South Onondaga, New Berlin, North Bay, Sylvan Beach, Waterville, Hamilton… What do they have in common? Well, for me, they are places I have visited during the past few weeks. Although the annual fall and spring Confirmation schedules provide the opportunity to visit many of the parishes throughout our diocese, there are some parishes that I rarely have the opportunity to visit. So, when possible, I travel to these parishes to celebrate Mass and visit with parishioners.
Any opportunity to pray and converse with the faithful of the diocese is a particular joy for me, but the pastoral visits are uniquely special. As I thought about the visits this summer to Corpus Christi in South Onondaga, St. Mary’s at Sylvan Beach and Hamilton, St. Theresa’s in New Berlin, St. John’s in North Bay and St. Bernard’s in Waterville, I recalled how my faith was strengthened by the faith and devotion of the parishioners I met. Every weekend, and perhaps more often, these faithful gather in their parish churches to be nurtured by God’s word and sacrament and the faith of those with whom they pray. Strengthened by their faith, I was also humbled by the warmth, kindness and respect with which I was received. How good it is for me to be among God’s people! I hope the pastoral visits confirmed their faith and encouraged them to live their faith and share it with others.
This past week I also had the opportunity to participate in the vocation picnic at St. Joseph’s in LaFayette. While enjoyable, this annual effort to bring together young men and women who are interested in learning more about the priesthood and religious life also reminded me about the responsibility to provide for the sacramental needs of our people in all areas of the diocese.
I suspect that most of you have experienced the consequences of the diminishment in vocations to the priesthood. And yet, despite this diminishment, we must provide for the needs of God’s people, especially the availability of the Eucharist and the sacraments. As I mentioned in my pastoral letter, Faith, a Gift Received – a Treasure to be Shared, pastoral planning has been part of our history and a current effort:
“Just as Bishop Ludden had a plan for the diocese in its early days, and Bishop Foery had a plan in the postwar years, so it is necessary for us today to plan for the present and the future. How can we best use the resources both human and financial available to us? How can we continue to serve God’s people to the best of our ability? How can we create a culture which supports the vocation to holiness? How can we invite men and women to give their lives to God and the service of His people as priests or religious? How can we support our lay faithful so they can take an active role in the Church and assume their rightful place as disciples of the Lord? How can we further the work of the New Evangelization?”
Much time and effort have been and continue to be devoted to these questions. Planning is much more than rearranging geographic boundaries for parishes or determining the use of church buildings. Essentially it is about people whose faith needs to be nourished, strengthened and passed on to the next generation. It is about the divine saving grace of God’s love and mercy that must be available to His people. It is about communities that are called to live their faith vibrantly and share it enthusiastically with others.
As we move forward with the planning process we will continue to address these issues “as we evaluate our current resources: personal, financial, material and spiritual. Over time pastoral planning will require changes which affect our institutions and the use of personnel. However, whatever accommodations we make to further the mission of the Church and ministry to God’s people, we are all called to continue the journey of faith. The essential question is: How do we know, live and share our faith in the present day as we look forward realistically and hopefully to our future” (Faith, a Gift Received – a Treasure to be Shared)?
During the past weeks, the College of Consultors has been meeting regularly to review the information submitted by pastoral care areas and other information submitted by parishes and individuals as we plan realistically for the future here in our beloved diocese. We all need to develop a new way of thinking as we look to the future.
In the coming months information regarding the planning process will be made available. I ask you to remember in your prayers those committed to this process, including me. Decisions that touch and affect people’s lives are incredibly important. The wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit are essential.
As I went about the pastoral visits, the vocation picnic and the planning meetings, and you engaged in the everyday activities of your life, the people in the Middle East faced insurmountable threats to their human dignity and safety. I think particularly of the people of Iraq, persecuted for their religious beliefs, who are making a modern day exodus from oppression and tyranny.
Most likely you have seen and heard, as I have, the news from Iraq. If you mute the sound on the television news reports, the faces alone tell the story. The anguished, fearful, sorrowful, malnourished, weather-beaten faces of infants, children, the elderly, and men and women of all ages do indeed leave us, as Pope Francis said, in “disbelief and dismay.”
“The news coming from Iraq leaves us in disbelief and dismay: thousands of people, including many Christians, brutally driven from their homes; children dead from thirst and hunger during the escape; women who are abducted; people slaughtered; violence of every kind; destruction everywhere, destruction of homes, destruction of religious and historical and cultural patrimonies. All of this deeply offends God and deeply offends humanity” (Pope Francis, Angelus Message, August 10, 2014).
I ask you to pray for the thousands upon thousands of people who are suffering in Iraq, for those trying to assist them and for increased efforts of charity and justice from nations that can contribute to the humanitarian effort to nourish and protect the people fleeing from oppression. Please join me in asking our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, to bring an end to the violence in Iraq and bring peace among the factions that divide the country.
“Let us pray to the God of peace, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary: Give peace, Lord, to our days and make us builders of justice and peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us” (Pope Francis, Angelus Message, August 10, 2014).
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 East Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.