Published November 16, 2006
During the time that I served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I received scores of communications regarding many and varied topics as the November plenary meeting of the U.S. bishops drew near. Thanks be to God, I now receive very few such messages.
I do, however, even now still collect a few letters encouraging me either to vote one way or another on a particular pending issue. As you might surmise, it often happens that the recommendations negate each other.
I am grateful that people continue to take an interest in the matters that appear before the bishops of our nation. It is an indication that our people see the seriousness and the importance of these issues and that they feel free and responsible to recommend their opinions to the local pastors of the Church.
I am composing this column at the very meeting of the USCCB. Thanks to the wonders of electronics and cyber-space, I am connected to the people of Atlanta right from my seat in the meeting place here in Baltimore. This See is the oldest diocese in our nation, and in those early years of our country, the territory that is now Atlanta was once under Baltimore’s jurisdiction.
We are still a young diocese in the ranking of U.S. dioceses. Fifty years is only a small part of the history of the Church in the United States. Yet Atlanta has become a vitally important community of Faith. So many of our people have come to settle in North Georgia from other dioceses, and most of those local Churches are much older than we are. Yet there is a vibrancy here, a zeal for the Faith, and an excitement of increase and growth that other bishops would envy and for which I am profoundly grateful.
Last Saturday, I blessed and dedicated the new church of St. Gabriel in Fayetteville. The people of that young parish were so very proud—as well they should be. One of them, a Chicago transplant like me, came up to welcome me to St. Gabriel and to remind me that we had met years before when he was a member of a Croatian national parish on the south side of Chicago and I was the local Auxiliary Bishop of that region. His rich faith and cultural heritage are now gifts for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. How good God has been to us, not only in his case, but in thousands of others just like his.
Atlanta has been uniquely blessed because we have benefited from the many people who have come here to make their home in North Georgia. In their very persons, they bring us into contact with many other dioceses, both here in the United States and from other nations. That “cross-fertilization” allows us to enjoy the gifts of many different peoples, cultures and languages. This is also a challenge in keeping us united in Faith and in focus. But that has always been the struggle and the fortunate adventure of the Church in the United States as each local diocese was established: to find ways to keep us united in Faith and worship while reflecting our regional differences and unique gifts.
Here in Baltimore, where it all began, bishops continue to discuss the contemporary ecclesial issues that are ours, knowing that we work under the careful scrutiny of our people and the guidance the Holy Spirit.