Thursday, January 05, 2017

A Cardinal's Mission Country – In Newark, The "Vision" Begins

One hundred sixty-four years ago here in the Northeast, the first Redemptorist to be professed on these shores ceded part of his territory for the founding of a diocese at Newark.

And now, on the very day when the church commemorates said missionary bishop as Saint John Neumann, the sons of Alphonsus are back to reclaim the turf with the arrival of another shepherd from the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer... and this time, a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, to boot.

Indeed, even The New York Times is ecstatic – for purely altruistic reasons, of course.

Even, or maybe especially, to know history, what we're seeing in these days is simply off the charts: A Cardinal in Jersey... Two red hats in the nation's largest media market (which, between its various outposts, comprises some 10 million Catholics)....

And, sure enough, is the Tri-State big enough for them both? (To be clear, that's not a commentary on either's diet.)

Long story short, every Pope makes a certain rarefied handful of appointments which define his legacy long after he leaves the stage, or simply his prime... and for Francis, parachuting a scarlet-clad Joe Tobin into the Meadowlands might well be this pontificate's paramount move in the United States.

Granted, it's not Chicago, but that's precisely the point: it's "just" the peripheries, yet no less a behemoth in its own right – a wildly diverse, complex local church of 1.4 million souls, some of the nation's richest and poorest enclaves in the closest range of each other; three seminaries, a diocesan-owned major university, scores of religious communities and "new movements" galore, all of which can make for enough headaches in a day to last a lifetime – and that's not counting the traffic on the Turnpike.

Most of all, though, as has only happened at one other time in the last six decades, an American city has its first cardinal at the helm... and with that, the entire map of prominence and influence for the nation's largest religious body is recast.

Still, the task ahead in this case begins not on the wide stage, but with the calming of a roiled, hurting local scene.

In a couple dozen conversations with various stakeholders in the Newark church, asked what their top pointers would be to the Sixth Archbishop, practically every summary boiled down to two words: "Restore Trust."

While that's not terribly surprising amid the financial, legal and morale troubles that dogged Archbishop John Myers' 15-year tenure, the fascinating thing was how each group was looking out for the others – the religious said the priests needed to be tended to, the clergy noted how the laity were hurting, and so on. But especially after the palpable hope born of Archbishop Bernie Hebda's early arrival as coadjutor was scuttled – first by high-level Chancery obstruction, then the understudy's departure for the Twin Cities – as the angst mounted before Tobin's name finally emerged from the rare direct consultations undertaken by Francis himself, the challenge facing the Hatmakers was simple: "Go big or go home."

And for the result, well, for even cardinals to say "Oh my God" on learning of the choice goes to show how it just doesn't get any bigger than this.

With Jersey's Cardinal-Archbishop slated to make his first appearance at a Vespers tonight for clergy and religious, the Installation Mass itself begins at 2.30pm Eastern Friday – you can find the livestream and full coverage here then... in the meantime, it's no mere coincidence that the liturgical plans reek of Christmas. (SVILUPPO: Vespers report/homily video.)

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Going into the moment – especially as the incoming redbird isn't often one to speak from a prepared text – it's worth recalling a moment significant enough that he did.

Overshadowed as it was by the following day's election and other quick-moving events, at his November introduction to North Jersey, Tobin claimed not to arrive with a "vision," but proceeded to sketch one nonetheless, terming it "three convictions" which would underpin his ministry and the mission ahead:
Good morning. Thank you for coming to this press conference, which marks another stage in the long history of the Archdiocese of Newark. Two weeks ago, I learned that Pope Francis was entrusting to me the pastoral care of this storied archdiocese. Two weeks earlier I discovered that the Holy Father had named me to the College of Cardinals. I am not sure my central nervous system can take much more news. You will forgive the occasional stutter or facial twitch.

The news of my appointment to the Archdiocese of Newark evoked both shock and sadness. I recently marked four years as the Archbishop of Indianapolis and had come to love deeply the people of central and southern Indiana. It is gut-wrenching to think of leaving the wonderful clergy, religious and faithful of that local Church, as well as the many friends I have among people of other faiths and those of no faith.

On the other hand, I have understood that God has called me to live my baptism as a missionary disciple: one who is called by Jesus to be with Him and to be sent forth to preach and to heal. This vocation has led me to minister in parishes in Detroit and Chicago, lead the world-wide family of Redemptorist missionaries, serve Pope Benedict XVI in the Roman Curia and, most recently, to oversee the steady growth of the Church in Indiana. Now, I accept this assignment to Newark and understand it as God’s will for me. God’s grace has sustained me so far and I trust I will have what I need to serve well the People of God in this great Archdiocese.

When I arrived in Indianapolis four years ago, I had to fend off daily the dreaded “V question”. People would ask me, “What is your vision for the Archdiocese?” “Don’t have one,” I would answer – which evoked a look of wonderment. I explained, “I don’t have a vision right now but, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will have one." 
Today it is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy; that would be arrogant and stupid. Instead, I would like to share some convictions about the vision. These principles will guide my ministry as I discern with the people of this archdiocese the way forward.

Three convictions about the vision


The way forward is always and must be a response. We respond in love to God who loved us first. God has always been out in front of humanity as Creator, Redeemer and life-giving Spirit. The clearest sign of this is Jesus, sent to us because God “so loved the world”. So, the criterion by which I want to be judged is whether, by word and actions, I led people to a deeper love for Jesus, who is the merciful face of God. My first conviction is that I am called to watch over the unity of this Archdiocese and to encourage in charity the journey of all toward an ever-greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ.

Field hospital

My second conviction is that the love of Christ is made manifest through His Body, the Church. Pope Francis has helped Roman Catholics understand how that Body ought to be understood today. He uses the graphic image of a “field hospital,” dedicated to healing the wounds of human hearts. In describing the mission of the Church, the Holy Father outlined the tasks of the Archdiocese of Newark: to heal the wounded hearts, to open doors, to free [people], to say that God is good, God forgives all, that God is our Father, God is tender, that God is always waiting for us ...

Continuing the double miracle of Pentecost

Thirdly, I believe that the Church in every age is challenged to reproduce the double miracle that accompanied her birth. The first miracle is dramatic: on the day of Pentecost, people from many lands heard the Good News proclaimed by the apostles, each in his or her own language. This miracle produced an abundant response of faith.

The second miracle is understated but nonetheless wonderfully real. There is no evidence that the response of faith erased the richness of culture. The Parthians, Medes, Elamites and all those other tongue-twisting nationalities did not “melt” into some celestial “pot”. The first Christians retained the richness of their cultures while discovering a principle of unity. This principle is nothing less than the Holy Spirit.

I grew up in a multi-cultural neighborhood of southwest Detroit. I was a little jealous of classmates that went home and spoke a different language, ate different food, thought differently. My service of the Church obliged me to live many years in cultures different from the Irish-American ambient of my family. So I am excited to lead an archdiocese where the Eucharist is celebrated each Sunday in twenty languages. The Holy Spirit will help us prolong the double miracle of Pentecost.

The Spirit in which we need to work

Besides those three convictions, I would like to mention three qualities that I believe the Archdiocese will need and which I intend to promote.
The first is joy. I am not talking about a sort of superficial giddiness but rather the “joy which we experience daily, amid the little things of life, as a response to the loving invitation of God our Father,” the joy that was promised us by Jesus, joy that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. 
The second is transparency. I intend to be in regular and effective communication with the people of this Archdiocese, city and state. I will promote policies that recognize that we preach the Gospel, not only with words but with actions. 
The third quality is freedom. While believing people today have a justifiable interest in the cherished freedom of religion that is a part of our nation’s heritage, I am even more concerned that the Catholics strive to be free from fear. As we grow in love of God and our neighbor, that love will drive out fear (1 John 4:18).

But the most precious quality any of us can manifest to a skeptical, cynical world is gratitude. Gratitude accepts life itself and everything that comes with it, even times of suffering and sorrow, as a gift. I am grateful:

  • to the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in this Archdiocese and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world;
  • to Pope Francis, for his leadership of the Church and the example of his life, which teaches me how to be a bishop;
  • to Archbishop John Joseph Myers, the fifth Archbishop of Newark, for the fifteen years he has spent laboring for the good of the Church. I am very grateful for his welcome to me.
  • To my beloved Archdiocese of Indianapolis, her clergy, religious and faithful: in thanksgiving for all we have been able to do together, for the love and respect we share, for the unity that we will continue to enjoy in the communion of saints and the breaking of the bread.
Hope for the future

I never close a talk by saying “in conclusion”, since someone once defined “second wind” as what happens after a bishop says “in conclusion.” I would leave you with one last conviction: that hope is a characteristically Christian virtue, really, a sine qua non for disciples of Jesus. One of the first disciples, the apostle Peter, admonishes us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” (1 Peter 3, 14).

I would like to offer you one reason for my hope, using the words of the American Catholic writer, Walker Percy, to help me. In his essay, “A Cranky Novelist Reflects on the Church” he offered a clear-eyed description of the challenges faced by the Church and her ministers. But in these very challenges, Percy pointed out a startling simple reason for hope:

Never has there been a more fertile harvest for the seed and the harvest the Lord spoke of. All that is needed is a bearer of the Good News who speaks of it with such authenticity that it can penetrate the most exhausted hearing, revive the most jaded language.

I invite the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Newark to pray for me, that, in my service to you, I might speak of the Good News with such authenticity that you may recognize in my words, the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.