media. As a last question, the interviewer asked Allen what he thought was the best of Catholicism which may be missed by the mainstream media and he replied something to the effect of how much fun being a Catholic can be and how little coverage is given to those aspects of Catholicism in the United States which are fun or joyous. Ninety plus percent of my waking hours today have been spent surrounded by the “joy of being Catholic.”