WAUKESHA — Showing himself to be an entertaining storyteller, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki had the congregation of about 600 roaring with laughter during his homily at the first regional welcome celebration last Thursday evening at St. William Parish.
They turned out in spite of a storm that blanketed the southeastern part of Wisconsin with 8 inches to a foot of snow.
Acknowledging the weather and treacherous driving conditions, Archbishop Listecki joked that those gathered have now replaced the postal service as the most courageous of all individuals … “neither rain, nor sleet nor snow….”
Through his humor and stories, Archbishop Listecki illustrated the way God’s love is spread through others. He said he looks forward to celebrating “the presence of the Lord in this archdiocese through you. I look forward to celebrating your lives and Christ who literally dwells in all of us.”
Archbishop Listecki shared a personal story to illustrate God’s presence in his life. Some years ago, when he was leaving Rome, he was given a ticket to visit the Holy Land. He was hesitant to accept the ticket because it would mean traveling alone but the travel agent reassured him that all of the shrines were staffed by Italian-speaking Franciscans and they would surely assist him.
“Sure I could talk a little Italian to them, there was no problem. I could fly over to Israel, get a bus and the first place I would go to was Nazareth,” explained Archbishop Listecki, adding that he was directed to stay at a Franciscan home.
He arrived, loaded down with bags, and pounded on the large door of the home, and when it opened, there was a Franciscan standing before him, as expected.
“I said, ‘Buona serra, padre,’” said Archbishop Listecki, “and he looked at me and shook his head. “I said, ‘Parlez vous Francais?” and he was met with the similar headshake. “Sprekenzie Deutsche?” said Archbishop Listecki, with the frustration showing in his tone. Again, the man shook his head. In a last ditch effort, Archbishop Listecki said to the Franciscan, “You wouldn’t speak English, would you?” And he replied, “Very well, thank you!”
Archbishop Listecki noticed a Midwestern accent in the man’s response and asked him where he was from.
These events will provide Catholics an opportunity to meet, pray and celebrate with their new archbishop.
Much to his surprise, the Franciscan said, “From the south side of Chicago,” and explained that he had been a Chicago firefighter before entering the Franciscan order. The two swapped stories of their shared hometown and the following day, they celebrated Mass at the grotto of the Annunciation.
“See how God takes care of children and fools?” said Archbishop Listecki, adding, “And I was a little old to be called a child.”
Pointing out that “the Lord works mysteriously in so many different ways in the people who surround us,” Archbishop Listecki said, “How can you not look at your brothers and sisters and celebrate the God who made us?”
Believers are called to be obedient to God, said Archbishop Listecki, explaining that while the word, “obedient” sounds submissive or like a surrender, it is rather “a submissiveness, a surrender to a God that we recognize that is so far above us and apart from him we are nothing, but with him we are everything.”
As people look at the beauty of the world around them, it’s no surprise that they should love God, said Archbishop Listecki.
“Take an honest look at the beauty and the majesty of God’s presence. That alone should bring us to our knees in a reflection of the presence of God in our lives,” he said.
But the real mystery, he said, is “Why does God love us? Why does God care about us? But the joy is that he does and when you understand that God loves you, whatever difficulties you have in the world, whatever challenges you must face … the source of strength is the God who loves us.”
The testimony to that love, he said, is evident in the cross as well as in the bread and wine which becomes his flesh, his blood to be “taken by us into the world.
“It doesn’t get much better for all of us in our lives to know that we are loved and to be loved by God elevates us into a divine destiny,” he said.
Following the Mass, a reception was held in the lower level of the church.
Shirley and Jerry Stanke didn’t have to brave winter driving conditions as they only had a three-block walk to their parish. Jerry Stanke said he left the gathering with a favorable impression of his new archbishop in spite of the fact that he initially had concerns.
“Personally, I was a little concerned because he seems very, very conservative and we tend to be more on the other side of the fence, but there’s room for all kinds of folks and he certainly seems very personable and he left a favorable impression,” said Jerry.
Shirley Stanke added, “I think he’s a wonderful speaker. I have a very good first impression; he has a friendly manner and a good message.”
Linda Best, also a member of St. William, said the archbishop, “Gave me a really warm feeling, a feeling that he will be a good leader and that his heart really is in our diocese.”
Her husband, Bob Best, said the archbishop seemed “genuine and humble,” and he appreciated the way “he spoke to us as if he would have met us on the street corner; he seemed very real, very genuine.”
George Gesior, a member of St. William Parish, was happy to see that the archbishop has a “good sense of humor,” he said, adding he really enjoyed the homily which carried a positive message.
Mike Jeske, a member of St. Mary Parish, Waukesha, said he came out in the storm because he wanted to attend Mass and meet the new archbishop.
“I’m very impressed with him. He seems to be very humble and seems to be a good leader and a very good homilist and somebody who will uphold the teachings of the Catholic faith. He promotes strong family values and is a humble person, but a strong leader,” said Jeske.
“I think he was a very good choice (as archbishop),” he added.