Ten years ago on June 22, 2006, when I received the shepherd’s staff as the archbishop of Washington, I said at the installation Mass, “Our faith journey together, beginning today, is the blessing we bring to each other, the blessing we share with each other.”
Subsequently in the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard newspaper, I took the opportunity to reflect on the role of the bishop, as set out in Pope – now Saint – John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Gregis (Latin for “Shepherds of the Flock”), which was issued in 2003 on the 25th anniversary of his election as bishop of Rome and chief shepherd of the universal Church. The framework for this work was the three-fold task of every bishop as a successor of the apostles: to sanctify, teach and lead. However, in this task, the bishop does not work alone, but depends on the collaborative efforts of many others.
The vision of God’s family gathered around its shepherds, united among themselves and with the Holy Father, has guided me in my episcopal service. Now this year, which also marks my 30th as a bishop and 50th of a priest, offers a time to reflect on the blessings in my life as a “shepherd of the flock” – especially with my family of faith in the Church of Washington.
Among the most joyous times has been in the celebration of Holy Mass and the sacraments, as people receive Christ in the Eucharist and then are challenged to go out and share his love with others, in baptizing and confirming the young and the not-so-young, in weddings of couples and ordinations of priests and deacons, and in the healing of confession and anointing. The Light is On for You program has especially promoted how God’s love heals us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which has also become a central focus of our local efforts to promote this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
During this time, all of us in the vineyard of the Lord have also had the joy to teach and spread the faith through a variety of efforts and initiatives, as envisioned in the New Evangelization – to not only proclaim the Gospel, but to live it, encouraging people to join in manifesting the Kingdom of God among us, in our community and in our time.
Our shared journey has included a Convocation on Catholic Education in 2007 that led to a collaborative effort to strengthen local Catholics schools in the areas of Catholic identity, governance, academic excellence, and affordability and accessibility. One concrete result of that effort is that each parish now invests in our Catholic schools through their offertory collections, and we are now able to offer families nearly $6 million annually in tuition assistance so they can send their children to Catholic school.
A similar collaborative effort unfolded in 2014 when we convoked the first-ever Archdiocesan Synod to mark the 75th anniversary of the Archdiocese. About 200 Synod participants from across this local Church charted a course for the archdiocese’s future outreach in the key areas of worship, education, community, service, stewardship and administration, based on the input of more than 15,000 suggestions offered through parish and regional listening sessions and online surveys.
As an archdiocesan family of faith we welcomed two popes to the United States – Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, who offered an inspiring message of “Christ our Hope” at his National’s Park Mass, and Pope Francis in 2015, who celebrated the first canonization Mass in this part of the world and then visited the homeless at Catholic Charities to demonstrate the importance of solidarity with those on the margins of society. Our community demonstrated that shared journey when more than 100,000 people took the Walk with Francis Pledge to pray, serve and act on behalf of those in need.
Our faith journey together these past ten years has indeed been the blessing that we have brought to and shared with each other, and for that blessing, I am thankful to God and to you.