October 15, 2012
Feast of Saint Teresa of Jesus
Year of Faith
One of the points made over-and-over again here at the Synod in Rome is that the parish is on the front lines of the New Evangelization!
We bishops can talk “until we’re blue in the face” — and, believe me, some do over here! — about a re-energized and renewed sense of bringing Jesus to the world, but, if this does not become the mission of our parishes, forget it!
I remember speaking once to an ambassador accredited to the Holy See. She, herself not a Catholic, observed that “The Catholic Church is the most ‘grassroots’ organization I’ve ever seen, because the real life of the Church occurs at the local level, in the parish. Every believer, wherever he or she is, lives in a parish.”
It is the parish where we are baptized, confirmed, and fed with the Eucharist each Sunday. It is in the parish where we meet our “pastor,” where we approach confession, where our children learn the faith and walk up the aisle for marriage. It is in the parish where we find spiritual friendship and community, and where we can serve those in need. It is in the parish where we’ll be commended to the Lord at the end of our earthly journey.
Thus I find the old custom of appointing a cardinal an “honorary pastor” of a parish in Rome, to a church that becomes his titular, to be rich in meaning. In the 2000 year old life of the Church, the pastors of the parishes in Rome elect their bishop. Thus, the cardinals, honorary pastors of their “titular churches,” gather in conclave to choose a new successor of St. Peter as Bishop of Rome: our Holy Father, the Pope.
When I became a cardinal last February, I was appointed “honorary pastor” of my titular Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on Monte Mario, in Rome.
And yesterday, I “took possession” of that parish.
What a great day it was! Many cardinals have, as their titular churches, an historic one that might be more of a museum than a living parish.
Not Our Lady of Guadalupe! This was as large, as welcoming, as dynamic, as youthful, as a parish in the Bronx! They welcomed me like a returning father of the family — which I guess I am. The church and the square outside were packed; the Mass was reverent yet lively; the folks were courteously attentive to my awkward Italian; the families young; the kids beaming; the choir great; and … the pranzo afterwards — with toasts in abundance, and even a Dixieland band! … superb.
In my conversations with the “real” pastor, Don Franco Mammoli, I learned that the parish was filled with young families and loyal elders; that it was the spiritual home of immigrants from the Philippines, Africa, and Asia; and that the poor in the neighborhood come to the parish for help. Sound familiar? I felt at home. I was at home, as God’s children always are in the parish, even one not their own.
My big mistake was not knowing whether I should be a fan of the Lazio or the Roman soccer team! Sounds like their version of the “Yankees/Mets,” or “Giants/Jets” question!
Of course, I commented to my “new parishioners” how appropriate it was that we both looked to Our Lady of Guadalupe as a patroness. I wondered out loud if my appointment as titular pastor of this parish was recognition by Pope Benedict XVI of the great gift of our Mexican and other Latino brothers and sisters to the Archdiocese of New York.
As I left Monte Mario, I thanked God that my new parish was, in so many ways, already vigorous in the New Evangelization, and reminded anew that we bishops in the Synod are “whistlin’ Dixie” if our words do not penetrate to the soil, the grassroots, of the Church: the parish!