This Sunday, August 8, I will mark my second anniversary of ordination as a bishop and my installation as the 11th bishop of Syracuse. As I look back over the two years, I wonder where time has gone; but on the other hand, they have been a full and eventful two years. Through it all, though, I have felt the Lord walking by my side, reminding me that “with God all things are possible” (Lk 1:37). I have also been reminded again and again of the need to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus or else that is when I begin to sink (see Mt 14:22-36)!
I want again to thank my collaborators in ministry in diocesan administration and in our diocesan offices for the wonderful support and care they have shown me as I seek to care for God’s flock in this portion of the Lord’s vineyard. They put up with a lot because of me and their service to the Church, and words do not adequately express my gratitude to them for all they do in support of the Church’s mission to continue to bring Jesus into the public square. To all of you, I can’t say like I did two years ago, “We’re almost done,” but I do say, “Molto, molto grazie!”
I would be remiss, also, if I did not thank my brother priests and the deacons, religious, and lay ministers of the diocese for all they do in assisting me in the care of the people of God. These have not been easy days and everything has not been rosy, but I appreciate greatly your willingness to continue to labor in the Lord’s vineyard, sowing the seed and responding to the call to assist in the harvest.
Some may be wondering where Year Three will take us. Well, in some sense we will have to see, because all is in the Lord’s hands. On my radar screen, however, is the beginning of our diocesan synod focusing on Communion, Participation, and Mission, and which through Divine Providence will coincide with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome with the same theme as the one we originally chose for our own synod! I am grateful to Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, our new Vicar for Religious, who will serve as Diocesan Director for Synodal Planning.
The celebration of the Opening of the Synod will be on Sunday, October 17, at our Cathedral and will be followed by listening sessions October through April in all parts of the diocese. This will lead us to the preparation, next spring and summer, of the working document for the diocesan synod, involving further consultation of our diocesan councils. It is in this timeframe that a General Secretariat will be formed, which will oversee the organization and actual meeting of the synod in 2023.
Accompanying us on this journey will be a three-year national Eucharistic Revival being planned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I can think of no better spiritual accompaniment to the synodal process than a renewal of our focus on the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11).
Year Three will also see the diocese enter the mediation phase of our Chapter 11 reorganization. Through face-to-face meetings with the mediator and representatives of all parties involved, it is hoped that a just resolution can be found in establishing the Victims’ Trust Fund. It is this fund that will be used to make reparation in a tangible way to victims of sexual abuse caused by persons associated with the Diocese of Syracuse. I and the previous bishops of Syracuse have spoken of our great sorrow over the occurrence of such incidents, but words are not enough; and as Church, we must also show our contrition through our support of the victims and in acknowledgement of the grave harm caused to their innocence and well-being.
I think most folks would suggest that the plate seems full already, but I want to continue my pastoral visits to the parishes and schools of the diocese. In addition, planning for a major youth event in the Diocese of Syracuse at the beginning of March has begun, as we seek to engage and re-engage our young people in the life of the Church.
A final desire close to my heart is to establish a place of pilgrimage in our diocese where anyone can go to spend time with the Lord in prayer and receive spiritual nourishment. Scripture often refers to it as an “out of the way place” (cf. Mk 6:46, Lk 6:12, Lk 9:28, Garden of Gethsemane). Canon law gives the establishment of such places of prayer to the diocesan bishop, along with the approval of the statutes that will govern them (Canon 1232, 1 & 2).
In canon law, this place of pilgrimage and prayer is designated by the title “shrine.” Now, I know that some might be wondering, “Shouldn’t our Cathedral and parish churches already be places for such prayer?” I would hope so, but I know that these places can also be — and are meant to be — busy because they are also centers for parish activities. In the case of a shrine, it is specifically set aside to be primarily a place of prayer:
• Can. 1230 — “By the term shrine is understood a church or other sacred place to which numerous members of the faithful make pilgrimage for a special reason of piety, with the approval of the local ordinary.”
• Can. 1234 §1. — “At shrines the means of salvation are to be supplied more abundantly to the faithful by the diligent proclamation of the word of God, the suitable promotion of liturgical life especially through the celebration of the Eucharist and of penance, and the cultivation of approved forms of popular piety. §2. Votive offerings of popular art and piety are to be kept on display in the shrines or nearby places and guarded securely.”
In observance of my second anniversary as your bishop, and as we enter into endeavors which can only succeed through much prayer, this weekend I will announce the establishment of one of the churches of our diocese as a diocesan shrine, setting it aside to be a place of pilgrimage and prayer for all people of the diocese and beyond. In this place, Masses will be offered in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, Eucharistic Adoration will be available, as will the Sacrament of Penance. Furthermore, parish groups and individuals throughout the Diocese of Syracuse will be able to journey to this place to find spiritual renewal and solace.
The Second Vatican Council declared the Church to be a “Pilgrim Church.” This is a wonderful image to describe our journey together as a diocesan family ultimately seeking our final union with God in heaven. What we are about now is how we help one another along the way to reach the goal!
As I begin my third year among you, I thought I would close with the prayer used throughout the sessions of Vatican II:
We stand before you, Holy Spirit, conscious of our sinfulness, but aware that we gather in your name. Come to us, remain with us, and enlighten our hearts. Give us light and strength to know your will, to make it our own, and to live it in our lives. Guide us by your wisdom, support us by your power, for you are God, sharing the glory of Father and Son. You desire justice for all; enable us to uphold the rights of others; do not allow us to be misled by ignorance or corrupted by fear or favor. Unite us to yourself in the bond of love and keep us faithful to all that is true. As we gather in your name, may we temper justice with love, so that all our discussions and reflections may be pleasing to you, and earn the reward promised to good and faithful servants. We ask this of You who live and reign with the Father and the Son, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.