July 5, 2013

Archdiocan Pallium Pilgrimage Blog

Archbishop says blessings, challenges mark time as local shepherd

Anita Bardo, left, Mary Guynn and Charles Guynn, all members of St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis, greet Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin during a reception following a Feb. 5 Mass at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Church in Indianapolis. Mary Guynn, a mother of 21 children, is the mother of Charles and the great aunt of Anita. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Anita Bardo, left, Mary Guynn and Charles Guynn, all members of St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis, greet Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin during a reception following a Feb. 5 Mass at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Church in Indianapolis. Mary Guynn, a mother of 21 children, is the mother of Charles and the great aunt of Anita. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part interview with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin reflecting on his first seven months as shepherd of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Click here to read the first part.)

By John Shaughnessy

When Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin received his pallium from Pope Francis on June 29, it was a moving moment for him, touched by joy and humility.

That historic moment in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican also added to the range of emotions that the archbishop has experienced since he was installed as the new shepherd of the Church in central and southern Indiana on Dec. 3, 2012. (See photos and updates from the trip on our blog)

He has felt the pride that Catholics in the archdiocese have for their parishes and their schools, talking about it with an affectionate laugh as he notes, “You learn not to wear Scecina stuff to a Roncalli game.”

He has shared the sadness of the parishioners in the Batesville Deanery who recently learned that some of their parishes are designated to be closed—an emotional reality that he previously experienced in his own family parish.

He has also felt the surprise and delight of leading an archdiocese that he believes is marked “by the basic unity among its people.”

All those emotions and more surfaced during an extensive interview in which the archbishop reflected upon his first seven months as the leader of the archdiocese. Here is that interview, conducted before the archbishop traveled to Rome to receive his pallium—a circular band made from lamb’s wool—that symbolizes his communion with Pope Francis and his role as the shepherd of the archdiocese.

Q. What are your thoughts as you look back upon your first seven months as archbishop?

A. “It’s been such a profound experience of being welcomed. When I received the mission from Benedict XVI to come to Indianapolis, I was very apprehensive—apprehensive for the people because I didn’t know anyone in Indianapolis. I certainly didn’t know the clergy. I certainly didn’t know Bishop [Christopher J.] Coyne. And I felt this incredible experience of being welcomed. I often said at the beginning, ‘You’re buying a pig in a poke.’ And they would say, ‘We’ve been praying for our archbishop.’ I was quite humbled to know there was this prayer campaign beforehand. So I said, ‘Well, just keep praying for me.’

“I’ve experienced the welcome in all 11 deaneries, the schools and other groups. I just went through a very painful series of announcements regarding churches in the Batesville Deanery. I think we still have some road to travel together with those questions, but I’ve read every letter or protest or appeal that’s come in—and some speak understandably passionately about their parish—but many of them say, ‘We’re praying for you. We want you to make the best decision’—to have me think again whether in fact I’ve done that. That’s been a profound experience as well.”

Q. What are some of the characteristics of the archdiocese that stand out to you?

A. “One characteristic that I’ve been surprised but delighted by—if I’m reading it right—is the basic unity among the people. I read something recently about how the Catholic Church in the United States has been weakened considerably by a sort of low-level civil war that’s been going on for three or four decades. It’s almost like the blue state, red state paradigm. I don’t sense that here. There have been many explanations for that. One I think is the excellent pastoral leadership under Archbishop Daniel [M. Buechlein]. Whenever I see him, I say, ‘I get more grateful for you every day.’

“The other thing I wonder if it’s the experience of being a minority. It’s the first time where I’ve really ministered—and I’ve visited a lot of countries where Catholics would be less than 1 percent—but I’ve never lived and ministered in an area where the Catholics were such a significant minority. I wonder if that gives us a sort of energy that doesn’t leave room for factionalism. That we know we’re in it together.

“On the other hand, I think there is some respect for diversity, because I personally believe that diversity is a pre-condition for communion. If we’re all the same, we can’t have communion.

“Some other positive impressions are the strength of the Catholic school system. I was delighted to find there was that commitment. And I think we basically have a healthy clergy. Again, I’m grateful to Archbishop Daniel for his vision of a seminary and his attention to promoting the vocation to the diocesan priesthood. We ordained three priests this year and four deacons who will hopefully be ordained next year. Those are all hopeful signs.”

Q. What has been the greatest blessing for you so far?

A. “I would say it’s been the openness and the cooperation of the priests. I think that’s extended across the board. This has been a real particular blessing because a bishop’s missionary activity depends highly upon his relationship with the clergy.”

Q. What has been the greatest challenge?

A. “Definitely it’s been ‘Connected in the Spirit.’ As I said in Batesville, I know a little bit what it means to have your parish closed. I’ve not only been in a diocese where this has happened, but it happened in my own family church, which is a rural village church, much like the ones that we’re considering in Batesville. That was easily the biggest challenge.

“There are other challenges for us, once again as a minority. In a state where some surveys I’ve looked at say, ‘Up to 20 percent of the population have no religious affiliation,’ then we might ask ourselves, ‘What sort of witness do we give? What is the challenge to evangelization in this?’

“The other challenge is trying to determine where God is opening a door for us. Where does the archdiocese need to put its energy to be faithful to the mission we’ve been given?”

Q. What have you learned about the faith of Catholics in the archdiocese so far?

A. “There is a palpable Catholic identity that people share. And maybe again that comes out of the experience of being a minority. But I also think there has been good catechesis and good content in our schools. There’s a strong identification of people with their parish, with their school. It reminds me a bit of when I was a seminarian and I worked in St. Louis quite a bit. There, it’s not so important what college you went to, but what high school you went to. You sense a little bit of that around here. You learn not to wear Scecina stuff to a Roncalli game.

“On the other hand, the faith is under the same strains that Catholics in other parts of the country and other parts of the world experience. There’s a wider society in which religion is being more privatized. ‘Believe what you want, but keep it to yourself.’ Sort of restricting the freedom of religion simply to the freedom to go to your church, synagogue or mosque on Sunday, Saturday or Friday, depending upon your religion. And Catholics see their vocation as broader than that. That gives us the sensation at times of being out of step with everybody else. But being out of step isn’t always a bad thing.”

Q. What are some of the moments from your time as archbishop that stand out to you?

A. “Going to the wakes of those two couples [Donald and Barbara Horan and Stephen and Denise Butz] that were killed in Greensburg in a plane crash. Not only seeing the suffering of those children, but seeing the way that that parish [St. Mary Parish in Greensburg] and those families came around those kids. That was really an impressive thing to see.

“Visiting the schools and being part of graduations also stand out to me. At one high school here in the city, the valedictorians and the salutatorian articulated their faith and their faith community in a very natural way. It gave me the impression that it was something that these people believed. That was an impressive thing to hear from young people.

“I get it, too, when I visit the kids at Marian [University in Indianapolis] and meet with other college-level kids who go to IUPUI [Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis]. They’re young people who articulate their faith in a very convincing way. That’s been an important moment for me.

“Having visited all 11 deaneries, I have some idea of the expanse of the archdiocese—and of the importance for the archbishop to get around. It’s important not only to know and listen to the people, but that they know who you are.”

Q. How do you view the state of the archdiocese at this point?

A. “My impression has only deepened that my predecessors, and most importantly Archbishop Daniel, did a very good job in laying a solid foundation in such areas as worship, education and the responsible management of the archdiocese. I feel that I work with very talented people here in the [Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara] Catholic Center. And my desire is to make sure that the Catholic Center is meeting the needs of the parishes and the other institutions of the archdiocese.

“For me, another very important part of diocesan life are consultative bodies—the deans, the finance council, the board of the Catholic Community Foundation, the priest personnel board, the council of priests. And all these other groupings. I’d like to maximize their time and energy, first of all by giving them meaningful questions to look at and taking their advice seriously. Those are areas I’m learning about, and maybe I need to tweak a little bit. I also want to show them how their energy and time and talent will contribute to the overall mission of the archdiocese.”

Q. As archbishop, you chose the motto, “Gaudete in Domino” (“Rejoice in the Lord”). How has that motto served you in the leadership of the archdiocese so far?

A. “It comes from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Philippians is the letter that has always meant a lot to me. I think it means a lot because if you scratch it a little bit it’s the letter where Paul has the least quarrel with anybody. He’s not fighting with anybody like he does in Corinth or Galatia.

“It’s even more meaningful when you realize he’s in prison when he’s writing it. He’s in chains. He’s writing to these people in this fragile community on the edge of Europe in the first European Christian community. And it could be squished at any moment. And yet it’s the letter where he mentions joy the most. And joy is the product of living, as he says, in Christ Jesus. Living together with his brothers and sisters.

“To my mind, that’s what I hope the Lord would use me to do. Tell people to find the joy of living in Christ Jesus with their brothers and sisters despite whatever external circumstances might be threatening them.

“I think, too, of the part of joy I don’t like—joy as a product of suffering. In Acts 5 I believe, when the Apostles are beaten for witnessing to Christ and they’re released from custody, it says, ‘And the disciples rejoiced to have been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name’ [Acts 5:41].

“I suppose the greatest tragedy in life is not to have meaning. It’s not work. People don’t get burned out, I don’t think, from work. They get burned out from doing things that don’t mean anything. For me, serving the Lord as a religious, a priest and now as a bishop—the meaning is in living in Christ Jesus with my brothers and sisters.

“I also think people who go around with dour, severe faces either have stomach problems or they haven’t looked at who’s really in charge. I want to be like [Pope] John XXIII. At the end of the day, when I’m on my knees after I’ve prayed for everything, to just say, ‘God, it’s your Church, I’m going to bed.’ To realize that the Lord is faithful to his promises. That helps me to rejoice.” †

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