A Big “Thank You” Note!
This comes to you from the Shrine of Knock, in Ireland, on a pilgrimage with 150 others from the archdiocese and elsewhere.
It was here, on August 23, 1879, that our Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and the “Lamb of God” appeared to dozens of stunned, silent, awestruck parishioners of this tiny Irish town.
I am here as a pilgrim of gratitude. Four years ago, when we began the Making All Things New pastoral planning, I entrusted this long, delicate, painful but necessary endeavor to Jesus, through Mary and St. Joseph.
Ten days ago, phase one of our pastoral planning – – the most neuralgic part – – came to a conclusion, as we merged 140 parishes. It was sad; it was somber; but, it worked.
So I am here to thank Jesus, through His mother and foster father, at this simple shrine where they appeared to console the struggling people of Ireland.
But I also thank you:
Bishop O’Hara, Eileen Mulcahy, Sr. Eileen Clifford, Monsignor Mustaciuolo, and our planning team;
Our priests, deacons, cluster and parish leaders;
Dean John Feerick and his crew, the Reid Group Professionals, and women religious who assisted parishes in tough and tense transitions;
And especially you, our people, who remained so loyal and cooperative in this less-than-pleasant process.
Our people love their parishes. For them, they are hardly buildings or addresses, but spiritual homes, with warm memories of grace and mercy. To see them merge and no longer in everyday use is a shock.
Yet our people love the Church even more, and realize that Jesus and His Church continue in parishes, perhaps fewer in number, but stronger, more alive, more mindful of the challenges we face today. The realities of generations ago – – an abundance of priests and sisters; families with a lot of kids, living in cohesive neighborhoods; a Catholic culture that could take for granted parish loyalty, and fidelity to the Mass and sacraments at one’s local parish – – these have all, sadly, failed. I wish they were still true, but, they’re not.
Even the press coverage seemed fair and factual. One woman on tv commented, “Well, I hate to see the church no longer in use, but, let’s face it, all the people have moved away.”
Another, after a somber “last Mass” to a surprisingly full church, observed, “If all these people were active, and showed up every other Sunday, we wouldn’t be moving, but would stay open.”
So now, phase two: Don’t panic! The tough part – – decisions about mergers – – is over. Now the exciting part.
So, my pilgrimage to Knock is not only to thank Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; and is not only to thank you in this blog. I now ask Jesus, through our Lady and St. Joseph, for continued grace and inspiration, and I ask you for ongoing energy, as we enter the real goal of Making All Things New: a re-energized archdiocese through the new evangelization, as we move to invite people back and fill-up our churches; as we meet the realities of today with a fresh, supportive Catholic culture found in vigorous parishes; as we respond to the needs our people have expressed.
So many good things have already happened: the Ghanaian community at St. Luke’s in the Bronx; our beloved hearing impaired in new, more spacious St. Thomas More; the Hungarian Mass now at St. Joseph’s on Manhattan; parishes cooperating in religious ed, care for nursing homes and hospitals; and creative programs for winning people back to Church!
Last week, I had the funeral Mass on Staten Island for a brave pastor, Father Vic Buebendorf. Even before Making All Things New, he had urged the merger of Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph’s, and St. Mary’s Parishes into one, at two sites, even though it broke his heart to know that his cherished St. Mary’s would no longer be regularly used in his proposed plan. He died on the last day St. Mary’s was in use. His last words to Bishop O’Hara, from what would be his deathbed, were, “I just want to get back to bring the merger home, and get my new parish going.”
What an inspiration!