Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Come, Lord Jesus!
With the first Sunday of Advent, the Church begins the new liturgical year. This year we are reading the Gospel of Luke. It is Luke’s gospel which provides us with the account of the Annunciation and one of two accounts of the Nativity of Jesus. It is Luke who emphasizes both the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth and his great love and compassion for the poor, the marginalized and the excluded.
Each year during the season of Advent, we hear these words by the prophet Isaiah: “The people who live in darkness have seen a great light!” Through the voices of the prophets, especially Isaiah and St. John the Baptist, we are called, in the light of our hope in Christ Jesus, our Savior and our Messiah, to face the darkness of sin in our world, in our Church and in each of our lives, and repent. We can be confident that the light has overcome the darkness as we look back with gratitude and rejoicing at the first coming of Jesus when he was born in the flesh in Bethlehem so long ago, and look forward in expectation and hope to the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time.
These past three months have been a period of intense preparation and activity for me personally. In September, I traveled to Rome to attend a course of instruction on the ministry of bishops. There were 140 newly ordained bishops from around the world in attendance, including 17 from the United States. For me as a new bishop, there were two highlights of my time in Rome. The first was becoming acquainted with and learning from these newly appointed men striving to be holy and with fire in their hearts to serve the people of God.
The second highlight was the opportunity to meet personally with our Holy Father, Pope Francis. After a private audience with the pope, we each had the opportunity to greet him. As you can imagine, with 140 bishops attending, my time with him was very short, about one minute, but it is a moment I shall cherish for myself and for all of us in the Diocese of Juneau. I felt as if you were all there with me when I greeted him. Much to my amazement, he recalled that I had most recently served in Anchorage before he appointed me to Juneau. I assured him of our prayers and support and he offered his prayers and blessing for us. This underscored for me that unity with the successor of St. Peter is essential to our life, as in the words of the Nicene Creed, we are “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”.
Beginning in October, in response to the sexual abuse crisis, I initiated ten listening sessions throughout the diocese beginning with the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Juneau. I was able to visit each of our parishes. I finished in early December with visits to Sacred Heart in Haines and St. Therese in Skagway. I want to express my gratitude to all of the faithful who took the time to participate in the listening sessions, as well as the many people who have written to me or have seen me privately. I am edified by your faith in Jesus during these difficult and challenging days for our Church as you have continued to “follow him on the way” (cf. Mark 10:52c).
May these weeks of Advent preparation and the celebration of Christmas be a graced and joyful time for you and your family! Please be assured of my prayers for you as I ask you to pray for me.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!
Sincerely in Christ,
Bishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M.