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These remarks were delivered in a press conference at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Newark, N.J., on November 7, 2016.
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.
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.
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 ...
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.
Besides those three convictions, I would like to mention three qualities that I believe the Archdiocese will need and which I intend to promote.
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:
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.