ARCHBISHOP JEROME E. LISTECKI
HERALD OF HOPE
Those who are as old as I am or older, may remember an early television personality by the name of Dave Garroway. He was the first host of the popular TV morning program, the Today Show. Television was in its infancy (1950s) and the producers and audience were just discovering the power in the visual ability that this new media, television, provided.
I remember one particular show when Garroway wanted to display the contrast in what we perceived as the largeness of the earth in relationship to our nations and oceans, our cities and then the smallness of ourselves as persons. Once again, in contrast, he depicted the earth first as a planet, then in relationship to the solar system and the earth became smaller and then in relationship to the galaxy and earth became a spec and then in relationship to the universe and the earth became infinitesimal and undistinguishable. His point was to help us understand that our problems were very small in relationship to the vastness of creation and even our planet is not even a spec in comparison to all of creation.
As we close our 175th year as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which seems like a very long time, we pause and reflect. However, it was just like yesterday when we were celebrating our 150th and our 100th and 50th and, yet in the years of Christianity’s existence, it is merely 175 years of the 2,000 years, and that’s just from the birth of Christ. However, think of the years of salvation history that have preceded his birth. This moment reminds us that there will be centuries and perhaps millennia to come of a Catholic presence and, God willing, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. So why is this moment important?
It is important because it is about us and our response to Jesus’s mandate to go preach, teach and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We need to take stock of the accomplishments of so many who have contributed to the foundation and accomplishments for our archdiocese in the name of Jesus and His Church and give thanks. We need to celebrate our response to our present challenges and we need to express our confidence in proceeding into the future in the name of Jesus Christ and His Church.
During the year, we looked at our history and recalled the moment of Bishop John Martin Henni’s arrival in Milwaukee. They dressed me in an old clerical hat and cassock and greeted me as I arrived on the river dock of the city of Milwaukee. After Marquette University’s Gospel Choir sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving, we processed to the Cathedral, where we celebrated Mass for the community. It was here at St John the Evangelist Cathedral, the Mother Church of the archdiocese, that we acknowledged our oneness as a Catholic community. Acknowledging our history is an important aspect of an anniversary; we are often so insular that we fail to recognize just how significant were the contributions of the religious sisters in our schools and hospitals, the creation of parish communities, Catholic charities, the seminary, our bishops, the secular and religious priests, brothers and deacons and the tremendous contributions of our lay men and women who have sacrificed their lives so that we might enjoy the treasures and graces that they have handed down to us.
The archdiocese had to endure pain and sorrow. There were struggles and disappointments. There was the need to confront evil and sin, not only in the society but within the very confines of the Church that we love. But again and again, we embraced the cross and our crosses with a trust in the resurrection and new life.
One moment within last year’s various activities was the 12 hours of Reconciliation. Pope St. John Paul the II declared that a renewal of the Church in the new millennium would come through the celebration of two sacraments: the Eucharist and Reconciliation. The doors of churches in each deanery were open with an invitation to our faithful to capture a new moment in their lives. An estimated 5,000 of the faithful participated in the sacrament. This day was so powerful that as an archdiocese, we are going to repeat the 12 hours of Reconciliation this coming Lent on April 1 (no fooling).
Pope Francis challenges us to capture our missionary spirit and reach out to those in need. As a part of our 175th year, we conducted “Seven Days of Service.” Catholics in 18 different sites assembled more than 2,100 care bundles and distributed them to centers of charity in the archdiocese. In addition, the faithful participated in various neighborhood charitable projects helping to improve the lives of senior citizens and the homes they inhabit. Also, the faithful were represented in a number of demonstrations in support for St. Vincent de Paul Friends of the Poor Walks.
But above all, we always reinforced our spiritual life in the celebration of the sacraments and our care for the salvation of souls. In the closing Mass for the 175th anniversary, I established an Order of Catechists. Individuals were selected with a special task in mind, to use the teachings of the Catholic Church and integrate it into the ministry of the Church in which they are engaged. Ministries range from teaching, parish business management and RCIA, to school administration and motherhood. Thirty-two individuals were charged with praying daily for those engaged in ministry and agreeing to meet three times a year as an Order to receive formation from me, the auxiliary bishops or a pastoral expert. These individuals also pledged to intentionally incorporate the teachings of the Catholic Church into their area of ministry.
As we pause at this moment in our 175th year, united to our predecessors in the name of Jesus, we declare our witness and dedication to the history that we celebrate as a Church in this archdiocese. We offer the Order of Catechists as our contribution to this moment in our history, uniting the work of clergy and laypeople, furthering our Mission.
If I could change Dave Garroway’s presentation of the reality that he presented, I would begin with the universe and the image of God, and unite that image with the image of God reflected in the dignity of every person. As we move from our 175th anniversary we must always remember: “Jesus, yesterday, today and forever.”