It hardly seems possible that 2005 is nearly over, that we will celebrate our Lord’s birth in but a few weeks, and then see the dawn of 2006! May the holiday season be a time of togetherness for you and your loved ones, and may you truly experience comfort and joy.
Much like you, I would imagine, this time of year causes me to reflect on what has transpired in the previous year, not only in my own life but also in the world around us. This year, there is much to reflect on and many lessons to be learned. While I could not do justice here to all the world-shaking events that have given me pause through the year, I would like to mention a few. In each, I try to see God’s hand in healing, hope and purpose.
The death of John Paul II. With the rest of the world, I was profoundly saddened by the death of our beloved Holy Father, who called and ordained me to episcopal service. I watched, as did you, in absolute awe as millions of people, many of them young people, flocked to St. Peter’s Square to say goodbye to this inspiring, loving man who championed human rights and non-violence, who ministered to an entire world. In death, as in life, he brought us together. Which of us who watched the television coverage will ever forget that moment — which defined poignancy — when the pall-bearers tipped his coffin upward ever so slightly in one final salute to the world he loved? There are many lessons to be learned as I reflect, but one that will always stay with me is the courage he showed in his last days, the way he tapped into God for the strength to go on despite his health burdens. May it be so for all of us.
The election of Pope Benedict XVI. We may not appreciate as much as we ought to the incredible longevity and stability of our great church. When those wisps of white smoke filled the air, when Benedict XVI was introduced to a waiting world, we not only had a new leader for our church but a reminder that Benedict stands in a succession that goes back to St. Peter. Would that many world governments had such orderly transitions! This great year of two popes should comfort us when we ponder the many issues that face us as Roman Catholics. I am reminded again of the promise of Jesus that his church will last forever: “Upon this rock I shall build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Hurricane Katrina. The devastation caused by this enormous storm, the shocking news that a beloved American city was torn asunder, pressed on all our hearts. Yet, I truly believe that God works through us so that we can find some good, some positive synergy, out of the worst of events. This tragedy is no exception. As we did following the awful tsunami, as we did in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as we have done in countless tragedies of earth-shaking proportions, we rallied as a people behind our sisters and brothers in their need. Locally, Catholics have raised more than a half-million dollars for hurricane relief, and our diocese has committed to a long-term alliance of healing and hope with the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Let us always respond this way with care and concern and needed time and treasure. This is the Catholic way.
Terri Schiavo. The Florida woman’s plight generated non-stop media attention and sparked a highly emotional debate over end-of-life issues. Like you, I prayed hard that the dignity of human life would be upheld and that those responsible for Terry Schiavo’s fate would make sure she received nourishment, comfort and loving care. Here, too, there is a lesson for us all: Her death points out the need for all Catholics to make an effort to more fully understand and contemplate our church’s teachings on the dignity of every human life, to talk about these issues as family and with health-care providers so that all know and understand what we believe and what we request regarding our own care. As Catholics, we also must continue to talk to our lawmakers and other key influencers and unabashedly voice our opposition to euthanasia, abortion and the death penalty — any action by which the dignity of human life is not upheld.
The war in Iraq. This daily tragedy — in which hundreds upon hundreds of American soldiers and Iraqis are losing their lives — has divided us as a nation. As we look back on the past year and the litany of violence that fills our airwaves and newspapers, let us resolve to pray to God for guidance as a nation and work passionately for a just end to this war. At this time of the year in which family love and togetherness is paramount, let us work fervently to bring our troops home as soon as possible.
Violence on Rochester’s streets. The litany of violence that took the lives of so many young people has troubled me greatly. Like you, I read and watch the news with a feeling of frustration and a sense of shock. If any good can come of this, we must band together as a community of faith and as responsible citizens to probe deeply at the root causes of this tragedy and find ways to stop the violence and improve the quality of life and safety on our streets. To that end, we are working as a diocese with Rochester Mayor William A. Johnson on a special task force to reflect on what we can do to help and to develop a multipronged strategy with other community organizations of great diversity. As we all reflect on this, let us keep in mind that these issues know no border and have great implications for our communities, whether urban or suburban.
Christ was born to change the world. Let us work to help him do it.
Peace to all.