An Uplifting and Challenging Experience
Archbishop Vlazny, currently the archbishop of Portland, OR, is the former Bishop of Winona.
Last week in the print issue of the Sentinel I wrote about the ad limina visit of us bishop here in the Pacific Northwest to Rome at the end of April. Our newly ordained brother from eastern Oregon, Bishop Liam Cary, was able to accompany all of us on that visit. He found it to be an excellent preparation for his new duties as Bishop of Baker. As always, I found the experience uplifting and challenging, a great reminder of the universality and the complexity of the church. It all began on that first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles. I sensed that the same Holy Spirit was coming upon his successors from the Pacific Northwest during our days in Rome.
On our first full day in Rome, Monday, April 23rd, we visited the Pontifical Council for the Family. The challenges to family life, the increase of divorces, the defense of marriage as a sacred union of husband and wife, and family problems dominated our conversation. My visit prodded me to think about the ways we as a local church might more effectively support marriage and family life. I confess that archdiocesan support has been minimal ever since our bankruptcy experience, but, thanks be to God, many parishes and many religious communities have picked up the slack ever since those tragic years. This is an area that calls for improvement in the coming years.
Tuesday was our busiest day. We went to visit the Congregation for Bishops, whence these ad limina visits are scheduled and coordinated, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by our former Archbishop, Cardinal William Levada, the Congregation for Divine Worship, where the number two man is Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, OP, presently the titular archbishop of Oregon City, and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. All four of these meetings dealt with issues that are pertinent to us in our life as teachers of the faith and shepherds of the flock. We acknowledged our gratitude for the recent appointment of the new Bishop of Baker, a priest of this archdiocese. We discussed some possible programs for the coming Year of Faith, reviewed the implementation of the new Roman Missal in our dioceses and discussed some of the serious questions that have been raised recently about religious life in the United States. We stressed how invaluable men and women who have embraced the consecrated life have been for us in carrying out our evangelizing mission.
Wednesday began with an early morning Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter. Praying there is always a very special privilege, a reminder of all the church history that takes its origins on that Vatican hill. We later visited the Congregation for Clergy and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. That evening we had an opportunity to meet with the United States priests who are working in Rome and live at the Villa Stritch, a residence established by the American bishops back in the late 1960’s. Our own Msgr. John Cihak is one of the residents and, with his fellow residents, graciously welcomed us for some refreshments and conversation.
Thursday, in addition to seeing the Holy Father, we celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral, and then visited the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. I was especially impressed with the conversations there. The new Prefect, Cardinal Kurt Koch, a native of Switzerland and former Bishop of Basel, was especially helpful. As challenging as ecumenical dialogue may be at times, the importance of relationships with the other Christian churches is so critical that our struggles need to be endured, not set aside. His second in command, Archbishop Brian Farrell, was especially instructive in some of our conversations about the ecumenical dialogue involving Anglicans and Catholics, as well as the recent welcome that has been extended to some Episcopalian priests and the establishment of a special ordinariate for former Episcopalians who have asked to become members of the Catholic Church. That evening we were hosted by Ambassador Miguel Diaz and his wife Marianne, at a reception in the Villa Richardson, the residence of the United States Ambassador to the Holy See. I have known Marianne and her family from my days as Bishop in Winona.
Finally on the last day of our visit, we celebrated Mass again in St. Peter’s at the Altar of Blessed John Paul II and visited the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. The Prefect at the Congregation for Catholic Education spoke to us at length about seminaries, Catholic universities and Catholic schools. He prodded us to be persistent in our efforts to seek assistance from the government for the ministry of our Catholic schools. He pointed out how this is quite common in other nations and surprisingly unacceptable by so many in the United States. The last visit, at the Council for Promoting New Evangelization, gave us an opportunity to meet with Archbishop Rino Fisichella. The archbishop at one time taught a course at Mount Angel Seminary. He is an enthusiastic proponent of the new evangelization. We discussed some opportunities and strategies that might strengthen the life of our church during the coming Year of Faith.
With the celebration of Pentecost on this coming Sunday, the Easter season will come to an end. We return to Ordinary Time, but, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, hopefully we shall be able to accomplish some extraordinary things in the months ahead. Certainly the ordination of ten new priests on June 9th will be a highlight. It will be my special prayer this Pentecost that the Holy Spirit will guide our efforts to protect religious liberty here in the United States. We need to pray especially for our Catholic leaders in government who are sorely tempted these days to do what is seemingly expedient and “politically correct” in our current secular milieu. Pray too for all our bishops and pastors that they will be faithful shepherds of the flock, and not run for cover when under attack. God bless us all.