In my pastoral letter, “Rediscover the Journey and Joy of Encountering Christ,” I identified five new initiatives for the Year of Faith. One of them, the Pastoral Visits, has already begun. That is to say, I had my first Pastoral Visit at our Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is my hope to use the Cathedral visit as a sort of template for the rest of my visits to the parishes around the Diocese.
The Ceremonial for Bishops, a resource used by bishops for various occasions and rituals, actually has a brief rite that takes place at the beginning of an official pastoral visit by the bishop. Using it, I started my pastoral visit by reverencing the cross at the entrance of the church and having a sprinkling rite; then the pastor of the parish said a short prayer followed by my description of the pastoral visit, as well as of the events that would occur throughout the week. After this beginning I presided at all the Masses on that Sunday.
I must admit, it was a bit difficult to have the pastoral visit at the Cathedral with my office just next door. The tendency was to go to the office and get some much needed work done. Nevertheless, I was able to devote a good bit of time to the visit.
During the time between Masses on Sunday, I had the opportunity to meet with at number of students in the Parish CCD program. It was a real joy to see their interest in the faith and answer some of their questions. On the following day, I had even more time to meet with the students in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program which serves our young people well in understanding the faith through the sacraments, in particular, the celebration of the Mass.
One of the important parts of the multi-day pastoral visit is to meet with the parish at large to acquire from the parishioners what priorities they would identify for the parish and the Diocese. Through a series of three questions, it is my hope to gather preliminary information for the Diocesan Synod which will be held in Juneau from November 21 – 24, 2013. On the Monday evening of my parish visit I had the opportunity to have a listening session. Approximately 35 – 40 people gathered and shared with me insights into their love and affection for the Church. The information and suggestions from these listening sessions throughout the Diocese will be the basis of our work for the upcoming synod.
On Tuesday, I joined the Cathedral staff for their regularly scheduled staff meeting. Here I was pleased to see that time was spent in the meeting to discuss the comings and goings of parishioners within the realm of participation in the Church. In particular, we addressed those parishioners who are absent, who moved, who are sick, etc. It demonstrated to me the importance of our parishioners and that their presence is valued. Later that evening I had my first public forum. The thrust of the public forum is to invite people from the wider community to meet with me as the bishop of the Diocese for a brief presentation on the presence of the Church in society and a chance for them to ask me questions about the Catholic faith. The meeting was held at a secular venue to ensure a comfort level for those who wish to engage in such a dialogue but would feel more comfortable meeting in a non-church setting.
It is also my desire to meet with civic leaders during these visits. During my Cathedral visit I had a wonderful meeting with the Mayor and City Manager of the City and Borough of Juneau. The visit also afforded me time to visit, in addition to children in catechetical programs, the sick or elderly in their respective residences or in the hospital.
Along with celebrating Mass in the Cathedral every day, I presided over solemn Evening Prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. The first and foremost activity of the parish is prayer and the celebration of the Sacraments. This visit and future visits will keep prayer as a foundation throughout our time together, for it is through prayer and the Sacraments that we encounter Christ.
As I said in my pastoral letter, my visits to the parishes of the Diocese are to uphold our close bond with Jesus Christ who said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5) It is our overall goal during this Year of Faith to promote the New Evangelization and to further grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and our brothers and sisters with whom we profess our Catholic faith. May we always stay rooted in Jesus Christ, for apart from Christ we cannot live!