February 10, 2012

Bishop Coyne talks about visit to Rome, social media and the motto that has guided him since his ordination

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, smiles as he types a Twitter message on his cell phone during a break between speakers at a National Catholic Youth Conference press conference for local media on Oct. 19, 2011, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, smiles as he types a Twitter message on his cell phone during a break between speakers at a National Catholic Youth Conference press conference for local media on Oct. 19, 2011, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

By John Shaughnessy

(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part interview with Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

On his last day in Rome as part of “the bishop school” in September of 2011, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne wanted to pray at a certain special place.

So the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis entered the back door of St. Peter’s Basilica—away from the crowds—and asked an usher if he could pray at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II.

“May I go into the chapel and pray?” Bishop Coyne asked.

“Oh, sure, your Excellency, go ahead,” the usher replied.

“So I was able to go into the chapel and sit off to the side behind a pillar where I did a holy hour there,” recalled Bishop Coyne, who was ordained a bishop on March 2, 2011. “It was very humbling.”

That same sense of humility also filled him during a special Mass with the other bishops at the bishop school. The school introduces newly ordained bishops to Vatican offices and the life and ministry of bishops.

“We had Mass at the chair of St. Peter [in St. Peter’s Basilica],” Bishop Coyne said. “To say that literally in our faith that I’m a successor to the Apostles by the laying on of hands, it’s incredibly humbling. To think this Irish kid from a suburb of Boston is now serving the people of Indianapolis, yes, and also serving the greater Church as a bishop.”

Now 53, Bishop Coyne returned to Rome this week for his ad limina visit with other bishops from Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin—a visit from Feb. 9-17 that will include meetings with Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials covering a wide range of pastoral issues.

Before he left for Rome, Bishop Coyne sat for an interview with The Criterion during which he talked about the visit. The conversation also focused on his use of social media as a bishop, the importance of the “new evangelization” in the Church, and the motto that has guided him during his first year as a bishop.

Bishop Coyne also talked about the advice he has received from other bishops, especially after Pope Benedict named him the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese following the early retirement of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein in September because of health issues.

Here is an edited version of the interview.

Q. From an archdiocesan standpoint, what are your hopes for the ad limina visit?

A. “We’ll have the opportunity to go around to the various congregations and offices and meet the people there, the heads of the congregations and the bishops and the cardinals and others. I hope to listen to what they have to say, giving us direction. Hopefully, they’ll have read the report from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and maybe they could offer some good advice into what we’ve done. I hope they spend most of the time commending what we’ve done here in Indiana, but perhaps there will be some room for improvement that I’ll take willingly back to our community here.”

Q. What are you hoping to gain from the experience as part of your growth as a bishop?

A. “It’s a significant experience. There are 28 bishops, including one cardinal, going from our region, so there will be an opportunity to spend some more time with them. We were on retreat in August, and that was a good week. And, of course, I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to have an audience with the Holy Father. Just to be able to spend 15 to 20 minutes with him, listening to what he has to say to myself and my fellow bishops.

“I’ll take my lead from them. I’m just the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. There are a lot more people who have a lot more wisdom and a lot more authority than I have. So I’m more than comfortable being in the background. This is my first time. It’s a real learning experience.”

Q. What advice have you already received from other bishops about the role of a bishop and the approach of a bishop?

A. “When I was named apostolic administrator, a couple of bishops I was talking to said, ‘Just remember, you’re the transitional person [before the next archbishop is appointed]. Don’t change anything unless you have to.’

“And I agree with that. We’re kind of on hold here between archbishops, but we’re doing well.

“A number of young bishops formed ourselves into a support group. We get together every three months or so for an overnight. Also, we call each other on the phone. I’ll say, ‘Listen, what do I do here? This is something I haven’t seen before. I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing here.’

“I also try to get together regularly with Bishop [Timothy L.] Doherty of the Lafayette Diocese. He’s a really good guy, and I have a lot of conversations with him about what’s happening here, and he tells me about what’s going on there. We try to support one another.”

Q. During the closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis on Nov. 19, 2011, you asked the 23,000 people there to text, e-mail or tweet the words, “Called to Glory,” the conference’s theme, to their family members and friends across the country. Talk about how you have used social media as a bishop to spread the faith.

A. “I’m still trying to find my way. Holy Father Pope Benedict has been encouraging bishops and priests and religious to use all the tools of communication we have to spread the Good News. That would involve things like the Internet, texting, Twitter—all those things that are part of what we call social media now.

“It’s given me a daily voice within the community. And it’s not just the community of Indiana, it’s the community on a much larger scale. My blog, ‘Let Us Walk Together,’ has recently passed over 100,000 visits. That means that 100,000 times, somebody has come to my blog to read what I’ve written about being Catholic, being a Catholic priest and then a Catholic bishop.

“I have nearly 2,000 daily followers on Twitter. Every morning, I send out my little thought for the day on the readings or the saint of the day, and then a little quote or a prayer or something like that. That’s going out to nearly 2,000 people who can send it out to other people. So I never know how far it’s going.

“The flip side is that if we think that social media, as we are using it now, is reaching our young people, we’re wrong. The people who follow what I do tend to be a little younger than me or my generation, but young people aren’t following me or reading what I have to say. Their whole way of engaging is very different than the way I’m engaging right now. They tend to text among themselves and stay within their small groups. And it’s hard to break into those groups.

“Where I’m having success is in forming and supporting the adults and the teachers and the families—the older Catholics who then have day-to-day interaction with our young people. But it’s still hard to figure out how we use the Internet to reach the young people. We think by just using the media like that that we’re going to reach them, but we’re not.”

Q. You often mention the “new evangelization” in your tweets and on your blog. How do you define this term?

A. “The new evangelization is not an evangelization to people who have never heard of Jesus Christ. It’s not an evangelization to the unbaptized. The new evangelization is a recognition that there are a significant number of people out there who have been baptized as Christian, specifically as Catholic, and have left the Church—fallen away. It’s also countries that were once heavily Christian that are no longer Christian. So the new evangelization is to reclaim or recall what it is that we have lost—to bring them back.

“It’s not to ignore the need for evangelization to those who have never heard the Gospel or have never had the opportunity to embrace the Gospel. But it’s a recognition that we really need to do a lot of work right here at home.”

Q. As a bishop, you chose the motto, “Trust in the Lord.” How has that motto served you in your first year as a bishop?

A. “It’s the basic understanding that we’re in God’s hands. God’s great providential care for each and every one of us allows me, at certain points, to just let go and say, ‘I have to just trust here that I’m doing the right things. I know I’m trying to do things for the right reasons, and I know I’m trying to be helpful here. And so at this point, I just have to trust in God and allow these things to play out.’

“Trust in God also means trust in God’s Church, too, which we’re also so much a part of. It’s the understanding that each and every one of us, by virtue of our baptism, has been brought into the great body of Christ, and we share in the Holy Spirit.

“And the Holy Spirit does work in kind of a hierarchal way with our Church, but it also works in a very horizontal way—in the sense that the Spirit flows between people of good will, people of good Catholic faith, who each in their own way are trying to do things for the right reason. It’s to trust in their good will as well.” †


Click here to read the first part of The Criterion interview with Bishop Coyne

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