In interview, Bishop Matano explains importance of presence
"Presence" was a recurring theme of an exclusive interview the Catholic Courier conducted Nov. 21 with Bishop-Designate Salvatore R. Matano, who will be installed Jan. 3, 2014, as ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester.
Bishop Matano spoke at length about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; his presence at celebrations in the Diocese of Burlington, Vt., which he has led since 2005; the faithful's obligation to be present at Mass; his presence in Vermont courtrooms during sexual-abuse trials; and his scheduled presence at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January 2014.
Here are excerpts from the interview, which is available in a condensed form at http://bit.ly/1aZk1fn. The full interview will be made available in video segments and transcripts posted online over the next several weeks in the video section of www.catholiccourier.com.
On how he has managed to be present as a bishop to so many in the Diocese of Burlington and as a priest and teacher in Providence, R.I.:
"I will be a priest 42 years on Dec. 17. Having experienced those 42 years I have to say I have always been very happy as a priest. When I was made a bishop, I recognized that as the church asking me to intensify my priestly life by being a shepherd to a diocese. I have enjoyed that in the midst of all the challenges that we have faced in Vermont on any number of levels, and I welcome the opportunity to be with the faithful people for the celebration of Mass, celebration of the sacraments, special events in the life of a parish."
On results from the Year of Faith:
"Any number of places I have visited, there has been an awareness of the Year of Faith and not only an awareness, I would say over the last several years a deepening appreciation for what we do at Mass. ... We bring to this celebration the very best that we have, and we concentrate at that moment upon who we are as God’s children, bringing to the Lord all of our concerns. But at the same time coming not only to receive from him but to give to him the gift of our presence as he has given us his real presence in Holy Communion we come to give him our presence. I think these themes have become more prominent in the lives of our people.
"Sometimes numbers may not always be what we want them to be but sometimes we forget all too often that faithful Catholic who has been a part of the church’s life from their young years and now they are in their senior years. We can’t take these people for granted either. We do have to at times help them to even nurture their faith."
On his paternal grandparents and his maternal grandparents, who emigrated to the United States from Italy:
"Like many people of that time who came to this country, they only came with two suitcases. One suitcase was a great love for their family, and the other suitcase was a great love for their faith. It’s amazing the magnificent churches that were built by those who came to this country with little or nothing and how much they sacrificed to build up these churches which were and are a concrete manifestation of how they loved God. Within the parishes, schools grew up because they were so concerned that their children have an education that they themselves did not have. For them the greatest supports were faith and family."
On how his parents transmitted their faith to him and his sister:
"Let’s just say it was absolutely unthinkable that you would ever miss Mass. That just didn’t happen.
"If you feigned a sickness and started to give a little cough or something to excuse yourself, you can be sure you were not leaving the house that day, so the thought never crossed our minds. ... During Lent we began the day by going to daily Mass. And then my parents went off to their work, and I went off to school.
"Prayer was very much an important part of our lives. They sacrificed so that I would have a Catholic education. Remember, my dad was a barber in the '60s. Now you probably don’t remember the '60s, but the hair was quite long. Being a barber in those days was quite a challenge. Nonetheless, Dad, together with Mom, were able to continue to help us, to help me and my sister, to have a very good education."
On his two stints at the Apostolic Nunciature:
"The Apostolic nuncio -- the Apostolic Nunciature -- relates to all the Catholic diocese and Catholic institutions throughout the United States, so we assist him in his relationships with these ecclesial bodies and you can have any number of assignments there. It’s very intense work, as you can imagine, because you are dealing with the whole country, but I can tell you, it was in those years at the Apostolic Nunciature that I met some of the most dedicated priests I have known.
"I would never refer to them as people who are seeking careers. It was a very demanding position, and they worked extremely long days."
On promoting vocations in the Diocese of Rochester as priestly retirements are projected to exceed ordinations:
"In the Diocese of Burlington we’ve had that very same concern. So I believe what has to be done, and it seems to be present here by the number of seminarians we are blessed to have in formation, is that the whole community has to nurture vocations and every priest has to be a vocations director.
"You asked about growing up, who inspired me. Well, the biggest influences upon me were the parish priests and then supported by my own family, and I think families have to recognize how necessary and how essential the priesthood is to the life of the church and encourage their sons to consider a religious vocation if that be God’s will. ... We are also seeing a wonderful new phenomenon in the life of the church today of young people with very varied backgrounds who are on college campuses that have a very strong Catholic presence seeking information about being a priest.
"Some of the finest vocations we have in the Diocese of Burlington have come to us from among students at the University of Vermont through the Catholic Center. The Catholic Center is a very vibrant Catholic presence on a very diversified secular campus. ... We priests, and I still consider myself very much a priest, we priests need to rejoice in our priesthood -- not in a haughty arrogant sense, but truly be happy in our vocation and proud of the work that the priest does in uniting people to Christ and see it as a vocation that is a privilege to serve the Lord and want to share that vocation with others.
"Candidates for the priesthood recognize happy priests. They also recognize those that may be less enthusiastic. Enthusiastic, happy priests create vocations with the Lord, who is the first one who calls us to the priesthood. ... So, I would say in this diocese, with the upswing, God bless the diocese. I would expect I have very happy priests, very enthusiastic priests. And I will work with them to keep that spirit and to be able to work together to invite other young men to take our places into the future."
On why people may have left the Catholic faith:
"Well, there are any number of reasons why a person may have stopped practicing their faith by weekly attendance at Mass. Usually commentators will identify a serious crisis as being the problem, but sometimes it’s as simple as a very fast-paced world with many activities and among those activities it can happen this weekend we haven’t made time for Mass. And maybe it happens the next weekend. And before you realize it, a certain pattern or routine has set in.
"Now there also may be more serious issues. But the challenge to bring people back is not just in the 21st century. Jesus had the same challenge. ... Well Jesus in his teaching began to go from feeding their human needs (through the multiplication of the loaves and fish) to now speaking about himself as the bread of life. Himself as the Eucharist. And issuing them the challenge to believe that he was going to give us his own flesh and blood in the Eucharist.
"Scripture has that very penetrating line: 'And they found him too much to take.' ... Maybe we haven’t been the best catechists in getting across the reality of the Eucharist. ... If you really, really believe that bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, how can you refuse his invitation to come and to be present? The words of Jesus about the Eucharist: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’ Those are not the words of any bishop or any pope. Those are the words of our Lord. ‘And come to me all you who labor and find life burdensome.’
"So that if you believe in that extraordinary transcendent moment of union, maybe if the homily isn’t as exciting as you hoped it would be, or the music isn’t as elevating as you would have liked it, you could look beyond those elements and see the heart of what is taking place, and I think catechesis in this area is absolutely essential. There could have been other people who have had very sad experiences. But in dialogue, in conversation, maybe we can help these people to find their way back."
On being present in Vermont courtrooms during sexual-abuse trials against the Diocese of Burlington:
"Well, I felt it was my responsibility. It was ultimately my duty to bring these very sad circumstances to a resolution, and I did not think it at all fair to place that burden on someone else. I felt it was necessary for me, by my presence, to show with all my faults and failures that I was seeking a resolution. ... Unfortunately it brought us to a legal forum, but nonetheless it remained my responsibility and it was a very, very sad and difficult experience for everyone -- certainly for the victims -- but for the entire diocesan family and for the families of the victims. ...
"I’ll never really be the same after as I was before (experiencing the trials). It’s something that I carry with me every day. It’s a memory that will never leave me. It’s certainly etched in my mind. It’s a sadness that doesn’t go away. You can be engaged in any number of activities in the course of a day, you can be celebrating Mass, you can be writing a letter, you can be giving an homily, and it can cross your mind and bring back the reality of those days. It’s an impression that just doesn’t leave.
"You certainly try to work through it. You try to understand that the Lord carries all of us in these circumstances. You allow yourself in faith to go forward and still be a sign of hope to people. And certainly it was a humbling experience, which makes you always a better person. Humility is really the foundation for success in the ministerial life. Humility is reminding ourselves that everything is with the Lord, for the Lord and through the Lord."
On his continued outreach to victims of sexual abuse by clergy:
"Certainly they can have memories that are very difficult for them to overcome and enter the church, but I have not hesitated to speak with victims who called me and asked to speak with me. I’m sure in the parishes here there are priests, all the priests I think, would be very willing to speak to these people in helping them to become part of the life of the church again. As I said the bishop can’t do it alone. ... Sometimes, you know, a person can feel, 'Because I have been in this situation, they talk about welcoming me, but maybe they really won’t welcome me,' and that’s not the case at all. I think it’s come and see. You are welcome."
On what local Catholics can do to support the church in cultivating a respect for life:
"Well, I was quite edified to learn that you have six buses going to Washington for the right-to-life Mass. I think only one year I have missed but every other year that I have been in Burlington I have gone to the vigil Mass at the Basilica at the Verizon Center, called the Mass with Youth and then joined up with people for all or part of the march, just depending on my schedule, and I certainly hope to do that this year."