December 13, 2013

Grateful to God

Archbishop Tobin’s first year as shepherd is marked by Church’s diversity and unity of faith family

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin receives offertory gifts from Pablo Mores, left, Maria Mores and their granddaughter, Andrea Nicole Corona, during a Dec. 12, 2012, Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Anthony Church in Indianapolis. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin receives offertory gifts from Pablo Mores, left, Maria Mores and their granddaughter, Andrea Nicole Corona, during a Dec. 12, 2012, Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Anthony Church in Indianapolis. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By John Shaughnessy

One of the most telling ways to view the approach of Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin during his first year as the leader of the Church in central and southern Indiana is to look at his car’s odometer.

In traveling to all 11 deaneries and all parts of the archdiocese since being installed as archbishop on Dec. 3, 2012, he has racked up 26,000 miles.

“Other than a trip to Detroit and a trip to Chicago, it’s all been in trips to these 39 counties of the archdiocese,” Archbishop Tobin noted recently. “And I think they are miles well spent.”

Another way to capture his approach as archbishop was on display at the closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 23.

For nearly two hours, he celebrated Mass for 23,000 youths from across the country, setting a reverential tone that led the teenagers to their knees during the consecration of the Eucharist. Then once the Mass ended and the youths’ reverence quickly transformed into undeniable exuberance, the archbishop was all smiles as he processed from the altar, taking time to pose for photos with teenagers who framed the archbishop and themselves in their cell phones.

Yet perhaps the most revealing glimpse of the archbishop’s approach comes in the way he celebrated his first anniversary as Archbishop of Indianapolis—an anniversary that coincided with his 35th anniversary of being ordained a priest.

That revealing glimpse was captured in an extensive interview with the archbishop on the eve of his first anniversary as archbishop—an interview during which he elaborated about the archdiocese’s strengths and areas where it needs to improve, an interview during which he talked about the personal highlights and tough times of his first year as archbishop.

Q. How will you mark your first anniversary?

A. “In my private time, I’ll be especially grateful to God. And I’ll ask God’s forgiveness for my shortcomings and the bad decisions I’ve made—more of omission than commission, I think, things I’ve failed to do.

“And then I’ll thank God for his mercy and his strength. I think I’ve mentioned before how I identify a lot with the Apostle Peter. One of the great icons for me of the Lord with Peter is when Peter is on a storm-tossed sea and he says, ‘If it’s really you, let me walk on the water’ (Mt 14:28). There have been different times when I’ve felt I’ve gotten out of the boat in this first year. And just feeling very inadequate before the task. And I believe it was the power of the Lord that got me through. So I thank God for that.

“Then I often listen to that last conversation that Peter has with Jesus. Jesus says three times to him, ‘Do you love me?’ (Jn 21:17) .Then, ‘If you love me, you will feed my people. You will nourish my people’ (Jn 21:17). And that’s why, I think, I’m still on this Earth—to do my best to make sure people are fed, fed with sound doctrine, fed with a living community, and fed with the subsistence of the word and the sacraments that truly characterized God and Church.

“I’ll celebrate Mass in mid-day with anyone who shows up at the cathedral. In the afternoon, I’ll meet with my brother bishops from Indiana for our semi-annual provincial meeting. And at night, I’ll probably indulge in a little bit of reminiscing about that special day a year ago when I was blown away by Hoosier hospitality.”

Q. You have traveled extensively throughout the archdiocese in your first year, including visiting all 11 deaneries within your first few months as archbishop. What have you learned about the archdiocese from those travels, and why have you made those visits a priority?

A. “There are a few prominent lessons I’ve learned. It is a very geographically-extensive archdiocese. And that distance is measured not simply in miles. There are different cultures in the archdiocese. The culture of some of the eastern communities toward Ohio is different from the ones around Terre Haute. And there are very distinctive communities along the Ohio River. And while that is a great gift to the local Church, I have learned that most often when I say, ‘the Archdiocese of Indianapolis,’ to immediately say, ‘the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana.’

“It’s a strange arrangement where the cathedral city is really at the very northern extreme of the archdiocese. So it’s easy for people in the other areas to feel that they’re forgotten by the central offices. So I have made it a priority to travel, but I’ve also insisted that our ministries be present.

“As an example, last Lent, at the Rite of Election, we did two services here at [SS. Peter and Paul] Cathedral that Bishop [Christopher J.] Coyne presided over, and I presided at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Church [in Floyd County] for the catechumens and the candidates that were coming from that part of the diocese.”

Q. In your first year, you have spoken often of trying “to determine where God is opening doors” in the archdiocese. What are some of the “doors of opportunity” that you have identified?

A. “One certain impression I have is a need to strengthen young adult ministry, especially on the college campuses, but not exclusively on college campuses. I think we generally do a very good job in helping young people and their parents K-through-12. I think we hopefully will do a better job with young adults once they settle down.

“But in those very crucial years for a lot of young people, when they are away from home for the first time, and they’re experiencing new ideas, I’d like for the Gospel and believing communities to be close to them. I think there’s a certain style, a certain provision that you make for that group. While we’re doing a good job, we can do better. And there are openings on a number of college campuses where the administration would welcome a stronger Catholic presence.

“A second area is certainly the presence of immigrants here. Yes, I’m speaking about the vast number of Hispanic immigrants, but not only them.

“We have a significant population of Burmese minorities on the north and south sides of the city of Indianapolis. They very strongly identify with the Catholic Church, but it’s very difficult for the Church in this country to minister to them. I’ve been told there are 12 Burmese priests in the United States. I have meet with the Burmese leadership here, and I’m just praying that the Lord will show us the best way to give us the resources we need to pastor these people.

“A third area of concern for me is the ministry to married people. A lot of people talk about the crisis in marriage, especially in the redefinition of marriage. To my mind, the real crisis in marriage is how isolated and under attack marriages can be.

“I’m not talking about legislation or re-writing laws. People who want to live a committed relationship in the sacrament of marriage do not have the sort of social support they once had. And I would like to see how we can improve especially our ministry to married couples and, by association, to their families as well.”

Q. You received your pallium—a circular band made from lamb’s wool that symbolizes your role as the shepherd of the archdiocese and your communion with the pope—from Pope Francis in June. And people see some similarities between you two. Has his first year as pope shaped your first year as archbishop in any way?

A. “Absolutely. And I would to like think there are some similarities, but I’ll just let that slide. I am absolutely delighted to have the example of Pope Francis, the words of Pope Francis, and the emerging vision of Pope Francis. Yet it isn’t like I was waiting for a pope that suited my tastes. I appreciated very much Benedict XVI, having worked closely with him. And a whole generation has admired Blessed John Paul II. But I think at this time of my life—where I have been a bishop for three years but only one year in a flesh-and-blood diocese—I appreciate the pastoral style of Francis.

“And I thank God that I can understand Spanish. Because what I do sometime is I go to YouTube, and I listen to what he is actually saying. There’s a fabulous interview with the episcopal leadership—the bishops—of Latin America that he did during World Youth Day. It didn’t get a whole lot of play in the popular press, but he really is concrete with what he expects of bishops—and of his view of the Church.

“And I find that so important because I worry sometimes that we, whether we like the Church or we don’t like the Church, it can often seem like a club that we belong to, or a team that we root for, or a team we identify with. And if we like the Church, then we kind of wear our blue and white, like the Colts’ fans wear. It’s much deeper than that.

“When people tell me, ‘Archbishop, I’ve left the Church,’ or ‘If this doesn’t happen, I’ll leave the Church.’ I’m really perplexed. To me, that’s like saying I’m going to hold my breath until I die. And I say, ‘Do you know what you’re leaving? Do you know what the word and the sacraments mean?’ The Church is the sacrament of our salvation.

“So Francis, I think, is wrestling with those questions—of what it means to be a Church in the 21st century across the face of the Earth. So I count it as a real blessing to be able to learn from him.”

Q. From your first year, what do you see as the strengths of the archdiocese?

A. “I find a significant degree of unity among the Catholics. I’m not sure that this doesn’t come from being a minority. It’s the first time where I’ve ministered pastorally in the Church where the Catholics are such a small percentage of the population.

“From most of the statistics I’ve seen, from Indianapolis south, we’re about 11 percent of the population. I think it’s a very visible 11 percent—through our services, our schools and a lot of our ministries. I’m wondering if because we are consciously or unconsciously aware of ourselves being a minority, we don’t leave a lot of room for factionalism. To me, that’s a great gift we have.

“Another strength has been our commitment to education. Education which is not simply academic excellence—that’s part of it—but also our holistic formation of young people and young adults. So much of the archdiocese’s resources are channeled in that direction.

“Another strength is the careful administration of the archdiocese’s temporal goods, and the real desire of the central offices to be of service to the parishes throughout the 39 counties.

“Another strength that comes to mind are the priests. I think we have a healthy presbyterate, one that is close to its people. Most of the priests I know are very generous in their service and are taking on extra service just because of the times we live in. And I thank God for the 27 seminarians we have. And ‘please God,’ we’re going to have a few more after the first of the year.”

Q. What are some of the main areas that need to be strengthened?

A. “The sense of Church. Here, it’s not as if it’s a fault of the archdiocese. But I think in the United States, we’ve been encouraged to privatize many very important things—‘Believe what you want, but just keep it to yourself. And don’t impose your stuff on anybody else.’

“I’m often concerned that not only is the Catholic Church in some areas reluctant to have a voice in the public square, but the fact that we could be privatized, that our religion mainly becomes ‘me and Jesus.’ And I think when it becomes ‘me and Jesus,’ it’s mostly ‘me.’ Jesus convoked a people. For 2,000 years, faith has been lived as a public and as a shared reality.

“So I think the sense of Church and why we’re Church—the whole question of salvation—if that gets extracted from the Church, well, the Church ceases to be the Church. I think it was said by St. Cyprian in the fourth century that, ‘Outside the Church, there is no salvation.’ I would turn it on its head. I would say, ‘Without salvation, there is no Church.’ We don’t have that sense.

“The geographic diversity can be a weakness for us, too. Just as it is our strength, there’s always the temptation to fragment—to take my marbles and go home, wherever home is, whether it’s Indianapolis or New Albany or Seelyville or wherever.

“And we’re stretched, especially in the ordained ministry. God has been good with an increased number of deacons, and we have a class in formation now. I’m grateful for the diocesan seminarians we have, but I keep thinking I’d like to have a few more.

“I look at those massive correctional institutions in Terre Haute that I’ve visited a number of times. I don’t have a priest that can be there on a regular basis. There’s a deacon doing heroic work, as are the Sisters of Providence. But to celebrate the Eucharist or the sacrament of reconciliation, you have to be an ordained priest. And I don’t have that.

“A similar challenge is among the Spanish speaking. If I go to a parish and take part in a penance service, outside of Indianapolis especially, I can be there to midnight or one in the morning, and I have been there. Simply because word gets out. Even people who weren’t at the penance service, the people who were will go home and tell people, ‘There’s a priest who speaks Spanish so get to the church.’ I’m glad to do it, but people deserve a pastoral care and not simply when the bishop shows up.

“Our priests have a growing sensitivity among them, and a lot of them make a heroic effort, but the challenge is more than our present resources.”

Q. Because of your fluency in Spanish, you have already developed a strong connection with the Latino/Hispanic members of the archdiocese. Talk about that, and why it is important for the archdiocese.

A. “I think it has less to do with what I can bring to the table, and more to do with the strong identification that Hispanics have with the Church. Given the minimum level of possibility of a welcome, that identity surfaces and that attachment translates into a real vibrant life. Because I’m the archbishop, I’m part of the identification, and I’m grateful to do that.

“It demands not simply language. Language is important, but it’s also the whole cultural thing—respecting a person’s culture. I think you can speak relatively poor Spanish and do great work if you show respect. Whereas you can speak fluent Spanish and do a lot of harm if you are expecting people to behave like whatever cultural background you come from.

“I think the challenge in the archdiocese and elsewhere is to prolong the double miracle of Pentecost. The first miracle is clear: People hear the Good News in their own language, and therefore their own culture. To me, the second miracle is a little more subtle. There’s no evidence that the Parthians, the Medes and the Elamites suddenly become some kind of gray oatmeal. They maintain their culture, but they find a principle of unity that doesn’t deny aspects of their culture, but allows them to unite across the board.”

Q. As part of the “Connected in the Spirit” process in the archdiocese, 12 parishes in the Batesville Deanery have been closed and merged with other parishes this year. Talk about that challenge, and how that has had an impact on you personally.

A. “I continue to identify with the pain and the anger that is coming from some of the parishes in the Batesville Deanery. It’s not perfect as no human process is entirely perfect. But I think it does favor—at least in the first stages—the impetus coming from the ground up rather than from the archbishop down. I think that’s really important. I don’t imagine everybody would agree with that, but at least to my mind—and having worked in other dioceses that have gone through this sort of reconfiguration—it was much more of a top-down process in those other places. The dynamic here gives it a lot of credibility.

“Now I’ve been asking myself, ‘What would I do differently in the future?’ Two things occur to me. I was very sensitive to the advice of some of our canonists who said the language of the decrees and the communications has to be canonical language. Why? First, to make sure that you’re following the dictates of the law that’s common to the Catholic Church. But more importantly, because if people appeal the decision beyond the archdiocese to the Holy See, the canonical language is what the Holy See understands. And I accept that.

“However, it sounds so harsh to people, especially the word ‘extinction.’ For some people, that’s, ‘You’re trying to blow out our history.’ I think we have to find a different way to express it.

“The whole dynamic of ‘Connected in the Spirit’ is to say, ‘How can we best position the archdiocesan Church to best serve the needs of Catholics today and in the foreseeable future?’ That’s the overall value that’s driving it.

“But the other thing is with the resources we have today and in the foreseeable future, and one of the important resources is ordained priests. The fact is I can’t guarantee the regular celebration of the Eucharist in all the parishes we have.

“I know I’m going out on a limb by saying that. And some people say, ‘Why don’t you go to another continent and get some priests?’ First, because they’re probably needed there. And, secondly, maybe that would be the easy way out, although I’m grateful for the international priests we have here. But, somehow, a local Church has to take responsibility. And if this is what we have, and this is what we’re given, how can we best use it? I’m trying, with the help of so many others, to discover what’s the best way.”

Q. You recently celebrated Mass for 23,000 Catholic youths from across the country as part of the National

Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. What was that experience like for you, and what did it say to you about young Catholics and the Church?

A. “It was an awesome experience. Awesome in the sense of being in the presence of that many young people and having the Eucharist be the culmination of the event.

“On one hand, to know their enthusiasm, and yet being very struck by their reverential and teachable nature. They listened. Those kids were hungry for the word of God and were ready to celebrate it. Listening to them and talking with them over the days of NCYC, I think they’re serious about being a Catholic-Christian today.”

Q. What have been the highlights of your first year as archbishop?

A. “Looking back, some of the highlights would be celebrating midnight Mass and the Easter vigil for the first time in the cathedral. It would be some of the high school graduations I attended in the spring. It certainly would be the pallium pilgrimage. Even though I was a little embarrassed by the generous response of so many people in the archdiocese to come along to Rome, once I got there, I thought, ‘No, this is right because the pallium represents my ministry in Indiana. And it’s good that there are Hoosiers here.’

“Certainly, NCYC, too. And I would say the different meetings with my priests. I preached the Lenten day of retreat. I’ve met almost monthly with different groups of priests. And I found the interchange and the mutual support has been really encouraging.”

Q. Overall, how would you describe the faith of Catholics in the archdiocese?

A. “I think there’s a strong identification with the Catholic Church. And I think where we want to grow is a challenge for all of us—bishops, priests and faithful. It’s to grow in an identification with Jesus Christ and the mystery of God’s love that is revealed in Jesus. And I think that’s a lifetime project, so it isn’t like we made it.

“And we’re going to look together in the near future for how best we can witness in the new evangelization. I’m well aware that one characteristic of Indiana is that 20 percent of the population is unchurched. It has no identification with any church. I’d like to see how we can reach those people at least with the Good News. What they do with it is up to them.

“So often what the Gospel is meant to be is reduced to rules and regulations—something that can easily be dismissed. Whereas the fullness of what God is saying to the human race in Jesus Christ can be witnessed. I’d like to make that journey of faith with the people here. We bloom where we’re planted. We’re planted in the crossroads of America. How can we witness to the Good News?” †

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