Well, I am back at my desk and have hit the ground running coming in from my retreat. The retreat itself was a beautiful experience. It was a week of no phone, no internet, and no talking — only voices raised in prayer. I want to thank the Sisters at the Bethlehem Monastery in Livingston Manor for their hospitality and for the privilege of praying with them last week. As I came to know on Friday when my retreat was ending and the Mother Prioress spoke with me after Mass, our own Bishop Joseph O’Keefe played a significant role in the establishment of the monastery when he was Vicar General of the Archdiocese of New York. She spoke of him fondly and I was able to echo her words with what I have been told about the eighth Bishop of Syracuse.

Upon returning to the diocese, I joined in two celebrations significant to the Year of Vocations: the profession of perpetual vows by five Jesuit novices from St. Andrew’s Hall at Le Moyne College and the Rite of Candidacy for our third-year theologian at Theological College in Washington, DC, Mr. James Buttner. Both ceremonies on Saturday were powerful reaffirmations of God alive and working in the Church today. I am certainly edified by these men who are more than willing to lay down their lives in service of the Gospel and of the Church despite the times in which we live.

Like St. Maximilian Kolbe, religious, priest, and martyr, and the Immaculate Virgin to whom he was so devoted (and whose Assumption into heaven we celebrated on Sunday), in the men who gave their assent to God’s service on Saturday we find a new generation of laborers for the Lord’s vineyard who say to God, “Totally Yours!” in body, mind, and spirit. If anything can help heal the grievous wound of sexual abuse in our Church and in our society, it is men and women taking seriously God’s call to holiness of life. Not a holiness to be found gazing up into the sky, but one in which the Word of God becomes flesh in the lives you and I lead. One thing that struck me on my retreat is the need for silence in our lives to hear and to “chew” on that Word, but in doing so it then becomes part of our makeup — in how you and I live each day. Although the sisters did not speak, their lives spoke volumes to me in my time with them!

If these events were not enough coming off of retreat, on Sunday, which was also the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, I had the joyous honor of inaugurating officially our new diocesan shrine of St. Mary of the Assumption in Oswego. What a privileged moment of setting aside this House of God to be a House of Prayer for the people of our diocese and beyond — I know that for a fact because there was a permanent deacon from the Cathedral Parish in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, who introduced himself to me after the Pilgrim Mass!

Especially poignant was the new home found for the Shrine of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus housed in the former parish of that name in Munnsville. What is so amazing is that it looks right at home in its new home — and its former caretakers in Munnsville told me so as they joined in the Pilgrim Mass. In the weeks ahead, both the Diocesan Statutes for the new shrine church and a Pilgrim Guide for arranging pilgrimages and devotions at the diocesan shrine will be produced to assist pastors and pastoral leaders.

This past weekend, the window for the Child Victims Act closed. Certainly, a very painful and discouraging moment for the Catholic Church in New York State. Yet that does not compare with the pain and burden that victims have carried for years because of the physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma of such abuse. This period of soul-searching I hope magnifies for all of us the horror of sin, which is simply another word for selfishness. The horrors endured by victims of abuse and their accompanying psychological and emotional effects plainly show to all the world the tragedy of sin.

In the Sacrament of Penance, when acknowledging our sin, you and I are invited not only to express contrition but also to make an act of reparation for the offense caused by the sin. In the coming weeks, the Diocese of Syracuse will seek to do so by entering into mediation to establish a Victim’s Trust Fund that will be used to make reparation to victims of child sexual abuse due to the actions of individuals working/ministering in the name of the diocese. Please continue to pray for all victims of abuse, for those seeking to assist them, and for those accused of violating this sacred trust.

Also in need of our prayers are the people of Haiti after the devastating earthquake last Saturday and the people of Afghanistan and the abysmal situation that has fallen upon that nation over the weekend. Both situations remind us that as Christians we cannot simply stand by and expect others to do something. It is important for us to pray for divine assistance, but we need also to act. It is imperative to remind our political leaders (no matter which political party) to not forget the moral duty we have to assist our neighbors in need, especially the innocents. On the home front, we can assist by our own contributions to relief efforts in Haiti and to programs assisting refugees, especially through Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.

This leads to a final plea to be very conscious of our neighbor, especially the young, concerning the burgeoning cases of the coronavirus and its Delta variant. Again, I get a variety of advice from concerned parishioners. I try to keep on an even keel in dealing with the ongoing pandemic. In conjunction with our local health departments, I encourage wearing masks and being conscious of social distancing in our churches at the present time. I am also asking our parishes to begin disinfecting after Masses as a precautionary measure and because we did so well last year in keeping our congregations safe. I would like our Communion ministers to return to wearing masks for the distribution of Holy Communion, if this was discontinued.

Also, a reminder that although the leadership of the Catholic Church has voiced its concern over the potential use of cells from aborted fetuses, both Pope Francis and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with other Bishops’ Conferences, have maintained that it is morally permissible to be vaccinated due to the severe public health risk and as a means to protect the vulnerable, i.e, children and adults with pre-existing health conditions. With this in mind, as Diocesan Bishop, I will not give a religious exemption to vaccination. However, I do hold the personal freedom of the individual to determine whether they receive or do not receive the immunization.

All the news in this column directs me to a final issue, and that is to thank Ms. Katherine Long for her 10 years of service to The Catholic Sun. I know I have pushed many a deadline with her and yet she went with the flow! I want to thank Katherine, along with her fine staff, for producing a Catholic newspaper we all can be proud of! Katherine, you will be greatly missed, but know my prayers and those of our diocesan family go with you in your new venture. May God bless you and your family as you continue to walk in God’s path for your life!

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