Near the end of a recent television interview, the reporter asked me a couple of rather interesting and personal questions. “As a bishop, what is it that you fear the most?” he asked. A tough question, and I had to think about it for a moment. But then I answered that one thing I worry about is someday not being able to provide for the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people of the Diocese, since that’s my primary responsibility as their shepherd.
Then he asked, “What is it that gives you the most joy?” That was an easy question and I responded quickly that seeing the tremendous amount of good that the Church accomplishes every day is a source of great comfort, pride and joy. And it’s true — as I travel around the Diocese, from Woonsocket to Westerly, from Burrillville to Block Island, I see our Catholic Faith in action every day.
Since the beginning of the year I’ve been in 40 parishes for public events. I’ve also visited schools, nursing homes and the prison; I’ve joined with Catholic organizations for festive gatherings and I’ve met with priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and seminarians for special celebrations. And, of course, as part of my administrative duties, I’ve sat in too many meetings and appointments to count, dealing with lots of practical, but important matters.
Through it all, I’ve seen the really wonderful work that the Catholic Church accomplishes every single day – work that proclaims the reality of God’s Kingdom, preaches the joy of the Gospel, and serves our brothers and sisters in need.
I think first of all of our parishes for they are, after all, the living cells of the Body of Christ. In our parishes we have so many good and faithful people carrying on the work of the Church — in administration, worship, education and service. There are countless folks who serve faithfully without receiving much public appreciation — trustees and council members, teachers, catechists, secretaries, bookkeepers, sacristans, cleaning and decorating crews, and many, young and old, who serve in a variety of liturgical ministries.
Do our parishes have challenges? You bet! But, through it all, our parishes continue to be the primary expression of the Church in a wide variety of settings. They are, as St. John Paul described them, “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.”
I continue to be inspired by our priests. Certainly they — we — are all the “earthen vessels” described by St. Paul. We have imperfections and weaknesses; sometimes we don’t serve as well as we should. But we work hard and do our best to follow Jesus and take care of God’s people.
I think of our senior priests who have ministered so well and for so long, and have amazing stories to tell; and our priests in the middle years of their life and ministry who continue to labor faithfully in the heat of the day, carrying the burdens of temporal, pastoral and societal challenges without complaining; and our younger priests — although there are too few of them — who are intelligent, respectful and diligent younger brothers, eager to make their own imprint on the Church and the world in living-out their holy vocation.
And on another front, I can point to all the charitable and social services the Church provides; contributions that are often taken for granted and don’t receive nearly the recognition they deserve. A report I received recently indicates that last year Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Providence assisted a total of 95,200 clients with various needs, of whom 71% were below the federal poverty line.
Services throughout the state include heating assistance (Keep the Heat On), rental help, counselling, adoption and pregnancy services, inner city programs for senior citizens, tax preparation services, and the Emmanuel House Homeless Shelter that provided more than 20,000 bed nights for those who had no other place to sleep. The Diocese also provided assistance to immigrant and refugee families, and financial grants to 53 food pantries and soup kitchens across the state.
And what about the financial picture of the Church? Well, of course, the Diocese of Providence, like other religious and non-profit organizations, has financial challenges. We need to generate more support and be extremely prudent in using our resources. But our people continue to be very generous in supporting their parishes and schools, and in responding to special collections and appeals. Our Diocesan Foundation is growing; the Catholic Charity Appeal is very substantial; our pension funds for laity and clergy are stable and improving; and although we don’t have much room for creativity or new initiatives, we’re able to sustain the essential work of the Church and pay our bills.
So, that’s just a sample of the good news I see in our Church every day. I can certainly echo the words of Pope Francis: “I feel tremendous gratitude to all those who are committed to working in and for the Church. I must say, first, that the contribution of the Church in today’s world is enormous.” (Evangelium Gaudium, #76)
To our priests, deacons, consecrated women and men, employees and volunteers, and all of our parishioners — thank you for all that you do for Christ and His Church. You are my pride and joy.
(I’ll be taking a break from writing my column for a few weeks. But I hope that you’ll have a very safe, peaceful and enjoyable summer. I’ll be praying for you, and please pray for me! And don’t forget to go to Church!)