Published November 24, 2005
During the past several weeks, I have been invited by a number of civic organizations to address them as the still new Archbishop of Atlanta. Most of these societies are ecumenical and interfaith in the composition of their membership. One of them had never even had a Catholic priest to speak to them in their history. These invitations are important opportunities for me to represent the Church in the public forum. They are as much a gesture of welcome as they are an occasion for me to expand the dialogue in which our Church must be engaged as good citizens and full participants in the social fabric of North Georgia.
We Catholics are a growing presence throughout the South, and we want to be a positive agency for social development. These groups have generally asked me to address them regarding my first impressions of Atlanta. That has been an easy task since I have found Atlanta to be an extraordinarily welcoming, energetic and cultured community. Such themes are easy to explore in view of the fact that I have found our region to be a place of great promise and hope. I am happy to share with them my first impressions because they are so positive.
These are exciting times to be a Catholic in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. We are growing and bringing our Faith and many different cultures to the heart of our region. There have been many opportunities for the Catholic Church to work in collaboration with other religious communities and social agencies in our region. The catastrophes of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have provided plenty of occasions for us to work with the people of other churches, synagogues and mosques to help alleviate the suffering of our neighbors and the evacuees from the Gulf Coast region of our nation. It is strange how such tragedies as these are often the occasion for neighbors to engage in rebuilding not only the lives of those directly impacted but also to strengthen the bonds that unite us to one another. Even great suffering such as we have witnessed during the past few months can bestow a blessing when it draws out the very best within the human heart and brings people together in a spirit of collaboration and hope.
The week of Thanksgiving is a time to reflect upon all that we have received from the hand of God. We are so blessed to live in our nation amid such plenty. Those blessings that have been given to us demand that we become even more generous with those who have so much less than we do. I am certain that many of you will invite neighbors to your family tables. Maybe some young military person away from home for the first time will enjoy your hospitality. Maybe an evacuee family will grace your home this Thanksgiving. Perhaps you will bring a meal to someone who is homebound or unable to prepare a special meal for whatever reason. I am certain that the occasions for your generosity and hospitality at Thanksgiving are far too numerous for me to highlight in this brief essay. Thanksgiving brings out the best in all of us because it reminds us of how blessed we have been in God’s Love and Kindness.
This first Thanksgiving will remind me that almost one year ago to the day, I received a telephone call from the Papal Ambassador informing me that Pope John Paul II had nominated me Archbishop of Atlanta. Somehow that telephone call has been a continual reason for a year’s good fortune in my life. I am most grateful for the opportunity to enter this new home and to come to learn about and to love and serve its many residents. All in all, this Thanksgiving, I am most grateful for you and for your children who throughout this past year have given me every reason to be grateful to God all over again.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.