As I have said to many of you in person and will continue to say as I travel our 12-county diocese, I feel truly blessed for having shared this journey with you these past 25 years; indeed, words cannot express adequately my gratitude for your support, prayers and commitment through these years.
Let me add that your faith, energy and devotion to our church and Our Risen Lord give me great comfort and confidence in the promise of tomorrow.
Several weeks ago, thoughts of what has been and what will be were very much on my mind when I was asked to describe the “State of the Diocese” in a formal talk before the good people who are so generous with their time in implementing our diocesan pastoral-planning process. That event naturally caused me to ponder what is right — and what we yet need to work on — in the church of Rochester, as well as our role in bettering the larger community in which we live, work and play.
I began by saying that I have always believed one of my most important roles as bishop is to serve as a harnesser of visions — a conduit through which the energy and ideas of the laity and the clergy working together coalesce and move us to our core mission of proclaiming the Good News of a loving, gracious God.
This is the mission that has shaped and driven — and continues to shape and drive — all of our priorities and energies. This is our common goal and source of strength. We are all in this together, and we have done well together.
One shining example of using teamwork to face a major challenge head-on is the process I just mentioned, Pastoral Planning for the New Millennium. This is our major initiative to find solutions for the future to the projected decline in number of priests and the shrinking of parish resources. The process also stirs us to look beyond traditional parish boundaries and consider what it means to be the Body of Christ.
As we moved into this process in the late 1990s, smaller parishes naturally worried about a loss of identity, and larger ones pondered how they would find some practical, helpful way to move out of self-containment and share outwardly. Now, we have gone from seeing each parish as an island, to working together with neighboring communities to face our challenges and find new, more efficient and practical ways of fulfilling our mission.
We also have completed our very successful Partners in Faith capital campaign. I believe the total now stands at nearly $56 million. That success in itself is a clear and wonderful sign that our diocese is vibrant, confident, inspired and filled with faith — not afraid of the future but embracing it. I am most grateful to each and every one of you.
As well, I am excited about the much-needed renovations to our cathedral, of which you all will be most proud. And I am thankful for the new Pittsford campus of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. How blessed we are to have this lovely facility, which provides opportunities for growth in lay leadership and the diaconate at a time when we are both experiencing the fruits of such leadership in our churches — and when we need that fruit most.
Just as the vast increase in lay ecclesial ministry is much cause for joy, so too are the ever-growing involvement of our diocesan young people in youth-ministry programs and the continued success of our Evangelization and Catechesis programs. And I am just as proud of the hundreds of thousands of people helped annually by Catholic Charities, the continued academic success of our Catholic schools, our efforts to improve the lives of our migrant workers, and the richness of our response to the growing diversity of our people. In addition, we are answering the call of an increasingly diverse community through the efforts of our Pastoral Support Ministries and our parishes.
All said, I am simply awed by the great number of people who are spreading the Good News in myriad ways in the Diocese of Rochester.
Yet, we have real challenges ahead, too.
We must work even harder to ease the poverty that so grips our community. We must strive with every ounce of our conviction to wrestle with the very real presence of racism and classism. We must close the gap between the poor and those who have abundance, between the settled cultures and the new.
We must work harder for harmony in the Body of Christ, to set aside the differences that tend to divide us. I pray for a church of the future in which we spend less energy arguing over differences in our theological views and pastoral approaches, and much more energy on the question of how to increase the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Even as we reach out to one another with Christ’s love, we also must make a very special effort to reach the thousands of Catholics who, disaffected in some way, are absent from our churches. I know that together we will find new ways to invite them back and bring them home.
Let’s tackle these issues and others together, as we have always done. Thus will our journey together in this wonderful Diocese of Rochester continue.
Please pray for and with me, and join me in working toward a future full of hope.
Peace to all.