During my recent trips to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia following the journey of Pope Francis, I renewed my association with a number of bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful. I would never have encountered these individuals had it not been for our common faith, the work of the church and our support of the Christian community.
It was the World Meeting of Families and there were a number of bishops from Africa, India, Australia, Great Britain and Latin America, as well as from the United States.
Archbishop Charles Palmer Buckle, archbishop of Accra in Ghana, has one of those larger-than-life personalities. I had visited him when traveling to Ghana in order to offer my thanks to African bishops who provided priests for the Diocese of La Crosse.
The graciousness of Archbishop Buckle and his readiness to engage in frank and open discussions on the nature of the church, as well as to share a few laughs, helped me appreciate the uniqueness of this man.
Five years later I encountered him again in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day. The consistency of the man and his affable nature gave me the sense that I was renewing a great friendship.
His trademark brown hat made him appear like Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” We again shared our vision, stories and a few laughs. In Philadelphia, we once again talked of my visit to Ghana. I reminded him of what I told him in Ghana — that the people in my Diocese of La Crosse would be disappointed when I returned, having to tell them that I didn’t see one lion. He quickly told me that the only lion he had seen was in a zoo, although he did encounter a couple of elephants. We both laughed.
It seems that in the church, no matter where you go, someone knows someone with whom you’re associated.
Our archdiocesan director of missions is Antoinette Mensah. She was born in Ghana and Archbishop Buckle, as well as another bishop, knew the Mensah family and praised their contribution of service to the Catholic Church.
The church is so vast and its diversity so marvelous it really surprises no one that you’re never a stranger to the committed Catholics who make up our family, the church.
I invited Archbishop Buckle to Milwaukee, so perhaps we’ll have a visit from our Catholic family from Ghana.
I met a number of bishops and priests that I either studied with or taught. It’s always a pleasure to hear what great things they have accomplished for our Lord and his church. Fr. Doug Clark (Savannah, Georgia), who was a master board game (Risk) player in the Casa Santa Maria, was one of the men responsible for the translations of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Although more than 30 years have passed since our days together, it all seemed to melt away as we discussed our love and concern for the church. In spirit, we were back to our student days in Rome.
I met a former student, Fr. Randy Timmerman, a pastor in the Diocese of Madison, and retired La Crosse pastor, Fr. John Schultz, in the art museum while waiting to celebrate Mass with the pope.
Chris Stefanick, a popular youth minister from Denver, Colorado, and Jeff and Alice Heinzen from La Crosse were presenters at the World Meeting of Families. We had worked together on various projects for the church over the years.
Fr. James Lobacz (Vicar for Senior Priests) Susan McNeil (Director of the Nazareth Project), Zabrina Decker (Tribunal Chancellor), Grace Mazza Urbanski (Director of Children’s Ministry for the Apostleship of Prayer and author of “Pray With Me: Seven Simple Ways to Pray with your Children”) Deacon Eric and Judy Sewell (St. Lucy Racine and St. Sebastian, Sturtevant), Kathi Andreoni (Child and Adult Minister at St. Joseph Parish, Wauwatosa), David Andreoni (St. Matthew Parish, Oak Creek) and Diane Weber (Superior Diocese) were my traveling companions.
We celebrated Eucharist, ate a few meals and rode cabs, buses and planes together. A group traveling with Fr. Nate Reesman (shared pastor St. Frances Cabrini and Immaculate Conception parishes, West Bend) met us one evening for dinner. Once you’ve experienced an event like this, your lives are forever enmeshed and you are better for it.
Of course we were there for the World Meeting of Families but also to receive a visit from Pope Francis. How appropriate it was that he addressed the importance and necessity for preserving and building families.
My own experience of church at this event was we were one big family. It truly was a “Holy” Father that made us appreciate our brothers and sisters in Christ. My week was filled with brothers and sisters of all ages, shapes and colors, bound together in the love of Jesus Christ listening to the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ on earth.
There are four marks of the church of Christ. They are One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. These four marks were evident in the pope’s journey to the United States.
The One was experienced in the unity present in our liturgy, our doctrine and the authority.
The Holy — the prayers expressed by all who made the pilgrimage to Philadelphia were a source of strength reflecting the sanctity of the Bride of Christ.
Catholic seems obvious, but the universality of the church was seen in the diverse number of nations and peoples joined together, the universal faith transcends any territorial boundaries.
And, of course, Apostolic, the continued unbroken line originating with the call of the Twelve Apostles, and here we were in the presence of the successor of St. Peter.
So many expressed they were proud to be Catholic. I pray that the energy generated by Pope Francis helps us to be a better church.