I very much look forward to keeping in touch with you every other week by means of this column in our excellent archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic New York.
This time, instead of writing on some meaty topic, let me say three simple, yet sincere, things.
One, thank you! Can my column today serve as one big thank-you note to all of you for the overwhelmingly warm welcome you have given me? From the day of the announcement on Feb. 23, 2009, that Pope Benedict XVI had appointed me your archbishop, you have made me feel at home, part of the spiritual family we call the Church of the Archdiocese of New York. Through your greetings, prayers, words, public receptions and presence at the uplifting events of the last three weeks, you have inspired and supported me. I find myself not only deeply grateful, but humbled, hoping that I will not let you down, and will be able, indeed, to live up to the trust you have so wonderfully given me. Thank you!
Two, I want to say a particularly fervent word of appreciation to Cardinal Edward Egan. I have respected him since 1972, the year I became a seminarian at the North American College in Rome, where his name was already revered as a past faculty member. My esteem for him deepened in 1994 when, in his capacity as chair of the board of the same North American College, the-then Bishop of Bridgeport, Edward Egan, asked for my appointment as rector of the college, and supported me enthusiastically during my term there. I rejoiced nine years ago when Pope John Paul the Great nominated him Archbishop of New York. After that, from Rome, St. Louis and, since 2002, from Milwaukee, I’ve watched in admiration as he shepherded this historic, vibrant archdiocese, with accomplishments too many to enumerate. But, let me try:
- A memorable celebration of the bicentennial of the archdiocese, with liturgies, educational, and cultural events galore;
- A successful pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI;
- A bicentennial campaign that exceeded its goal, and made it possible for our parishes- always his priority-to improve their resources;
- Solidifying and strengthening the nation’s largest private school system;
- The expansion of Catholic Charities;
- A revision of Catholic New York, giving it the highest circulation of any Catholic newspaper in the country;
- A pioneering Catholic Channel, 24/7, Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
- Four new communities of priests brought here to serve our people in parishes;
- The introduction of the "family catechesis" model for use in parishes;
- Rigorous implementation of the promises made by the bishops in the Charter to Protect Children and Young People;
- The elimination of archdiocesan debt;
- The creation of Archcare to coordinate our hospitals, nursing homes, and neighborhood clinics;
- The opening of the John Cardinal O’Connor Residence for our senior priests.
You get the point, and I could go on. Daily do I thank God for Cardinal Egan’s leadership, and, like Lou Gehrig, consider myself "one of the luckiest men in the world" to follow him.
Thank you, Eminence! And am I ever glad you’re close by and will remain present and active.
Finally, number three, as I begin my season of service as your shepherd, I ask you to renew your resolve to begin each week, on the Lord’s Day, with Sunday Mass.
It is the hallmark of our Catholic identity, a fidelity to our weekly gathering as a spiritual family, the Eucharist, every Sunday.
Of the many gracious, undeserved compliments you have showered upon me these recent weeks, the ones that mean the most are letters from and conversations with people who tell me that the prayer, solidarity and sense of Catholic communal cohesion that has surrounded my arrival-as it would that of any bishop, not just me-has inspired them to return to Sunday Mass.
Alleluia! God is good! The beautiful passages from the gospel describing our Lord’s visits with His disciples after His Resurrection tell us that, most of the time, Jesus had a meal with His friends. That still happens every Sunday at Mass: we hear the Lord’s word, and we are fed with the bread of life.
And the earliest recollection of the first years of the Church, found in the Letters of St. Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, makes it clear that the first Christians considered Sunday Eucharist essential. It’s the greatest prayer we have -we are literally "in holy communion" with Jesus.
It defines us as Catholics; it makes us His Church. See you at Mass!