Some of us have been privileged to attend — and great numbers of us
have seen on television — the great outdoor liturgies celebrated by
Pope John Paul II during his visits to the nations of the world. They
are impressive in so many ways and offer us an opportunity to reflect
on various aspects of the church’s life: its diversity, its emphasis on
community, the richness of its symbols, and its orientation to the
service of those in need.
Yesterday, I had an experience akin to those of John Paul II, and
for it I thank nearly 1,000 girls and boys, women and men from our
Tioga County parishes. These parish communities gathered at the
Hickories town park in Owego to celebrate a significant step in their
county-wide pastoral planning process — their movement to become one
canonical parish with several worship sites all served by one pastoral
The parishes of St. James, Waverly; St. Francis, Catatonk; St.
Margaret Mary, Apalachin; St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; and
St. Pius X, Van Etten are merging to become Blessed Trinity Parish,
which also is clustered with St. Patrick, Owego. The process is not
totally complete, but it is close enough to completion that the
communities wished to come together to thank God for blessing their
work to date and to ask God’s grace for what is yet to be
The celebration at the park was deeply moving. A splendid choir and
musical group helped us to express our praise and thanksgiving. There
was attention on the importance of joyful and reverent movement in all
phases of the liturgy. All gave loving care to those with special
needs. Children were active in the liturgy in appropriate and enriching
ways. People attended with obvious interest to the sights they saw and
the sounds they heard all around them. The circumstances made the
orderly and reverent distribution of the Eucharist a challenge, but
those who prepared the celebration met that challenge beautifully.
I cannot say enough good about that liturgical experience. I took
great encouragement from the strong faith of the people and from their
joyful spirit. They were there with concern for one another, and
realized how much they and all of us owe to the mercy and grace of
The spirit manifested in the liturgy yesterday was much like the
spirit they have brought to the pastoral-planning process. They have
tackled the difficult questions with vision and courage. And through
the process — precisely because it brought them together in new ways
— they have grown in respect, love and trust for one another.
That does not mean that there have not been tough moments, or times
when those involved did not need to step back, take a deep breath and
start afresh. If you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll whisper that
there also were times in the process when they were angry with the
bishop — and, I must confess, not without reason.
But they have done wonderful work — work that they beautifully
offered to God yesterday. Through these written words I want to repeat
the thanks I expressed yesterday — to pastors, pastoral
administrators, parish staff and volunteers past and present, and all
of the people. And I would like to add a word of thanks here to a
person I intended to thank yesterday but forgot to mention. That is
Karen Rinefierd from our diocesan Pastoral Planning Office, who serves
as liaison to the Tioga planning group.
Peace to all.