Fruitful Journey to Archdiocese’s Upper Counties

Last week I spent a good chunk of time in the “upper counties” of the archdiocese. Many people think that the Archdiocese of New York is coterminous with the city. Wrong! In fact we only have three of the five boroughs—Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx—and then extend way up north: Westchester, Sullivan, Ulster, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange, and Rockland counties.
My first stop was for Mass with the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate. The Feast of the Assumption was the 92nd anniversary of their founding by Mother Mary Teresa Tallon (whose cause for canonization the sisters are initiating).
In my homily at their beautiful motherhouse in Monroe, I observed how the foundress was “way ahead of her time” in the priority she gave to evangelization. To this day, her sisters go door to door, wanting to get to know the people better, love them, teach them, and bring them close to Jesus and His Church.
Mother Mary Teresa was shrewd in her insistence that her sisters could hardly “give Jesus” to others unless they first “had Him” themselves, and thus set “personal holiness” as a primary duty of her sisters, especially through daily prayer before the Eucharist.
I thoroughly enjoyed my morning with these joyful sisters, who were just beginning their community retreat that day, and who were joined by their local pastor, Father Thomas Byrnes, of Sacred Heart, Monroe.
From there to visit our loyal friends, the Bruderhof. Sturdy descendents of the founders of this evangelical movement in Germany, well over 200 of them live in a community modeled after the early Christian life as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, on their productive farmland in Rifton, New York.
While not of our Catholic faith, they are sure strong allies: their faith in Jesus, their immersion in prayer and Scripture, their vibrant communal and family life, their ardent defense of marriage and the culture of life, their attention to babies, the sick, and our fragile elders—Pastor Arnold and the families that make up the Bruderhof are a genuine inspiration.
Their charisma of hospitality is renowned, too. There I enjoyed a wonderful meal of their own homemade bratwurst, and produce from their fields (and they insisted that I sample some of their home-brewed beer!). The songs, prayer, and conversation we shared were most uplifting!
The next morning I experienced almost a “Catholic version” of our beloved Bruderhof at Mariapolis, the splendid grounds in Hyde Park that the Focolare call home.
This is one of the very attractive “ecclesial movements” that bless the Church today, founded in the wreckage of World War II in Italy by Chiara Lubich. Like Jesus, Chiara’s message was simple: unity and love. In simple ways, the men and women of Focolare bring people together, encouraging unity in a world cursed by division, hatred, misunderstanding, and violence. Their record speaks for itself. That bright morning I offered Mass, had breakfast, and visited with hundreds of them from all over the world. I am proud to have them here in the archdiocese, and thank God for the gift they are to the Church.
Then way up to Wurtsboro, to be greeted by close to 400 exuberant young people—12 through 18 years old—at Camp Veritas. This appealing project is the fruit of much prayer, effort, dream and daring by Ryan Young, a physician’s assistant from Poughkeepsie, and his family.
Ryan has made Camp Veritas a hit. His genius is that he makes faith fun! Can you imagine hundreds of teenagers, in a rigorous daily regimen of prayer (daily Rosary and Holy Hour), catechesis (daily presentations on the essentials of our Catholic faith) and the sacraments (daily Mass and confession by almost everybody during the week), who love it, who enjoy it, and wind up coming back? When you add that to swimming, sports, friendship, and an attractive outdoor setting, you’ve got fun faith!
I am convinced that Ryan’s project can captivate the entire archdiocese. Attendance swells each year, and he’s already expanded to a second week. Many of our pastors and catechists note that genuine conversion happens at Camp Veritas, with kids excited about their faith. Their parish priests, catechists, teachers, parents, and youth leaders tell me that a week at Camp Veritas can be a very effective part of the solid preparation for the sacrament of confirmation, as well as a compelling Catholic version of the very successful Protestant Vacation Bible Schools. May it continue to grow!
While in the upper counties, I also met with dozens of our priests and Bishop Dominick Lagonegro for prayer, lunch, and an informal hour-and-a-half of good conversation about common concerns and hopes. The campus of Mount St. Mary’s College, on the Hudson, provided a most gracious setting. As usual, I came away with enhanced affection, admiration, and appreciation for my brother priests.
You know…I ought to get up north more often! I came back full of hope, gratitude, and a couple of pounds heavier.