It was on July 31, 2019 that I formally left the Diocese of Ogdensburg to take up residence in my new home of the Diocese of Syracuse. It happened also to be the memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola whose prayer known as the “Suscipe” is one of my favorites. For those not familiar with it, it reads: “Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.”
This prayer aptly sums up my own prayer over the last three years as your bishop. I readily realize that I can do nothing as your bishop without God’s grace which alone suffices. It would be an understatement to say that my navigating these initial three years as a bishop of the Church has everything to do with grace and that often I ask God to keep “me” out of the way!
Yet, I cannot forget also that God has chosen me to be his apostle – as one sent on a mission. This idea was reinforced as I watched Pope Francis traverse Canada “the true north strong and free” and meet with its Indigenous people on his “Pilgrimage of Reconciliation.” Accompanying the Holy Father from afar has been a very personal pilgrimage for me because I have found the path he trod represents in many ways various aspects of my own ministry among this local Church.
First, because I have from the earliest days of my episcopal ministry have had to face the ugly and disheartening issue of abuse of children and vulnerable adults by clergy and lay leaders associated with the Catholic Church. As the Holy Father noted in addressing the issue of the abuse at residential schools :
“I recall the meetings we had in Rome four months ago. At that time, I was given two pairs of moccasins as a sign of the suffering endured by Indigenous children, particularly those who, unfortunately, never came back from the residential schools. I was asked to return the moccasins when I came to Canada; I brought them, and I will return them at the end of these few words, in which I would like to reflect on this symbol, which over the past few months has kept alive my sense of sorrow, indignation and shame. The memory of those children is indeed painful; it urges us to work to ensure that every child is treated with love, honour and respect. At the same time, those moccasins also speak to us of a path to follow, a journey that we desire to make together. We want to walk together, to pray together and to work together, so that the sufferings of the past can lead to a future of justice, healing and reconciliation.” (Meeting with the Indigenous Population of the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit – July 25, 2022)
These words echo my own continued sorrow and shame over the abuse of the past which members of our own faith families have had to endure. Together as a family of faith we need to accompany one another on this journey of reparation and healing, especially giving support to those who have been victimized and their families as they seek the “tender compassion of our God” and of the Church who continues His mission in the world today.
A second aspect of my ministry that is represented by Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to Canada is my own outreach to the Indigenous people of Central New York, particularly the Haudenosaunee Confederacy represented through the Onondaga Nation. In my short time among you, I have learned much from our Indigenous sisters and brothers, especially the depth of their own spirituality and their reverence for life and God’s creation. Yet, Pope Francis desires also to make the Catholic Church evermore aware through his pilgrimage of the grave mistreatment and abuse across the centuries of Indigenous people, as colonial powers, including many Christians, were involved in, or complicit, in attempts to erase their culture and identity.
Again, what is most important to me is in addressing both of these matters at Mass at the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre near Quebec City, the Holy Father noted in his homily, “Jesus leads us from failure to hope and healing.” These words give new purpose to my mission as your bishop as I begin another year of service and journey among you, especially at the beginning of our nation’s three-year Eucharistic Revival.
The whole purpose of the Eucharistic Revival is to lead us closer to the Risen Lord Jesus present to us in the Holy Eucharist, who then empowers us to continue to embody his healing and life-giving presence in the world today. Using the gospel reading that Pope Francis concluded his time in Canada with, we turn to the story of the Road to Emmaus and how Jesus draws near to us in our need and despair. Not only does he speak to those on the road words that kindle the flame of faith in their hearts, but even more the Risen Christ breaks bread with them. At that moment, they receive the strength they need to get back on the road and go help those who have been wounded by violence and injustice. In this moment, I recall the words of Micah 6:8 that have been special to me since my seminary days: “This is what God asks of you, only this – to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.”
For me, the recent pilgrimage of Pope Francis is an invitation for you and me to return to our roots, especially as a faith family. Particularly poignant to me was when I watched the Bishop of Rome in Quebec visiting places that I know as well. These places bring me back to my roots in North America for all my ancestors came through Canada to New England and Northern New York. Their initial settlement in the New World would be at Trois Riveres (near the Shrine of Our Lady at Cap de la Madeleine) between Quebec City and Montreal.
The moment I would close these reflections with is when Pope Francis prayed at the tomb of St. Francois de Laval, the first Bishop of Quebec City. It was over 40 years ago that I prayed at this same bishop’s tomb and later on as a priest would pray at the Church of St. Germaine de Pres in Paris where he was ordained as Bishop. In speaking of him, Pope Francis stated:
You were a man for others, who visited the sick, clothed the poor, defended the dignity of original peoples, supported the strenuous efforts of the missionaries, ever ready to reach out to those worse off than yourself. How many times were your projects frustrated! Each time, however, you took them up again. You understood that God does not build in stone, and that in this land of discouragement, there was a need for a builder of hope.
In the year ahead, I pray that I might be same among you. Please pray for me and know that you are in my prayers, as well. In the Name of Jesus – Bishop Lucia