Thursday, January 10, 2019

Bishops' retreat bears fruit of the Holy Spirit

A Reflection on a Special Time of Retreat and Reflection for U.S. Bishops
January 2-8, 2019   Mundelein Seminary    Chicago, IL

            While all bishops and priests are very familiar with times of spiritual retreat and reflection, and in fact look forward to such an essential part of our spiritual life every year, I don’t think that any of us have ever experienced such a week as we just completed.  On the 2nd day of this new year, at the urging of our Holy Father Pope Francis, every Bishop in the United States who was able to do so, made their way to the gorgeous, 600-acre grounds of Mundelein Seminary in the northern suburbs of Chicago.  Of course there were plenty of comments about traveling to blustery and windy Chicago in the dead of winter, as well as musings about how many bishops in the southern and western parts of our country (including Hawaii and Guam---yes both of those Bishops were present) had to borrow winter coats and hats before making the trip; yet, we were blessed with an unusually moderate, and somewhat pleasant, week, weather-wise. 

            Much more important than the weather, of course, was the incredibly rich substance of the week, and the clear evidence that the Holy Spirit was truly at work through the inspiring instructions of the Retreat Director, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M., Cap.,
as well as the beautiful concelebration of the daily Masses, Eucharistic Holy Hours at the end of each day, and the communal praying of the Divine Office each morning and evening.  Even though the Mundelein seminarians were still on their Christmas vacation, many of the seminarians and several seminary priests and staff were present to provide assistance and to be available in any way they could help.  There was an army of lay volunteers to offer cheerful guidance, and a small fleet of golf carts with drivers to assist those bishops who had some difficulty in maneuvering the somewhat large distances among the residence halls, the main chapel, and the dining room, all in separate buildings.  All these volunteers were amazingly generous and could not have been more gracious.   
            The schedule remained the same each day: two spiritual conferences at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., as well as the Homily at the 11 a.m. daily Mass, all preached by Father Cantalamessa; Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer before each morning conference and following the late afternoon conference; Holy Hour in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament each evening from 7 p.m. until 8 p.m.;  and three meals each day, mostly partaken of in silence.  The meals were good, but simple; healthy without any desserts or alcoholic beverages served. There was not any coffee available, except in the dining room, so it was definitely an adjustment for those of us used to 8-12 cups a day.  Finally our rooms were the typical seminary room: bed, desk and desk chair.  No easy chair, no TV, no frills. There were opportunities provided on several of our retreat days to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance.  The remainder of each day was for personal prayer and reflection. 
            On the first evening of our retreat, the Apostolic Nuncio (who remained with us throughout the retreat) welcomed all the Bishops in the name of our Holy Father, and provided each bishop with his own personal copy of an eight-page letter Pope Francis had written to us.  When he first recommended that we enter into this time of retreat, it was Pope Francis’ intention to come to be with us in person, to direct the retreat himself; however, due to security issues, and too many other details to deal with, he realized that would not be possible.  That is why he recommended that the Preacher of the Papal Household, Father Cantalamessa, be our retreat director.  His letter, which has been released to the public, made it clear what the Holy Father’s hopes were for us as we entered into this time of retreat.  As he said, he sees this retreat “as a necessary step toward responding in the spirit of the Gospel to the crisis of credibility that you (Bishops) are experiencing as a Church.”  He went on to write: “At times of great confusion and uncertainty, we need to be attentive and discerning to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission He has given us.”  And he concluded his letter by encouraging us: “Entering with trust into Jesus’ prayer to the Father (Jn.17:11-12), we want to learn from Him and, with firm resolve, to begin this time of prayer, silence and reflection, of dialogue and communion, of listening and discernment.  In this way we will allow Him to conform our hearts to His image and help us discover His will.”
            It was with that direction from the Holy Father in mind that Father Cantalamessa drew the theme for his eleven conferences, six homilies, and one penitential service: “He appointed the Twelve to be with Him; and then sent them out to preach”.  While I knew who Father Cantalamessa was, I had never been privileged to hear him, and certainly never had been in his company.  I can say now, after this week, that it was indeed our privilege to have him be our retreat director, and I could not help but think that we were in the presence of a truly saintly priest.  He spoke God’s Word with insight, conviction, and with a sense that he indeed had a deep, personal knowledge of and love for Jesus, His Word and His Church.  As I mentioned earlier, Father’s focus in the first half of his daily conferences was on the first half of his theme: that Jesus appointed the Twelve to be with Him.  One of the titles that Bishops are privileged to bear is that we are “successors to the Apostles”.  Father wanted us to reflect and pray about the fact that as the Apostles’ successors, we too have been appointed first of all to “be with Jesus”.  What does that mean?  Father’s emphasis on each of those conferences was helping us to think and reflect more deeply on what it means to be “in love with Jesus”---that we “stay with Him” by being one with Him, united in Him, in love with Him.  And when we are one with, united in, and in love with Him, that means that we are one with, united in, and in love with Jesus’ Church.  Those reflections led to a deeper appreciation for the importance of regular and constant prayer, and an openness to the prompting, guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit Who continues to guide the Church.  The second half of Father Cantalamessa’s conferences focused on the second part of his theme: that we have been sent to preach the Good News of the Gospel to all the world; that we are to speak the Truth in Love; that we are to preach Jesus, and not ourselves. 
            Father Cantalamessa was inspiring, insightful, and challenging.  Each of his conferences lasted the better part of an hour, and he always left me wanting to hear more.  As I already stated, I had not read much of Father’s writings in the past; having heard him on this retreat, I have ordered six of more than two dozen books Father has written so I can continue to be inspired and challenged by his powerful insights. 
            These seven days of retreat have been a great spiritual gift to me, and no doubt to every Bishop who participated.  I am grateful to our Holy Father for directing us to enter into this time of prayer and reflection.  The purpose of this retreat was exclusively focused on the need for each of us as Bishops, Successors to the Apostles, and Disciples of Jesus our Lord and Savior to grow in our love for Jesus and our commitment to follow Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; it was not intended to be a working session for the Bishops to develop plans, nor was it a time for the Bishops to discuss solutions to the serious concerns that our beloved Church is currently experiencing.  However, it is my conviction as we begin this new year that the fruits of this special retreat have better prepared me, and all of our Bishops, to respond to the Holy Spirit’s guidance to help change our hearts, guide our thoughts, and inform our decisions so that we are more spiritually prepared to find the solutions and develop plans in the near future that will help us resolve the crisis of trust that our people have in their Bishops, to root out the evil of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, and to continue to help all abuse survivors to heal and to find peace.  With God’s grace, we can enter into what our Holy Father calls “a new ecclesial season” in which we bishops can discern God’s will, and collaborate with others in that same discernment process so that, again as Pope Francis put it, we can “combat the ‘culture of abuse’ and deal with the crisis of credibility.”
            Thank you to the members of the clergy and lay faithful of the Diocese of Kalamazoo for your prayers for me and for all the Bishops during these days of retreat.  I ask that we all continue to pray for, and with, one another, asking the Holy Spirit to bring healing within the Church and encourage us all to a new spirit of unity, trust and collaboration in following God’s Holy Will.

                                                            Faithfully yours in Christ,

                                                            Bishop Paul J. Bradley

Front of the Chapel

View from the front of the Chapel looking toward the lake

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bishop Bradley's Reflections on USCCB General Assembly November 2018

November 12-15, 2018. Baltimore, Md.

November 15, 2018
Feast of St. Albert the Great

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As I prepare to leave Baltimore following these last four days of meetings, I wanted to try to the best of my ability to share with you what took place; to try to give you some insight into what did not take place and why; and to try to reassure you that, in spite of the unexpected start of the meeting, in fact there was significant progress and that we all have reason to be hopeful.

As I was traveling to Baltimore on Sunday, arriving here early in the evening, my mindset was one of anxious concern as to what surely would be a very difficult next few days. I had read all the preliminary documents and background information regarding the four proposed “pillars” that the body of Bishops would be voting on as at least one way of demonstrating our collective determination to complement whatever had been lacking in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It would also be one way to take a positive step forward to keep from happening ever again what allowed the Archbishop McCarrick situation to have taken place, and that enabled some Bishops to have mismanaged or even covered up clergy sexual abuse situations in their dioceses as was alleged in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

Those “four pillars” are:
1. A mechanism to allow for a report to be made of an allegation against a Bishop through a 3rd-party, objective system that would go directly to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Pope’s representative, in Washington.

2. The formation of an independent (separate 501 (c) 3) Commission made up mostly of lay professionals to review and make recommendations about those allegations made against Bishops and brought forward thru the mechanism above, and to make recommendations on what next steps to take.

3. The establishment of “Standards of Conduct” that every Bishop would be asked to sign (currently all priests, deacons, anyone involved in ministry positions with young people are asked to sign a Code of Conduct).

4. The creation of a set of protocols to clearly delineate what a bishop who has resigned for cause, or was asked to resign, may do in terms of future ministry.

The reason I had anxious concern is because I already believed that if that was all we accomplished during our days in Baltimore—-to establish more policies and make more promises——our people would not see that as nearly sufficient. In my mind, we needed to do something dramatic to demonstrate to the faithful, and to prove to ourselves, that we are serious about wanting to cooperate with what clearly is God’s plan to purify His Church.

It was clear that all the Bishops were very much looking forward to Monday’s opening of the Fall Meeting by participating in a day-long time of Prayer in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Little did I, or any of us, know how badly we would need this day of intensive prayer. Because before beginning our day of prayer at 10:30 a.m.,  we had an opening session at 9  a.m. at which Cardinal DiNardo stunned all of us with the announcement that we would not be voting on these four “pillars” mentioned above in light of a request that he had just received from the Vatican the evening before “urging” the United States Conference to not move to a vote on any of those items on our agenda dealing with clergy sexual abuse. The reason given by the Vatican office was because Pope Francis has convened the Presidents of all Bishops’ Conferences of every country in the world to meet in February in Rome on this very issue of clergy sexual abuse, and he wanted our Conference to wait until the world-wide meeting could assess the problem and issue world-wide conclusions. The Holy Father was not asking the Conference not to vote on these items; just to delay the vote until after the February meeting. The Bishops in the room were stunned. There was an audible gasp. Cardinal DiNardo was not in any way masking his own disappointment (and dare I say distress) about this 11th hour turn of events. I would venture to say that every Bishop in the assembly was equally frustrated, confused, angry and left with a “now what” question. As I said, it was very providential that we recessed from that opening session to enter into a Day of Prayer so we could all bring our frustrations and anger to the Lord, to seek His direction.

As an aside, I would offer this additional commentary. Every Bishop feels a dual responsibility: the first is to be in communion with our Holy Father, and to be faithful to the promise of obedience to him, as every priest is faithful to his promise of obedience to his bishop; the second is to be courageous leaders of our people—-to be Shepherds who serve the needs of our people and who stand up against anyone or anything that endangers the Flock of Christ. The collective gasp in the room was, for me, and I think for all, an expression of a serious dilemma, being caught between these two sacred responsibilities.

The Day of Prayer was powerful, moving, transformative in many ways, and helped give a perspective that moved from our own pre-determined perspective to a larger, shall we say more universal, perspective. During the Day of Prayer, we Bishops heard from four brave, articulate, and deeply faith-filled people. The first two were survivors of clergy sexual abuse. The first was Teresa Pitt Green; the second was Luis A. Torres, Jr. They were the faces of untold numbers of survivors of clergy sexual abuse. What was so amazing about each of them was that in spite of all that they had experienced in their lives, through the grace of God and their own inner strength, they have turned their tragedy into a victory. Teresa is the founder of “Spirit Fire Live” which is devoted to “healing and reconciliation in relationships with adults, families and parishes wounded by child abuse and trauma.” Neither of them was accusatory; but both of them were direct and honest. Teresa said: “My heart breaks for you...the Lord has cried more tears because of the decisions some of you have made. I don’t know how you bear it.” Luis said, among many things: “Truly this (clergy sexual abuse) is the devil’s best work....You need to do better...the heart of the Church is broken and you need to fix this now.” The third speaker was a young single mother who spoke in the name of the young people of the Church, and the fourth was the Superior of a community of Religious Women who urged us to get it right. That Day of Prayer concluded with a concelebrated Mass presided by Cardinal DiNardo; Archbishop Bernard Hebda was the Homilist, and as always, was profound in his own engaging style.

That Day of Prayer touched my heart and moved me to tears more than once; I’m quite sure that was true for most of us who participated. And I’m convinced that Day of Prayer set the tone for the remainder of the meeting.

The agenda for Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s public sessions of the General Assembly were dominated by discussion of the documents for each of the “four “pillars” I referenced earlier, and a lot of open, frank, and personal dialogue among the bishops (as much as can happen in a room with 300 of us). In my almost 14 years of attending these General Assemblies, I have never seen such honesty and vulnerability expressed. Bishops expressing anger; Bishops calling for radical change; Bishops voicing frustration at not being able to do more than what we were able to do. But Bishops always striving to maintain unity (“communion”) with our Holy Father, and to reassure our people that we are absolutely committed to addressing those three primary promises that we came to this meeting to do: 1) to do what we could to get to the bottom of the question as to how Archbishop McCarrick could have risen through the ranks of the hierarchy if and when there were certainly people who knew of his evil acts over the course of many years; 2) to make reporting of alleged abuse and/or misconduct on the part of Bishops easier to do; and 3) to hold Bishops accountable in ways that are independent, duly authorized and under the leadership of lay people with appropriate expertise. While we were not able to vote on the four pillars, they were thoroughly discussed, and it was abundantly clear that there is widespread support for each of those initiatives. When the February 2019 meeting which Pope Francis has called for the heads of all Episcopal Conferences takes place, Cardinal DiNardo has committed himself to speaking boldly on behalf of those proposals. In the meantime, every Bishop is free to make any and all of those accommodations in his own Diocese.

In that regard, here in our Diocese of Kalamazoo, I intend to continue to advance “A Plan to Protect”, which includes the establishment of a lay commission of experts to review all our policies and procedures, and I will also be asking them for ways to make sure that I, as Bishop, am held accountable. This “Plan” also calls for all our priests, deacons and lay ministers working with young people to sign a Code of Conduct, and I will sign it as well. In regard to making public the names of priests against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse have been made, we are in somewhat of a dilemma right now because of the Michigan Attorney General Investigation; we need to see whether, or how, we can move forward with that given our current situation. We are seeking clarifications on that very question.

There was one very positive result from these recent days of the Fall General Assembly of U.S. Bishops. Among the very limited amount of other routine agenda items that were discussed, the long-awaited pastoral letter in the name of the United States Bishops on racism was voted on and was virtually unanimously passed. The letter is entitled: “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—-a Pastoral Letter Against Racism”. It is a beautifully written exhortation which addresses racism’s impact on various groups and ethnicities in the U.S. from a contemporary viewpoint. There is special emphasis on the experiences of Native Americans, African Americans, and the racial targeting of Hispanics and immigrants. The Letter highlights Catholic teaching on the human person as the “image of God” and calls individuals and communities to conversion and action. The Letter should be published and available to us before the end of this calendar year. In light of the growing racial tensions and many expressions of racially-motivated acts of violence, I very much look forward to having this Letter available for reading and study by all our Faithful people and clergy.

Following an Executive Session this morning, the Fall Assembly has now concluded and I prepare to return to the Diocese. On the one hand, I am disappointed that I am not returning with voted-upon agreements of new initiatives that we can all put into place at the national level to fill the gaps of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” For that, we will have to wait a while longer. On the other hand, I come home filled with hope because I believe I participated in a transformative moment in the life of the U.S. Conference of Bishops. There is not one Bishop at this meeting who does not realize that if there ever was a “business as usual” attitude for the USCCB, that time is over and done. We are in a new day, a new moment, and I believe there is a new, strong, and clear resolve on the part of just about every Bishop; I can say that for sure about myself as your Bishop. I/we are resolved to do better; to do whatever it takes; to be renewed in our determination to be faithful to our people while at the same time remaining in union with our Holy Father, for the sake of the safety and protection of our children and vulnerable people, and for the loving service to all God’s holy people.

As Cardinal DiNardo said in his closing address: “We leave this place committed to taking the strongest possible actions at the earliest possible moment.” He continued: “But our hope for true and deep reform ultimately lies in more than excellent systems, as essential as these are. It requires holiness: the deeply held conviction of the truths of the Gospel, and the eager readiness to be transformed by those truths in all aspects of life.” In a similar way, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, said: “If the Church is to reform herself and her structures, then the reform must spring from Her mission of making known Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

In light of those comments, I return to our Diocese committed to do all that can be done as soon as we can do it. And I commit myself, even as I ask all our priests and deacons to join with me in committing themselves, to be renewed in Christ to be His holy shepherds, shepherds who lead our people with courage and with joy, shepherds who protect our flocks from any evil, shepherds who root the evil of any sin out of our own hearts so that we can lead our people with integrity and with the mind/heart of Christ.

The Fall General Assembly of U.S. Bishops admittedly did not go the way we expected; however, I believe—-I am hopeful—-that the meeting went the way God wanted it to go.  May we faithfully follow the Lord’s call to grow in holiness, even as He is Holy; may we consecrate ourselves to the protection of Mary, the Mother of the Church, who will persistently lead us to Jesus.

Assuring you of my fervent prayers for you, and asking for your prayers for me, our Diocese, and our one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, I remain

Faithfully yours in Christ,

+ Bishop Paul J. Bradley

Friday, July 7, 2017

Convocation of Catholic Leaders 2017

Pre-Convocation Preparations:
            Plans for this Convocation began to be discussed by the Conference of Bishops several years ago.  It’s taken this long to design, plan, make all the preparations and accommodations, determine speakers and participants, and develop the communication efforts to publicize and promote the Convocation.  It began with a theme of Religious Liberty; however soon after Pope Francis published his major apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), it became clear that religious liberty would be one of several major themes under the overarching category of the New Evangelization and bringing the Joy of the Gospel to our part of the world here in America.
            While many were concerned about the timing of the proposed event (over the 4th of July holiday) and the location of the event (Florida in July?), the combination of excellent rates at that time of year and the availability of people to travel and participate during those days, and facilities big enough to manage the expected turnout made Orlando the desirable location.  The Bishops discussed this event at several of the Conference meetings and wholeheartedly endorsed the project and enthusiastically became the hosts/inviters for this major, national event.
            Each Bishop was asked to begin planning for this event by selecting a delegation to represent the Diocese and to make sure that the costs of sending the delegation were provided in the budget.  In our case, we were able to receive a good bit of financial assistance through Catholic Extension and some other grants received. 
            Our diocesan delegation is made up of seven people to accompany me to the Convocation: Father German Perez-Diaz, Father Tom McNally, Deacon Candidate Dr. Don Bouchard, Diocesan Staff members Jamin Herold and Lisa Irwin, Catholic Charities President/Executive Director Tim Leiser, and Parish Youth Leader, Joy Livingston (St. Margaret Parish).  In addition our Diocesan Staff member, Socorro Truchan, who was technically representing NACFLM (National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers), also joined with our delegation as the 9th member.
The Diocese of Kalamazoo Delegation (from top to bottom-left to right): Fr. Tom McNally, Dr. Don Bouchard, Bishop Paul J. Bradley, Fr. German Perez Diaz, Lisa Irwin, Joy Livingston, Jamin Herold, Socorro Truchan and Tim Leiser. 

Our delegation met several times before leaving for Orlando to get to know one another and to plan our strategies for making sure that we could make the best use of our time at the Convocation, e.g. selecting which of the many Breakout Sessions we would plan on attending, etc.

            From a personal experience perspective, I have attended many national meetings/conferences/convocations in the past, but none was as major, as vibrant, as enthusiastic, as diverse/inclusive, as massive as this one proved to be.  The expected number of attendees was over 3,000 representing more than 150 Dioceses throughout the United States, and every national organization, ministry, and movement, and representatives from a large number of religious women and men.  Participants stayed in several of the large hotels surrounding the primary meeting space which was the Hyatt Regency Hotel and the Orange County Convention Center.  As we were warned beforehand to bring comfortable walking shoes, that suggestion proved so true in the amount of walking that was required to move from hotel room, to meeting/convocation sessions, to lunch or dinner locations.  One of our delegation members, Joy Livingston, who wore a fit bit, was able to determine that during the 4 days she was there, she walked more than 24 miles. My legs can attest to a close proximity to that amount for me.
            It was so encouraging to see the entire Church in microcosm gathered together for these days of prayerful reflection, renewal and strategic planning: lay women and men, religious, deacons, priests and bishops, all participating together in this very important convocation.
            There were four themes for the four days: July 1---Unity in the Joy of the Gospel and our need for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit; July 2---Renewal in light of the state of the “landscape” of our Church in the United States (based on current research and data) in a spirit of “evangelical discernment”; July 3---Witness---going to “the peripheries” to accompany those disengaged from the Church and/or those suffering from poverty (material and spiritual), those with disabilities, those who are hurt/alienated; and July 4---Mission---equipping leaders  with resources (spiritual, catechetical, practical) to help them in their ministry and in being formed as true missionary disciples, being mindful that ministerial excellence is only possible by a daily reliance on the Lord.
            Major keynote presentations were provided by Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal O’Malley, Cardinal Tobin, Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop Gomez, Archbishop Lori, Bishop Robert Barron, Dr. Hosffman Ospino (Boston College), Carl Anderson (Supreme Knight, K of C), and Patrick Lancioni (Amazing Parish).   There were many other gifted speakers who served as Panelists responding to the major plenary sessions including:  Dr. Helen Alvare, Fr. Tom Gant (CARA), Bishop Frank Caggiano, Sr. Mariam James Heidland, SOLT, Curtis Martin, Sherry Weddell, Fr. Paul Check, Dr. Carolyn Woo, and many others. [Check out the USCCB website for a host of videos recorded at the Convocation as well as exclusive EWTN interviews with the keynote speakers.]
            In addition, there were 66 Breakout Sessions/Workshops where many more nationally known speakers participated as panelists/presenters on a wide-range of topics in regard to those major themes.  I was privileged to be one of the Bishops giving Opening and Closing comments for a Breakout Session on "Reaching Wounded Families, those struggling with Brokenness." 
            Lest you think the focus was only on presentations and breakout sessions and sharing information, I would say that the primary focus of this entire Convocation was on prayer and Liturgical Celebrations, with a clear focus on the Holy Eucharist; in other words, the focus was on Jesus.  Each day, the entire assembly came together for the Celebration of the Eucharist, which was beautifully celebrated.  There was a Eucharistic Chapel set up for the opportunity for regular private prayer in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament; there was never a time that I went into that Chapel that it wasn’t overflowing with people, filling every chair and sitting/kneeling on the floor.  There were regular opportunities to receive the Sacrament of Penance throughout the 4 days, with priests hearing Confessions during the many assigned times during the day.  In addition to the daily celebration of the Eucharist, there were other powerful devotions included. On Saturday evening, there was a time of prayer in honor of Mary, Mother of Evangelization. On Sunday evening, there was an Evening of Adoration and Reflection: “Encountering Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy”.   On Monday morning, there was an early morning Eucharistic Procession through the streets surrounding the Hotels/Convention Center 

with the thousands of Convocation participants processing in quiet praise of Jesus, Who accompanies us on our journey of faith; and on Monday evening (Eve of 4th of July) there was an Evening Experience of Praise: “A Celebration of Faith, Witness and Mission”.

Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre,
            At the conclusion of the Mass on Tuesday afternoon, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre (shown left)  gave an incredible talk summing up the entire Convocation. Archbishop Pierre participated in all four days of the Convocation and was truly the representative of Pope Francis with us all throughout our time together.  I was privileged to have a nice chat with him about the state of our Diocese, and he was very engaging and interested.

            All in all, this was an exceptional Convocation of Catholic Leaders, and I do believe that this Convocation represents (as Archbishop Pierre says) a “kairos” moment for the Church in the United States. 
Diocesan delegates discussing a plan for missionary discipleship in the Diocese of Kalamazoo
I truly want that to be the case for the Church here in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, and I look forward to the ways that those who represented our Diocese as Delegates to this Convocation will continue working with me, and many others, in helping to develop a strategy and a plan to renew our Local Church and to find new ways to bring the Joy of the Gospel to all those in our Diocese, beginning with each of us: lay leaders, religious, deacons, priests and bishop.
            As Cardinal DiNardo said at the conclusion of his Homily in the Final Mass: “what more is there to say, but: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’!”            

Monday, February 20, 2017

President's Day in Rome

While Rome does not celebrate Presidents Day, I greeted this new, and final, day here in Rome with that realization upon waking this morning.  I have to admit that I have been completely "unplugged" from world affairs, including all the daily media coverage regarding whatever the latest political crisis might be.  But on this day, we celebrate our great Presidents of our past, and we pray that God will bless and guide President Trump through these first weeks in Office, and most especially that God will continue to bless our great country. [I'm also mindful that this is the first anniversary of the tragic shooting that occured in Kalamazoo last year. I echo my "tweet" from this morning, "May we all be in prayerful union with all people in Kalamazoo who were killed or tramautized by the violent shooting spree 1 year ago today."]
            I was very much looking forward, on this final day, being able to complete the visit to and celebration of Mass in each of the four major Basilicas in Rome: we began last Monday with the first one being St. Mary Major, then on Thursday at St. Paul Outside the Walls, Friday at St. Peter, and now today at St. John Lateran.  For those who visit all four Basilicas, there are special graces, indulgences and blessings, so I was pleased that we were able to do so.
            Since the taxi cab strike continues, now in its 4th full day (which really impacts the city in lots of different ways), our faithful Giuseppe picked us up and drove us to the Basilica and waited while we celebrated Mass.  Msgr. Osborn and I celebrated Mass in the Sacristy Chapel of St. Ann, as we prayed for and offered my Mass intention for our President and all elected officials. 



(Tomorrow, my Mass intention before we leave for the airport will be for all those who are sick or suffering in any way, in body, mind or spirit.). Even though we didn't have a lot of extra time, we were able to take in the beautiful art work throughout this grand Basilica.  As you know, St. John Lateran Basilica is the oldest Cathedral Church in Western Christendom, the "Mother of all the Churches", and the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Rome.  So, while Pope Francis is the Pope for the Universal Church and exercises his ministry in that regard mostly at St. Peter Basilica in Rome, he is also the Bishop of Rome, and when he exercises that aspect of his ministry, he does so from the Cathedral of St. John Lateran.  The heads of the two great Saints, Peter and Paul, are both preserved above the main altar of St. John Lateran, and at one of the side altars of the Last Supper, part of the table where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His Apostles is preserved.  It is a truly magnificent, historic, sacred place.
            Giuseppe was waiting for us across the busy Rome street near the entrance to the Holy Stairs (Scala Sancta), which are the original stairs from the Praetorium that Jesus used to stand before Pilate to be condemned to death.  Constantine's mother, St. Helena, had these stairs brought to Rome from the Holy Land in the 4th century.  As many of you might know, there is a replica of these Holy Stairs in the Holy Family Chapel at Nazareth in our very own Diocese, one of the only replicas in the world.  We did not get a chance to go in and venerate them this morning, but it really is an inspiring, holy place from the previous visits I have made.
            Our next stop was back over by the Vatican, a meeting with another one of the Curial officials, Bishop Brian Farrell, the Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity which was located along the Conciliazione where many of the Vatican Offices are located.   Msgr. Osborn and I had a very productive meeting with Bishop Farrell, and he was quite helpful and supportive to us in our inquiries.
            Following our final official business item on our eight-day "to-do list", we met Deacon Max Nightingale when he finished his early morning Canon Law class at the Gregorian University for some coffee near the Swiss Guard barracks.   After this brief visit, Msgr. Osborn had another meeting to attend, and Max and I did some last minute shopping and then enjoyed a nice, leisurely pronzo together, at which I had my 8th bowl of pasta over these eught wonderful days.  (I'm sure I will not eat another bowl of pasta for quite some time, but I have truly enjoyed every one so far).  This lunch/visit was a wonderful opportunity for me to spend with Max in more personal and confidential way so we could discuss a number of issues. 
            We are so blessed to have all nine of the young men in our formation program, but our two Deacons, Jeff and Max, are both gifted and holy young men, ready and willing to be ordained priests in service to the Church of Kalamazoo!  Thanks be to God.
            After lunch, Max and I returned here to the NAC (North American College) so we could both take care of the things we needed to do.  At the end of the afternoon, we gathered for Evening Prayer and enjoyed some pizza together as our last meal here in Rome. 

            Early tomorrow morning, after Mass, Giuseppe will drive us to Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino Airport for our 11:45 a.m. Flight to Atlanta, and then to Detroit, for our drive back to Kalamazoo, which, we pray, will all go smoothly.  With gratitude to God for all the blessings we have received during this Pastoral Visit, it's time to say: "Arrivederci Roma!"

Sunday in Assisi

   "Buona Domenica!" ("Happy Sunday!")---- That's how the Bridgentine Sisters greeted us early this morning when we came down for the "breakfast" part of the "Bed and Breakfast" Residence they operate.   And that was what we heard many people say to one another as they passed on the streets of Assisi in the early hours of Sunday morning as we approached the Basilica of St.Francis for Mass.  What a wonderful way to help us realize that Sunday is not just another day in a succession of 7 days of busier and busier weeks; it is truly a special day, the Day that the Lord has made---a Day that we should rejoice and be glad in it. 

Bed and Breakfast operated by Brigentine Sisters in Assisi

   Having had a wonderful and restful night, we enjoyed the delicious Breakfast the Sisters had prepared for us before we checked out to begin our day of praising God in all his creation here in the city where Francis saw all creation as his brothers and sisters.  Since the Sisters of St. Bridget's Bed and Breakfast is half way up the hill, we were very happy that Giuseppe was with us to drive us up the hill to the Basilica of St. Francis where we were scheduled to celebrate Mass at 8:00 a.m in the Chapel of Peace, near (on the other side of the wall of) the Tomb of St. Francis.  My Mass intention was "Pro Populo"/"For all the People" of the Diocese of Kalamazoo.  (I realize now that I failed to indicate that my Mass intention at yesterday's Mass in the Basilica of St. Catherine of. Siena was for our families who are so important to us.). Msgr. Osborn did the honors of preaching a beautiful homily on the powerful Scripture Readings for today's Mass, and making very nice applications to this amazing Saint Francis of Assisi, a true "fool for Christ" as St. Paul invited us to be in today's Second Reading. 

   Following Mass, we had a very leisurely and prayerful tour of this great Basilica, most especially as we were able to spend some quality time in prayer at the tomb of St. Francis.  During this time, of course, I remembered all my special intentions for our Diocese, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, faithful, family and friends. 
   As you probably know, there are 3 levels to this enormous Basilica that dates back to the days shortly after St. Francis lived.  There is the Crypt, where St. Francis is buried; there is the lower level, which is beautiful, and there is the upper level, equally beautiful and inspiring in so many ways. 
   As we left the Basilica, it was a perfect time to stop for coffee/cappucino and, of course, bombas!  Delicioso!

   Now more refreshed and reinvigorated, our next stop was the Basilica of St. Clare.  We spent  prayerful time in the Chapel where St. Francis heard the Voice of Jesus speak to him from the San Damiano Crucifix, asking him to "rebuild My Church".  And of course we visited the crypt where the body of St. Clare is preserved and where we spent more quality time in prayerful remembrance of all those who have asked us to pray for them.

   It is both interesting and worthy of note that both St. Francis and St. Clare came from wealthy backgrounds and families, but felt compelled to turn their backs on wealth and fame for the sake of following God's call to be "foolish" in the eyes of the world but in the eyes of. God, to be "truly wise".  Both their families resisted their efforts to live Religious Life in the Church, and in fact, initially disowned them; yet they both persevered in following God's call.  St. Francis became the founder of several different religious communities, including the religious community for women of Poor Clares, with St. Clare as the first Superior. 
   After some other sightseeing at the Old section of Assisi at the top of the Hill, we drove to the bottom of the Hill to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, which houses the Portinicula, where St. Francis died.  This Basilica is also magnificent in size and glorious in beauty.  A parish Mass was being celebrated when we arrived so we were unable to see much in detail within the Basilica, so we visited the remainder of the grounds and beautiful images of St. Francis' early religious life up until his death. We also got to visit and spend some time in the great Gift Shop there. 
   I should say a word here about how recent terroristic attacks in various parts of the world have impacted all the churches and basilicas that we have been visiting, both in Rome and in Assisi.  Even as recently as my last visit in 2015, people could approach any of the churches and basilicas with little or no security checking.  Now, in light of recent events and ongoing threats, there are armed troops at every major church/Basilica, and gated barricades around the perimeters of each church/Basilica.  At both St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls, we had to go through security measures similar to the airport, with x-ray screening of personal objects, etc.  It was less so here in Assisi, but the barricades are everywhere now.  What a sad commentary on the circumstances of our day/time; on the other hand, it is much better to take appropriate precautions.
   It was now time for pronzo and we chose a restaurant named "La Basilica".  We had a delicious meal, and speaking for myself, that involved my 7th bowl of pasta in these 7 days.  After lunch, it was time to leave this beautiful City of Peace and return to Rome, the Eternal City.  It was only took about a 2 1/2 hours to drive back to Rome, but I think the pasta had gotten to most everyone since the car was very quiet for much of that time. 

   Upon our arrival back at the North American College, Max and Jeff departed to get themselves ready for a busy week as their new semester of classes starts tomorrow morning, while Msgr. Osborn and I are enjoying a relaxing evening catching up on a number of things.

   This truly has been a "good Sunday" for many different reasons.  I pray that for all of you as well it has been a "Buono Domenica"!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Saturday in Siena and Assisi

Today began a two-day excursion through the Italian countryside to visit two holy places in the next two days:  Siena and Assisi.   So, by 8:30 a.m.  this morning, we managed to fit our two Deacons, Msgr. Osborn and me into a regular size car with our friend Giuseppe (who had picked us up at the airport and will take us back on Tuesday) to be our driver and companion for these two days.  Talk about togetherness!  With Msgr. Osborn and Giuseppe in the front as the driver and navigator, I got to spend some good quality time with Deacon Max and Deacon Jeff on the first leg of our trip, a four-hour drive from Rome to Siena.
            With one stop along the way for coffee (for which we were grateful) and to stretch our legs (for which we were even more grateful), we arrived in Siena around 12:30 p.m.  We had two sights in mind for Siena: the Duomo/Cathedral Church for Siena, and of course the Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena.  So our first stop was the Duomo.

            This magnificent church is an amazing work of architecture   It's exterior facade and tower is incredible and covered with hundreds of sculptures and multiple ceramic depictions of events in the life of our Blessed Mother.  Upon entering the Cathedral, it is massive, with a unique style of black and white striping on the walls and floors which seems unique to that area.  However every other space is filled with artistic reliefs, paintings and ceramic depictions of moments of faith.  The main altar of course is beautiful and the ambo is absolutely massive and beautiful---unfortunately it is under renovation and therefore was boarded up; but from the pictures of what it will be restored to are truly amazing. 
            After perusing the beautiful gift shop next to the Cathedral, we were ready for some lunch (pronzo) which provided me with my 6th bowl of pasta for these six days; it was very delicious.  Since by then it was approaching 3:00 p.m. and our appointed time to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena, we made our way there. 

            The Basilica is far less impressive on the outside; but the inside is very beautiful.  While there appears there has been some attempt to "update" the interior with new stained glass that is, shall we say, "interesting", much of the rest of the interior of the Basilica is the original style from the Middle Ages.  As we know St. Catherine lived on 33 years in this world (1347-1380), and was a Dominican.  However she was brilliant and had amazing influence on the directions of the Church at that time through her direct and strong "counsel" she provided to several of the Popes.  Since she died in Rome, her body was buried in Rome, but her head was taken back to Siena where it is preserved, and for the most part remains incorrupt, in one of the chapels in the Basilica.  It was at that Chapel that we were privileged to celebrate our Mass at 3:00 p.m., and our Deacon Max preached a beautiful homily on the Transfiguration, the Gospel passage of the day. 

            As we had done at St. Catherine's burial place in one of the churches in Rome, here in Siena we also took time at the Mass we celebrated to pray for the priests and people of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in our Diocese, with particular prayers for Father Bruno Okoli. 
            Refreshed both spiritually and physically, we then began our 90-minute drive to Assisi.  As we got there and began our ascent to the old city on the top of the mountain, it was just turning dusk and moving into darkness.  Seeing this ancient city from below, so beautifully lighted, was inspiring.  After some failed attempts, we found the Bed and Breakfast where we are staying provided by the Sisters of St. Bridget.  As soon as we found our rooms, and some freshening up, we departed again to a great restaurant back at the bottom of the hill in the "new city" and enjoyed a delicious, leisurely meal.  It was almost 9:30 p.m. when we returned.  Although we were all quite ready to retire for the evening, the dark, clear sky, filled with stars was much too impressive to ignore; we had to stand in awe and wonder at the majesty of God's creation in this ancient city of Peace, the home of St. Francis, in Assisi.  We look forward to celebrating Mass tomorrow at his tomb.  St. Catherine of. Siena and St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!