Reflections on Peter walking among us Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008 -- 12:00 AM

Dear Friends,

under the gospel bookIn the first place, let me thank so many of you for your expression of prayerful and loving support as I celebrated five years as your bishop, on August 1. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, whom we celebrate on August 1, is the great patron of moral theologians, and I am very devoted to him. He had a strong and unique devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to whom I'm also very devoted. I hope that all in the diocese will ask the intercession of St. Alphonsus and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, so that we can continue to move forward in union with our Holy Father and in loving obedience to him, to be that faithful local Church whom we are called to be, today and tomorrow.

Again, thank you for your prayers and above all, of course, I thank God for the many graces that he has given me during my days here - especially the graces of courage and a certain serenity at difficult moments - precious gifts which are not in any way the product of my own resources, but which could come only from the Lord Himself.

As I reflect on the recent trip I was blessed to make, it is clear that the focus of the travels associated with World Youth Day was certainly on our Holy Father as Peter walking among us.

In Rome for the Pallium liturgy

I began my travels in Rome, in order to celebrate the reception of the Pallium of my very good friend and neighbor, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The beautiful liturgy of the Pallium took place on June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, during the early days of this Pauline year.

The Pallium which Archbishop Nienstedt received is a special sign of the union he, as metropolitan archbishop, shares with our Holy Father. And so, that sense of union, collaboration, and fraternal affection among bishops and the Holy Father was as life-giving as the air that we were breathing. In fact, maybe I should use another metaphor because the air in Rome in those days was exceptionally hot and humid and, as we moved about in our clerical attire, I think most of us lost whatever extra water weight we might have been carrying around, which, of course, is a very good thing.

Shortly after the Pallium liturgy there was the opportunity to greet our Holy Father personally at the General Audience of July 2. And, on your behalf, I expressed our love and affection, our loyalty, and our gratitude for his pastoral visit to the United States. The Holy Father responded to me, as I gather he has responded so frequently, "I came to the United States to confirm our faithful Catholics in their faith, but you all confirmed me in my hope - and I am the one who should be grateful." It was a powerful and unforgettable moment for me. Of course the Holy Father assured me that he sends his love and Apostolic Blessing to all of God's faithful people in the Diocese of Madison.

From Rome to Australia

Then, it was on to Melbourne, Australia, to meet up with our diocesan pilgrimage group and to begin our travels in Australia. We had 111 young people in our pilgrim group, including our 28 seminarians and 83 others from throughout the diocese, all of whom, with great enthusiasm, desired to be with our Holy Father in experiencing World Youth Day.

During the time in Melbourne we were able to have Mass together in the parish where our pilgrim group was lodged. I was able to meet with our seminarians and we enjoyed some informal moments of being together - a pattern which was duplicated when we got to Sydney. What a wonderful faith-filled group of young people we were blessed to have represent us at World Youth Day, 2008!

Of course, once we got to Sydney the momentum immediately started to build toward the welcome of and celebrations with our Holy Father. One of my deepest personal joys, reinforced by the presence of our wonderful young people and seminarians, was the sense that we had among ourselves as bishops of our collegial union with the Holy Father.

Many of the bishops had been asked by the Vatican to serve as catechists, which meant basically that we gave instruction to large groups of the young people over the course of three days, followed by conversation and question-and-answer sessions with them, followed by Mass. That particular ministry usually ran from about 7:30 in the morning, when we departed for the sites where we would offer the catechesis, until 1 or 2 in the afternoon, when we would return.

Many blessings of World Youth Day

As bishops, we were sent out in groups to the various "zones" for catechesis. What was marvelous was that each of us carried with us the sense that the Holy Father very much wanted these catecheses given. Each of us was given very detailed outlines from the Vatican for the themes that we were to speak about. And so we knew that the Holy Father needed help - he could not possibly catechize and do questions and answers with almost a half a million young people - and we knew exactly on what he wanted us to focus. He wanted us to be with him and to help him, and he needed us to be with him and to help him. Many of the bishops were travel-weary upon their arrival in Australia, but every single one was delighted to be wanted and needed, to assist our Holy Father.

There was an energy and a joy that came from the Lord, though the gift of the office of bishop. We had every possible reason physically, simply to be exhausted, but the energy, the joy, and the enthusiasm, literally by God's grace, were unfailing.

The second of the three catecheses that I gave happened to be in a Chaldean Church, with youth numbering roughly 350, all from Iraq. Some were currently resident in the Detroit area, some were resident in Australia, some were resident in Europe, and some had come directly from Iraq. Given their background and experience, it was an unforgettable moment for me to speak and discuss with them what it means to be the Church and to consider the inseparable bond between Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.

The three catecheses I gave were wonderful personal experiences, but my entrance into the Iraqi context is surely unforgettable.

Without getting into too much detail regarding the numerous blessings of the trip, there was also more time to be spent with the Holy Father on the great vigil and the great Mass itself for World Youth Day; there was an opportunity for our entire pilgrim group to celebrate Mass and enjoy dinner together; and there was the opportunity for a dinner get-together with the seminarians.

Our seminarians were also gifted to be present with the Holy Father at his meeting with the seminarians for Mass in the Cathedral of Sydney. They were all able to be relatively close to the Holy Father and three of them were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to greet our Holy Father, shake his hand, and reverence the fisherman's ring. This was certainly a special blessing on the Diocese of Madison.

Receiving the grace of the journey

Lastly, filled as I still am with gratitude, joy, energy, and enthusiasm about this experience, the question does arise, recognizing that Australia is very far from here: is it all worth it?

Well, without going into the tremendous work that many of our pilgrims did to raise money for this trip, I would point out first that each of the young people who were able to be present, including our seminarians, received a grace of which only he or she is aware - and in fact he or she may not be aware of that grace as yet.

But, to be with the Pope, with Peter walking among, and living and praying with, and loving them up close, was to be at the very heart of the Church. And when any Catholic makes a pilgrimage to the heart of the Church, in faith, there is always a special gift of grace which the Lord offers to him or her which always reveals itself in time. So, I know that all of our young people have received that particular gift of grace unique to each, even if they might not yet be aware of it.

Also, very importantly, these young people and our seminarians received the gift of knowing that they are not alone as they seek to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and go out and witness to Christ. The young people gathered were a "mighty cloud of witnesses," pushing half a million in number, all in loving union with the Holy Father. How could one possibly put a price on the value of that experience? In knowing and in experiencing being at the heart of the Church they were given a gift of a sense of the universal Church and a real concrete affection and love for our Holy Father.

On the last celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, our Holy Father made the very interesting observation that when the Holy Spirit came down upon Mary and the Apostles in the upper room, he did not found the local Church of Jerusalem. Rather, people from all over the world understood the truth of Christ, each in his or her own language. The Holy Father indicates clearly that the Holy Spirit founded the universal Church at Pentecost.

Connecting to the universal Church

Sometimes, in our humanness and limitation we are tempted to think that the Church is primarily our own parish, period. The local parish church is certainly the ordinary place where all are called to experience Church, but, at the same time, never forget that the local parish joins them to the diocesan Church and the bishop, and through the bishop and the diocesan Church they are joined to the universal Church.

Were it not for the Universal Church, there would be no diocesan Church, and if it were not for the diocesan Church there would be no local parish. That is the Holy Spirit's design in these matters.

For the young people to be at the heart of the Church, to experience a sense of the universal Church, and to experience tangible, loving affection for the Holy Father - these are gifts upon which one could never place a price. They are gifts of a lifetime, for which all of us in the diocese should be grateful. Each one of these young people knows that he or she is really called now to witness, especially among other young people in our diocese.

Oftentimes our young people today find little support in entering into active participation in the Church. Well, we now have 111 ambassadors of Jesus Christ, who will seek to keep alive the power of the Holy Spirit that they came to know in Sydney.

I want to thank, in a very special way, Father Paul Ugo Arinze for his work as director of our diocesan pilgrim youth group. He is a fine organizer, with good attentiveness to detail, and I really can't imagine that things would have gone as well and as smoothly as they did without his very priestly caring for the young people and for their programs and their activities.

I am very grateful to my brother priests and to the adults who accompanied us and helped to create the environment where our young people could grow powerfully in faith, hope, and love. I thank God for an experience which has left me with a lot of energy, and joy, and enthusiasm amid the challenges that together we are called to face in these days, in the Diocese of Madison.

Thank you very much for reading this. God Bless you! May the rest of your summer bring recreation, peace in the Lord, and above all, always-deeper faith. Praised be Jesus Christ!