Archbishop's column

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

Vocation and Vocations

Introduction

On this coming Jan. 9 to 15, we will observe National Vocation Awareness Week.Beginning with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday, Jan. 9, the annual celebration gives us many helps in considering our share in Christ’s vocation and mission for the salvation of the world, which was revealed to the world at His baptism in the Jordan by John.As St. John the Baptist announced, God the Son came into the world.He has united our human nature to His divine nature, in order that He may give us a share in His Spirit.When our Lord approached John for baptism, John explained to those present what God the Father had revealed to him about Christ: "The one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘When you see the Spirit descend and rest on someone, it is He who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.’Now I have seen for myself and have testified, ‘This is God’s chosen One’" (John 1:33-34).By His baptism in the Jordan, Christ made holy the waters of baptism, so that through them He might give us the Holy Spirit.

When He rose from the dead, Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Church for the first time.Then, 50 days after His resurrection, on Pentecost Sunday, He poured out a second gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, so that her members might be His witnesses to the very ends of the earth (Acts 1:4-8).Through the Sacraments of Baptism (our personal Easter) and Confirmation (our personal Pentecost), He has poured out the Holy Spirit into our individual lives.Anointed with the Holy Spirit, we come to life in Christ and are sent to bring Christ to the whole world.

Vocation and vocations

From the moment of our baptism, God has a special plan for each of us.God calls us to life in Christ, in order that, with Christ, we may offer our whole life in love of God and our neighbor.At our confirmation, God strengthens and increases the life of the Holy Spirit within us, so that we will have the inspiration and strength to respond to God’s call.We are called to follow Christ in holiness of life.This is our vocation.We are called to follow Christ as a married person, a dedicated single person, a consecrated person or an ordained priest.These are the vocations by which we respond to the universal vocation to holiness of life.

Whether God calls us to the married life, the dedicated single life, the consecrated life or the priesthood, He asks us to make the gift of our whole life.Others see Christ in us, most of all, through our faithful response to our vocation in life.

We say in the Church that our vocation is our way to salvation, and it is true.It is through our vocation that we most fully express our life in Christ and realize our share in His mission of salvation.We are called to life in Christ, so that, when we reach adulthood, we may give our lives in response to God’s call.Therefore, it is important that children and young people pray each day to know their vocation in life, and that those of us, who have already responded to God’s call by embracing our vocation, pray each day for the virtues of fidelity and generosity in living our vocation.

During our childhood and youth, our education in the faith and its practice is to help us to hear God’s call and to prepare us to respond with an undivided heart.During our adult years, our study of the faith and its practice is to help us to respond to God’s call ever more faithfully and with as generous a heart as possible.

Responsibility for vocational discernment

The whole Church has the responsibility to assist children and young people to hear God’s call and to prepare themselves to respond, and to assist adults in the Church to respond fully to their vocation in life.The bishop as chief shepherd of God’s flock bears an especially weighty responsibility to assist children and young people in the discernment and pursuit of their vocation.

On the 25th anniversary of his election as successor of St. Peter, Pope John Paul II signed the postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Pastores Gregis (On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World)."In this important document, the fruit of the 10th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held in October 2001, our Holy Father underlines very much the responsibility of the bishop for the promotion of vocations.He reminds all bishops that they are to foster "a vocational culture" in which young people will come to understand that our entire life is a vocation and that the various vocations are the way in which we live out most fully the one vocation of Christ, in which we have all been given a share (Pastores Gregis, No. 54a).

Our Holy Father instructs bishops to exhort families, parishes and institutions of Catholic education "to assist boys and girls in discovering God’s plan in their lives and in embracing the call to holiness which God from the beginning addresses to each person" (Pastores Gregis, No. 54b).The Holy Father goes on to remind bishops that the apostolate of vocations must permeate all pastoral activity. In particular, the bishop is to entrust the vocational apostolate to the priests who are his co-workers and to other members of the faithful "capable of passing on their love for Jesus by their enthusiasm and the example of their lives"
(ibid).Priests and others who assist the bishop in the apostolate of vocations are to help children and young people to pray to know their vocation.They are also to accompany patiently the same young people as they strive to know God’s will for them.It will be especially important to encourage young people to participate in the Mass as frequently as possible, and to confess their sins regularly and receive God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.

Special attention must be given to helping young people know about the vocations to the consecrated life and priesthood, because these calls are difficult to hear in a totally secularized society.Within the apostolate of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, there is always to be an emphasis on missionary vocations.In this regard, the bishop is to make certain that the associations of the faithful in the Church "support the pastoral work of promoting vocations in the dioceses and foster an acceptance of all vocations, especially those to the ordained ministry, the consecrated life and missionary work" (ibid, No. 51c).In our archdiocese, the Serra Club and the Knights of Columbus are two associations of the faithful, which are strongly committed to the vocational apostolate.I am deeply grateful to them.

Office for Vocations and for Consecrated Life

The Archdiocese of St. Louis gives fitting emphasis to the vocational apostolate through the constant work of the Office for Vocations and the Office for the Consecrated Life.The Office for Vocations principally helps me in the promotion of priestly vocations.Under the direction of Father Michael T. Butler, the Office of Vocations is in regular communication with those who have expressed an interest in the priestly vocation and assists our seminarians as they respond to the vocation.The office also sponsors various activities throughout the year which help young men to consider God’s call to the priesthood.I refer especially to the Kenrick-Glennon Days and to the retreat which I will be giving to prospective seminarians on the weekend of Feb. 18-20 at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.Father Butler is also actively engaged in fostering vocations among the young men of the archdiocese in a number of other ways, including the production of a video for parents.Please contact Father Butler about any question you may have in the matter of the promotion of priestly vocations (314) 792-6460.

I am pleased to tell you that we have 18 seminarians in the last years of priestly formation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.John O’Brien is studying for the archdiocese at our national seminary in Rome.We also have 18 seminarians from the archdiocese in our college seminary.David Skillman is completing a three-year seminary scholarship at the Catholic University of America.I am deeply grateful for the good number of seminarians of the archdiocese.At the same time, I know that we must increase the number, in order to meet more effectively the pastoral needs of the archdiocese in the future.It is my goal to have at least 6 seminarians from the archdiocese in each year of college and of theological studies.

Gradually, I am getting to know the seminarians and am very much impressed by them.I am not only impressed by their seriousness in responding to God’s call, but also by their active engagement in encouraging other young men to consider the vocation to the priesthood.They certainly are a convincing reason for a young man to consider the vocation of the priesthood.They are responding to God’s call to give their lives in service of us all.Let us be sure to pray for them, that they may persevere in responding to God’s call to the ordained priesthood.

Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman, FSGM, director of the Office of the Consecrated Life, works with Father Butler in promoting vocations to the consecrated life.Various activities are planned, inviting the participation of the different institutes of consecrated life.Mater Dei Camp at the beginning of the summer months provides an excellent opportunity for young women to consider the vocation to the consecrated life. Please contact Sister Eva-Maria regarding any question you may in the matter of the promotion of vocations to the consecrated life (314) 792-7251.

Kenrick-Glennon Seminary not only provides appropriate formation and education for college and theological students interested in the priesthood.It also serves as a center which young people may visit either individually or in groups to seek a deeper understanding of God’s call.Father Butler will be able to arrange for visits to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Conclusion

Because of the importance of National Vocation Awareness Week for the Church and because prayer is the foundation of the apostolate of vocations to the priesthood or consecrated life, I urge you to set aside special time for prayer for vocations during National Vocation Awareness Week, making time for prayer for vocations a part of your daily living.Please pray that the young men and women whom God is calling to the priesthood and consecrated life will respond faithfully and generously to God’s call.

During the days of our Christmas celebration, I was reflecting upon my own vocation to the priesthood.My heart was filled with gratitude toward those who helped me to know God’s will in my life and to carry it out with a generous and brave heart.I thought of my good parents and of the home which they formed, a place in which it was natural to think of a vocation to the priesthood.I think of the parish priests and the religious Sisters who served my home parish and taught in the Catholic schools I attended.They led us to pray to know our vocation and to read the lives of the saints, in order to be inspired to follow in their holy footsteps.Many faithful parishioners of my home parish also came to mind.They prayed for me, encouraged me and gave me financial support.Along the way of my years of seminary studies, so many helped me, especially the seminary faculty members.

Please pray daily in your homes that our children and young people will come to know God’s plan for them, and that all the faithful may be confirmed in fidelity to their vocations.

Christmas and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary

Introduction

As we celebrate the Birth of Our Lord, we are deeply conscious of the richness of the mystery of the Incarnation.Our mind will never comprehend all that the mystery means, yet God’s grace gives us faith in the mystery and helps us to plumb its deep meaning.Our faith helps us to understand the essential relationship between the mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of the Redemption.Pope John Paul II, in fact, often refers to the two mysteries together as the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation.

On Christmas, we recall Christ’s Birth of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem, acknowledging that the same Christ died for us on Calvary, rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, so that He might live for us always in the Church.At Mass on Christmas, Christ comes into our midst as really as He did at Bethlehem.He comes in His glorious Body for our spiritual healing and nourishment.The Body which He received at His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit was transformed at His Resurrection, so that He might give us Himself in the Church always and, above all, in the Eucharist.

In the words of Pope Paul VI, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist "is called ‘real’ not as a way of excluding other types of presence as if they were ‘not real,’ but because it is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present" (Pope Paul VI, encyclical letter Mysterium Fidei, "On the Doctrine and Worship of the Most Holy Eucharist," Sept. 3, 1965, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57 [1965], p. 764).The image of the Infant Savior in the manger, before whom we kneel in prayer on Christmas, represents the same Christ who comes to us under the veils of bread and wine to nourish us with His true Body and Blood, holy Communion, and who remains with us in the consecrated hosts reposed in the tabernacle of our churches and chapels.

Christ the Good Shepherd

Inseparably connected with the real presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament is the presence of Christ in the priest who, acting in the person of Christ, renews the Sacrifice of Calvary at Mass and who also acts in the person of Christ, Shepherd and Head of the flock, when he teaches, sanctifies and governs God’s holy people at every time and in every place.Writing about the wonder or amazement which should be ours before the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our Holy Father Pope John Paul II reminded us of the truth about the ordained priesthood, conferred through the Sacrament of Holy Orders:

"This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist.But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist.For it is he who, by the authority given him in the sacrament of priestly ordination, effects the consecration.It is he who says with the power coming to him from Christ in the Upper Room: ‘This is My Body which will be given up for you.This is the cup of My Blood, poured out for you ...’The priest says the words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in His priesthood" (Pope John Paul II, encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, "On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church," April 17, 2003, n. 5c).

The same Christ who was born into the family of Mary and Joseph at Bethlehem, and who died and rose from the dead for our salvation, so that He might live for us always, continues to be our Shepherd and Head through the Holy Father and the Bishops with their co-workers, the priests.

At Christmas, our deepest gratitude for the coming of Christ to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist is also deepest gratitude for the sacrament of the priesthood, which makes possible the holy Eucharist.Our grateful reflection upon the real presence of Christ with us in the holy Eucharist leads us to thank God for Christ’s pastoral presence with us through our priests and their apostolic service.

The seminary and its importance

Thanking God for our priests, our thoughts turn naturally to our archdiocesan seminary, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, in which, since 1893, those called to be priests of the archdiocese have been prepared to present themselves for priestly ordination.The seminary is the most important institution or service in the whole archdiocese.The reason is clear, for the whole life of the Church depends upon the service of worthy shepherds.A parish, for example, cannot exist without the service of a parish priest.Every Catholic institution depends upon the presence of the priest who is the sacramental sign of Christ’s pastoral charity toward us.If the seminary is sound and strong, then the life of the whole diocese will be sound and strong.

To understand the importance of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, we recall how Christ called the Apostles at the very beginning of His public ministry and kept them in His company, preparing them for their priestly consecration at the Last Supper and for their priestly service in the Church, which He brought to birth by His Passion, death, Resurrection, Ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit.

Pope John Paul II has given the following description of the seminary:

"The seminary can be seen as a place and a period in life.But is above all an educational community in progress: It is a community established by the bishop to offer to those called by the Lord to serve as Apostles the possibility of reliving the experience of formation which our Lord provided for the Twelve.In fact, the Gospels present a prolonged and intimate sharing of life with Jesus as a necessary premise for the apostolic ministry" (Pope John Paul II, post-synodal apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, "On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day," March 25, 1992, n. 60b).

There are three types of seminaries: the minor seminary for high-school-age young men who are hearing the call to the priesthood; the college seminary for those who begin their studies for the priesthood after graduation from high school; and the theological seminary, in which the final four years of preparation are made before ordination.There is also a pre-theology program for men who have a university education but need to complete studies of philosophy in preparation for the study of theology.The Archdiocese of St. Louis no longer has a high school seminary program.Kenrick-Glennon Seminary houses the archdiocesan college seminary, Cardinal Glennon College, and the archdiocesan theological seminary, Kenrick School of Theology.The legal title of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary is St. Louis Roman Catholic Theological Seminary.

In each type of seminary, the young men — and sometimes older men — receive formation, appropriate to their age and level of education.The formation addresses the human virtues needed by the priest, the spiritual life of the priest, the understanding of the faith and growth in the pastoral charity of Christ the Good Shepherd.I have often been asked when it is best for a young man to enter the seminary.Based on my personal experience and my experience as a priest and bishop, I believe that a young man, as much as possible, should enter the seminary when he hears God’s call to the priesthood in his prayer and through the counsel and direction of his parents and others.

As archbishop, I clearly have concern and responsibility for the rich variety of institutions which serve the faithful in the archdiocese: parishes, Catholic schools, the Archdiocesan Curia, Catholic Charities, Catholic health care centers and so forth.I strive to give fitting attention and care to each.Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, however, receives my first attention because I know that if I am able to prepare and ordain worthy priests, then the priests will help me in my care of all of the institutions which serve the faithful in the archdiocese.The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops reminds me daily:

"Among diocesan institutions, the bishop should consider the seminary to have primacy of place, and he should make it the object of his most intense and assiduous pastoral care, because it is largely on seminaries that the continuity and fruitfulness of the Church’s priestly ministry depends" (n. 84).

Considering personally the gift of the Catholic faith and the vocation to the priesthood, I realize the irreplaceable service of the priests who have ministered the sacraments to me, have taught me, and have directed and disciplined me.

Our seminary

Given the importance of the seminary for the whole life of a diocese, it will not surprise you to know that the Church urges every bishop, if possible, to have, at least, his own theological seminary, if not also a high school seminary and a college seminary.The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops reminds me:

"The bishop should insist firmly and with conviction on the importance of the major seminary as a privileged instrument for priestly formation, and he should endeavor to provide the diocese with its own major seminary, as an expression of the pastoral care for vocations in the particular Church.The seminary is at the same time an ecclesial community in its own right, forming future priests in the image of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd" (n. 85).

A diocesan bishop rightly desires to form a seminary community, under his paternal care, in which, with the help of the seminary faculty, the future priests of the diocese are educated and formed for their priestly ministry.

As you know, I was bishop of La Crosse in Wisconsin from Feb. 22, 1995, until Jan. 26 of this year, when I began my service as archbishop of St. Louis. While the Diocese of La Crosse has a small minor seminary for high-school boys who are hearing the call to the priesthood — from which, by the way, Joseph Lang, a member of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Oakville and a seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, will graduate in May 2005 — it does not have its own college or theological seminary.Given the present resources of the Diocese of La Crosse, it simply is not possible for it to have its own college or theological seminary.I was always grateful to the seminaries of other dioceses, which received the seminarians from the Diocese of La Crosse, and I tried to be as close to the seminarians as possible. I could not, however, give the kind of direction to the seminaries, which a bishop gives to his own seminary, and I could not have regular contact with the seminarians.

One of my greatest sources of joy in coming to the Archdiocese of St. Louis is Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.I meet regularly with Msgr. Theodore L. Wojcicki, rector of the seminary, and Father Timothy P. Cronin, director of Cardinal Glennon College Seminary.

I am regularly at the seminary for official functions and just to visit with the seminarians.Usually, on two or three afternoons of each week, I walk with one of the seminarians for an hour or so, which helps me to get to know him better.It also provides me with some much needed exercise. The walks are most enjoyable and helpful to both the seminarians and to me.There never seems to be any lag in the conversation.

We are truly blessed to have our own college and theological seminary, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.I thank God for all those who, over the years, have sacrificed to build and sustain the seminary.

At present, there are 19 seminarians from the archdiocese in Kenrick School of Theology; one of our seminarians is doing his theological studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.There are two seminarians from the archdiocese in the pre-theology program and 18 seminarians from the Archdiocese in Cardinal Glennon College.One of our college seminarians is completing his studies at the School of Philosophy of the Catholic University of America, at which he has been a Basselin scholar for the past almost three years.There are also a good number of seminarians from other dioceses; for example, Bismarck, Des Moines, Jefferson City, Kansas City in Kansas, Kansas City-St. Joseph, Lafayette, Memphis, Omaha, Rockford, Sioux Falls, Springfield in Illinois and Springfield-Cape Girardeau, receiving their priestly formation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

The more I get to know our seminarians, the greater is my hope for the future priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.Without exaggeration, I can assure you that our seminarians are excellent candidates for priestly ordination.I have every confidence in Msgr. Wojcicki and the other faculty, to whom I have entrusted the daily work of formation of our future priests.Also, the archdiocese continues to send priests for advanced studies to prepare them to serve on the seminary faculty.

Conclusion

In the next issue of the St. Louis Review, I will be writing about the apostolate of vocations and telling you more about our seminarians.Thank God their numbers are growing.This year, for instance, Cardinal Glennon College admitted eight outstanding new young men, all of whom had just graduated from high school.A similar number of present high-school seniors are expressing interest in the seminary or have already completed their application for admission to the seminary.

It is important that I, as archbishop, am able to provide a sound seminary education for them. I ask your help in maintaining Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and in providing for it the best possible faculty.

Also, a number of our seminarians are not able to pay for their seminary education.Recognizing their call to the priesthood, it is my responsibility to provide for them the financial aid needed, so that they may progress toward ordination.I ask your help in providing financial assistance to our seminarians.

As you thank God for the priests who serve you and for our seminarians, I ask you to give a generous gift to the annual collection for Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, which will be taken up in your parish on Christmas Eve and Day.We can rightly be proud of our archdiocesan seminary and the seminarians studying there. Let us express our pride by sacrificing from our means to provide the seminary with much needed financial support.I thank you, in advance, for your sacrificial gift toward the education of our future priests.

You and your homes will be in my prayers throughout the Christmas Season, especially at the Midnight and Christmas Day Masses.May the joy and peace of the Birth of our Lord fill your hearts and your homes.

150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception

Introduction

On Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the universal Church marked the 150th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.Throughout the Church, celebrations were held to honor the truth of the Immaculate Conception with special solemnity.In Rome, the act of the definition of the truth by Blessed Pope Pius IX, who was the Roman pontiff from June 21, 1846, until his death on Feb. 7, 1878, was recalled with great solemnity by Pope John Paul II. I celebrated the Mass for the Solemnity at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and also participated in the celebration of the proclamation of the dogma at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, beginning with Midday Prayer which was followed by a major address on dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Father C. Eugene Morris, professor of theology and director of sacred liturgy at the seminary.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who are our neighbors at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., have developed a special display to honor the 150th anniversary. The display is titled Tota Pulchra, referring to the perfect beauty of the sinless Virgin Mary in the language of the Song of Songs: "You are all fair, my love; there is no flaw in you" (Song of Songs 4:7).St. Ephrem the Syrian, theologian and poet of the fourth century, was inspired by the same text in celebrating the truth of the Immaculate Conception:

"Only you and your Mother are more beautiful than everything. For on you, O Lord, there is no mark; neither is there any stain in your Mother" (quoted in Luigi Gambero, Mary in the Fathers of the Church, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999, p. 109).

St. Eugene de Mazenod, who founded the Missionary Oblates of the Immaculate Conception in 1816, was present at the solemn act of the proclamation of the dogma by Blessed Pope Pius IX.The saint had been a great teacher of the faith and of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a part of the deposit of faith.For that reason, the Holy Father wanted him to be present for the joyous occasion of the proclamation of the dogma.I encourage you to take the time to visit the special display in honor of Mary Immaculate at the Shrine of Our Lady of Snows.

The dogma

On Dec. 8, 1854, 150 years ago, Blessed Pius IX issued the apostolic constitution "Ineffabilis Deus" in which he definitively proclaimed:

"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all of the faithful" (Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church: Documents on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2001, p. 24).

By his authority as Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Holy Father proclaimed what had been the constant faith of the Church regarding the preparation of Mary for her vocation and mission of Mother of God from the moment of her conception.

In order that Mary might be the fitting vessel to receive God the Son into the world, to conceive in her womb the Divine Redeemer by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, God preserved her, from the very first moment of her life in the womb of her mother Ann, from every stain of original sin.By so doing, God the Father granted to Mary, in anticipation, the grace of the Redemption which her Divine Son would win for us by His Passion, Death and Resurrection.Mary was conceived without any stain of original sin in order that she might belong totally for Christ.

The definition of the doctrine makes clear the meaning of two texts of the holy Scriptures, in particular.The first is what is called the protoevangelium ("the first Gospel" or, in other words, the first announcement of the Gospel or Good News of our salvation).After Adam and Eve had sinned and God was putting them out of the Garden of Eden, He spoke to the serpent, to whose deceptions our first parents had sadly succumbed, promising the ultimate victory over Satan:

"I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head; while you shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15).
The image of our Blessed Mother as the Immaculate Conception shows her crushing under her feet the head of a serpent, calling to mind the first promise of salvation, which God fulfilled through her divine maternity.Mary, from the moment of her conception, was preserved from the corruption of the sin of our first parents, in order that she might bring into the world God-the-Son-made-man to win in our human nature the victory over sin and everlasting death, to win for us all the freedom to love God and our neighbor.

The second text from the Holy Scriptures is the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation, at the moment of the Incarnation: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" (Luke 1:28). The greeting indicates that there has been a transformation worked in Mary by the grace of God to prepare her for the divine maternity.

Mary is "full of grace," that is, there is no sin in Mary.The Church, reflecting on the Word of God down the Christian centuries, has understood that the transformation took place in Mary at the moment of her conception.Each time that we pray the Hail Mary, we recall the truth that God, in His ineffable goodness and love, preserved Mary from every mark of original sin, so that she, one of us, could bring the Savior into the world and be, among us, His first and His best disciple.

Mary Immaculate, help us!

The truth of the Immaculate Conception is a great source of consolation and strength for us in the daily struggle which we have in fighting temptation and turning our lives over to Christ.The Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin to be the Mother of God and Mother of the Church.By her Immaculate Conception, she shows us the great grace which is ours from the moment of baptism, the grace of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, wiping away all stain of original sin and making us one with Christ in His victory over sin and death. Looking upon the image of Mary Immaculate, we are confident that, with Christ, we, too, can crush the head of Satan in our lives. When Christ was dying on the cross, He gave His Mother to us as Mother of the Church, so that she might always lead us to be one with her at the foot of the cross and to share in the grace of Redemption, which comes from Christ crucified alone.It is the grace of Christ alone, which comes to us from His pierced Heart on the cross and now glorious at the right hand of the Father, which conquers Satan and his works of sin in our lives.

Mary, our Mother, preserved from all stain of original sin, understands better than any of us the wiles of Satan and the profound harm and eternal death itself, which comes to us through sin. She witnessed the effects of the sin of our first parents and of our actual sins in the suffering and death of her Divine Son.Therefore, she stands ever ready to point out to us Satan’s allurements and deceptions, and to sustain us in times of great trial and temptation by leading us to her Son alive for us in the Church, especially through the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist.By drawing close to Mary Immaculate, we come to understand ever better the effects of sin in our own lives and upon our world; we come to understand our need to go to her Son for the grace of conversion of life and the transformation of our world. In times of great trial and temptation, we rightly call upon the help of our Mother: Mary Immaculate, help us!

I recall briefly here the apparition of the Mother of God, in 1830, to St. Catherine Labour of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, at their novitiate chapel on the Rue de Bac in Paris.Through the apparition, our Blessed Mother taught us to recall her Immaculate Conception and, therefore, to turn to her for protection and help. She asked that a medal be made in her honor, upon which would be inscribed the prayer: "O Mary, conceived without original sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!"How often we have uttered the prayer taught to us by Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal!What miracles of conversion have taken place through the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, our Blessed Mother, invoked in prayer under her title of the Immaculate Conception!

I recall, too, the apparitions of our Blessed Mother to St. Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858, near the village of Lourdes in southwestern France.The Virgin Mary identified herself to Bernadette with these words: "I am the Immaculate Con-ception."The spring of water, to which she directed Bernadette, has been ever since a sign of the saving grace of Christ which comes to us in the Church, through the intercession of the Mother of God, the grace of Christ which heals us physically and spiritually, and transforms our world.

Patroness of the United States of America

I cannot conclude my reflection upon the dogma of the Immaculate Conception without calling to mind the unanimous decision of the bishops of the United States to choose Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, as the patroness of our nation.At the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore, in 1846, in which Bishop Peter Richard Kenrick of St. Louis participated, the bishops of the United States issued a pastoral letter which concluded with a call of holiness of life, addressing especially "the degrading excesses of intemperance," which beset the faithful of the time.In the final paragraph of the pastoral letter of 1846, the bishops announced to the faithful of the nation their decision to choose Mary as our national patroness:
"We take this occasion, brethren, to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves, and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States, under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose Immaculate Concep-tion is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic Church.By the aid of her prayers, we entertain the confident hope that we will be strengthened to perform the arduous duties of our ministry, and that you will be enabled to practice the sublime virtues, of which her life presents a most perfect example.The Holy Ghost, by her own lips, has foretold that all generations shall call her blessed; and we cannot doubt that a blessing is attached to those who take care to fulfill this prediction.To her, then, we commend you, in the confidence that, through the one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a redemption for all, she will obtain for us grace and salvation" ("The Pastoral Letter of 1846,"

The National Pastorals of the American Hierarchy (1792-1919), Washington, D.C.: National Catholic Welfare Council, 1923, pp. 168-169).

The bishops express the perennial faith and practice of the Church, which recognize Mary as the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, and seek the saving grace of Christ through her maternal intercession.Truly, we are blessed to have Mary Immaculate as the patroness of our beloved United States of America. I refer you also to the inspiring reflection upon the Immaculate Conception, which the U.S. bishops presented in their pastoral letter of 1849.

The action of the bishops, in declaring the Mother of God, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, to be the patroness of our nation, inspires us in our time to turn to the intercession of Mary Immaculate for help in combating the many and grave evils which beset our nation.Our Blessed Mother always leads us to Christ and to the mystery of Divine Love, revealed in Him.She teaches us that the love of God alone, incarnate in her Divine Son, can save us from the evils which beset our nation and help us to be faithful to our true destiny in God.Her Immaculate Conception gives us confidence in God’s universal will of salvation, in the abundant sufficiency of God’s grace to win in us and in our nation the victory of His love.Let us renew our daily prayers to Mary Immaculate and our devotions in her honor for the sake of our homes, our communities and our nation.

Conclusion

As we prepare for the joyous celebration of the birth of our Savior on Christmas, we invoke the intercession of Mary Immaculate, that we may be disposed to receive the Savior into our lives each day, to follow Him faithfully each day along the Way of the Cross which leads to sinlessness and eternal peace in the Kingdom of Heaven.May the 150th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception be the occasion for us to turn, with renewed confidence, each day to the Mother of God, asking the help of her prayers, so that the victory of her Son over sin and everlasting death may be ours.She is the Mother of God and our Mother.She will not fail to help us by her intercession."O Mary, conceived without original sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

Visit to the tomb of the Apostle Peter and meeting with his successor

Introduction

On Nov. 20, Bishop Robert Hermann and I, together with the other bishops of Missouri and the bishops of Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, traveled to Rome, arriving there the following day, due to the length of flight and the seven-hour difference in time between St. Louis and Rome.The purpose of our travel was to offer Mass at the tombs of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, and to meet with Pope John Paul II, the successor of St. Peter in the office of Vicar of Christ. Every five years, bishops are required to make the ad limina Apostolorum visit in order to keep faithful contact with the source of their apostolic vocation and mission, handed down in the Church in an unbroken line of succession from St. Peter and the other Apostles, whom our Lord Jesus consecrated at the Last Supper.

The combination of the visit to the tombs of the Apostles and the meeting with the Holy Father makes strikingly clear how Christ remains always alive for us in the Church, faithfully keeping His promise to shepherd us always through the ministry of the Holy Father and the bishops, together with the priests, co-workers of the bishops, until He comes again in glory on the Last Day (Matthew 28:20).The ad limina Apostolorum visit is a time of special grace for bishops.

It confirms the origin of the ministry of the bishops in Christ and its visible source of unity in the service of St. Peter and his successors.It inspires new enthusiasm and new energy for carrying out the weighty and irreplaceable service of Shepherd of Flock, after the Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd.

Mass at the tombs of the Apostles

We began the first full day of the ad limina Apostolorum visit on Nov. 22 by celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Peter.Inspired by the example of St. Peter and calling upon the help of his prayers, we united ourselves to Christ in the offering of His life for us, uniting to His sacrifice our prayers for the faithful of our archdioceses and dioceses, the flock for whom we are indeed called to give our lives.

After the homily, given by Archbishop James P. Keleher of Kansas City, Kan., two bishops-elect, Msgr. William J. Dendinger of Omaha, who will be ordained bishop of Grand Island, Neb., Dec. 13, and Father Paul S. Coakley of Wichita, who will be ordained bishop of Salina, Kan., Dec. 28, made the Profession of Faith and Oath of Loyalty in preparation for ordination to the episcopate.It was a time for all the bishops present to reflect on our call to teach the faith with integrity and to sanctify and guide God’s holy people.

On Nov. 24, we celebrated Mass at the altar immediately behind the tomb of St. Paul, once again asking the help of God’s grace, through the intercession of the Apostle of the Nations, for the faithful of our archdioceses and dioceses.At the tomb of St. Paul, we recalled, in a particular way, the missionary nature of our life in the Church, which leads us to give witness to Christ and the Church in every aspect of human life and to the ends of the earth.St. Paul is our great example in bringing the faith and sacramental life to all our brothers and sisters.Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, of Dubuque, Iowa, was our principal celebrant and homilist.

On Nov. 23, we celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, invoking the guidance and protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.I was honored to be the principal celebrant and homilist.In a special way, I recalled the special sign of the Virgin Mary’s love for the Church on the continent of America in her apparitions in 1531 at Tepeyac Hill, in what is present-day Mexico City, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.The Virgin of Guadalupe identified herself as the Mother of God and announced her mission of showing God’s merciful love to all her children, especially her children of America.She showed and continues to show God’s mercy by leading us to God the Son incarnate in her womb and born of her at Bethlehem, who suffered and died for us that we might be forever free from sin and everlasting death.

On Nov. 25, we offered Thanksgiving Day Mass at the Pontifical North American College, our national seminary in Rome.Bishop John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City was the principal celebrant and homilist.It was a source of great joy and hope to be with the outstanding seminarians of the North American College, who welcomed us, together with many other Americans residing in Rome or visiting in Rome at the time.The hospitality of the seminarians and staff of the college was impeccable.

On Nov. 26, our Mass was at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Rome and of the universal Church.Coadjutor Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., was the principal celebrant.In his homily, Archbishop Naumann reminded us bishops of the many graces which were ours during the days of our pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles and of our meeting with the Holy Father.He underlined the great gift of our meeting with Pope John Paul II.He called us, in the words of our Lord — words chosen by the Holy Father as the title of his latest book — "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way" (Matthew 26:46), to return to our archdioceses and dioceses with new enthusiasm and energy to carry out our apostolic mission.

Meeting with our Holy Father

On Nov. 22, at 11 a.m., Bishop Hermann and I met with Pope John Paul II in private audience.At the beginning of our meeting, I was able to present to the Holy Father our priests and seminarian who are presently in Rome: Msgr. William J. Lyons, spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College; Father Thomas M. Molini, who has just completed a three-month sabbatical course in Rome after serving for 10 years at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and in preparation for a new priestly assignment; Father Kristian C. Teater, who is studying spiritual theology in Rome in preparation to be a professor and spiritual director at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary; and John O’Brien of St. Joseph Parish at Josephville, a seminarian of the archdiocese who is in the second year of his theological studies in preparation for ordination to the priesthood, God willing, in 2007.It was a great honor for them to greet the Holy Father who encouraged them very much.

After introducing our priests and seminarians to the Pope John Paul II, Bishop Hermann and I met alone with the Holy Father for about 20 minutes.Although His Holiness suffers severe physical impairment, making it difficult for him to speak, he was keen in his questions regarding the Archdiocese of St. Louis.He wanted to know about the parishes, the Catholic schools, the catechetical programs and vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.When I thanked him again for his pastoral visit to St., Louis in January of 1999, he responded very warmly, recalling especially his evening with the youth and the Mass the following day.I was moved when he asked about Cardinal Justin Rigali, my predecessor, who had invited him to St. Louis and hosted him here.Both Bishop Hermann and I were profoundly inspired by our meeting with Pope John Paul II. He asked me to convey to all the faithful of the archdiocese his warmest greetings and the assurance of his apostolic blessing.

On Nov. 26, at 11 a.m., the Holy Father met with all of the bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.At the beginning of our meeting, Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha introduced each of us to the Holy Father and then formally greeted the Holy Father in the name of all of the bishops, thanking him for his tireless service and assuring him of our unity with him in the apostolic ministry.

The Holy Father then spoke to us about the importance of our communion with our brother priests, our co-workers in the apostolic ministry, underlining the fraternal care of every priest, which must be ours.He reminded us that our unity with our priests has its origin in the ministry of St. Peter and, in turn, builds up the whole community in unity.

In the same line, he reminded us of the affection and care which bishops must have for their seminarians and of the importance of a strong program for the promotion of priestly vocations. He asked that we institute a national day of prayer for priestly vocations.Care for seminarians and priests, he reminded us, means providing a sound seminary formation: growth in theological education, in holiness of life and in leadership, and in dedication to the service of the People of God.He stressed that it also means providing for the continuing or lifelong formation of the clergy.He noted the importance of sending young priests for further studies in order to enrich the life and ministry of all the priests and of all the faithful.

Speaking about the unity of bishops and priests, the Holy Father devoted a significant part of his reflection to the parish and the primacy of the bishop’s concern for parishes.He stressed the bishop’s responsibility to organize parish life, with the irreplaceable help of the priests, so that the teaching of the faith and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist will be at heart of the life of the faithful.He concluded this part of his reflection by reminding us that the participation of the faithful in the Holy Eucharist inspires and strengthens them to carry out their kingly mission of sanctifying the home and every aspect of their life in society.

After our final meeting with the Holy Father, the bishops expressed to one another the tremendous inspiration which Pope John Paul II is for us.Truly, you can see and hear the Holy Spirit at work in our Holy Father.

Meetings at offices of the Roman Curia

The Holy Father enjoys the assistance of the Roman Curia in carrying out his service to the universal Church.The Roman Curia is composed of various offices called congregations, councils and tribunals, according to their specific areas of competence.Time did not permit us to visit all of the offices of the Roman Curia.We were able to meet with the officials of several of the most important congregations.

On Nov. 22, the bishops met with Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect or head of the Congregation for the Clergy, which has responsibility for matters regarding priests and deacons, parishes, catechetics and the administration of the temporal goods of the Church.Bishop Hermann and I were unable to take part in the meeting because of our private audience with the Holy Father.

On the morning of Nov. 23, we met with Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who assisted us in reflecting upon our responsibilities as bishops.He presented each bishop with a copy of the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops (Apostolorum Successores), recently published by the Congregation for Bishops. Cardinal Re stressed very much the importance of the life of prayer for bishops, referring to a passage from the directory, which describes the bishop’s prayer life as the staff which support him on the pilgrimage of daily life (No. 36).He also stressed the importance of the closeness of bishops to their priests, reminding us that we are father, brother, friend and Good Samaritan to the priests of our archdioceses and dioceses (No. 76).

Referring to the suffering of all priests during the past two years of scandal surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests, he noted that the bishop’s care for priests is now more important than ever.Calling to mind the present revision of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, together with the related Essential Norms, the cardinal urged serenity and equilibrium for the sake of the good of all involved.

We also visited with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, together with several of his key staff.Cardinal Ratzinger gave a brief but very illuminating reflection on some key questions: the Catholic identity of Catholic hospitals, with special reference to the moral principal of cooperation; the reception of the teaching documents of the Church by the faithful and the role of the communications media; the handling of cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests and the discipline of priests who have committed the crime of sexual abuse of a minor; and the doctrinal force of our Holy Father’s teaching on nutrition and hydration for patients who are in the persistent vegetative state, which he enunciated in his address to the Pontifical Academy for Life in May of this year.

As in the other meetings with the heads of the offices of the Roman Curia, the bishops were able to ask questions and make observations.Also, at each congregation, members of the staff were available to respond to questions of the group of bishops and to provide private consultation with bishops after the meeting.

On Nov. 24, we met with the Congregation for Institutes of the Consecrated Life.Archbishop Franc Rode, the prefect of the congregation, was only able to greet us briefly because of his participation in an international meeting of major superiors of institutes of the consecrated life, which was taking place at the same time as our ad limina Apostolorum visit.Archbishop Piergiorgio Silvano Nesti, CP, secretary (or second-in-command) of the congregation, met with us, underlining the importance of our pastoral care and direction of religious institutes of the consecrated life, while respecting the autonomy of their internal governance.He stressed the strong bonds of unity of consecrated religious with the Holy Father and, therefore, with the bishops.

Gratitude was expressed for the irreplaceable service of institutes of contemplative and apostolic religious in our archdioceses and dioceses.Concern was expressed for the older institutes which receive very few new vocations, and guidance was given for the response to new forms of consecrated life, which are springing up in our day.

On Thanksgiving Day, we met with Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.Cardinal Arinze spoke at some length about the Year of the Eucharist, encouraging bishops to undertake various initiatives to foster faith in the eucharistic mystery.He presented each bishop with a copy of the Holy Father’s apostolic letter "Mane Nobiscum Domine," which included a second part, developed by the congregation, with practical suggestions for the observance of the Year of the Eucharist in the home, the parish and the diocese. I am providing a copy of the document to various officials of the archdiocese for their consideration.Bishop Hermann will be heading up a small committee to promote the effective observance of the Year of the Eucharist in our homes, parishes and the archdiocese.

Cardinal Arinze also underlined the critical importance of the attentive implementation of the most recent liturgical norms, especially in the celebration of the Mass, so that the divine action in the sacraments may not be obscured by individual approaches and innovations. He stressed very much the unity of the bishop and priests of a diocese in implementing liturgical reform and renewal.Several questions were posed by the bishops, to which Cardinal Arinze and his staff gave most helpful responses.

Finally, on Nov. 26, we were received at the Congregation of Catholic Education by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the prefect.Cardinal Grocholewski spoke strongly about the importance of seminary studies and priestly formation for the future of the Church.He reminded us that the bishop’s most important work is the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and the care of seminarians.He expressed concern about the low number of seminarians in the United States and Western Europe, in comparison to other parts of the universal Church.

He stressed the importance of the clear identity of the ordained priesthood, conferred with the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in relationship to the royal priesthood of all of the faithful, conferred with the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, for an effective apostolate of priestly vocations.He reminded us that the ordained priesthood is at the service of the other vocations. In this regard, he stressed the importance of bringing the seminarians of the diocese together frequently, so that they become true brothers of each other and form one day a unified body of priests at the service of Christ and all the faithful of the archdiocese or diocese.

In particular, he noted the importance, in today’s highly secularized society, of spiritual formation as the center of the fourfold (human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral) formation of seminarians.In second place, he noted the need of a fundamental and systematic theological formation, in order that future priests will be reliable teachers and moral guides.He also gave special attention to the program of philosophical studies which is essential to the efficacious study of theology and the correct assessment of contemporary culture.

Cardinal Grocholewski next spoke about the importance of the Catholic identity of Catholic universities as fundamentally a question of honesty with students and their parents.He urged bishops to be very close to both the Catholic universities and the secular universities, in order to promote the right relationship of faith and reason.

Finally, Cardinal Grocholewski spoke about the importance of the Catholic schools as places of evangelization in a totally secularized culture. He urged us to insist with our government on the fundamental human right of parents to choose the school for their children, indicating that it is not just that parents are punished financially in our nation because of the choice of the Catholic school for their child.

The cardinal also discussed the Catholic identity of Catholic elementary and secondary schools.He reminded us of the responsibility of bishops to provide spiritual and doctrinal formation for administrators and teachers in the Catholic schools, who, with the parish priests, carry out the critical mission of the evangelization and catechesis of children and young people.

Conclusion

The above is a summary of the richness of the ad limina Apostolorum visit.I will strive to draw upon the many graces received from the visit in my pastoral care and direction of the archdiocese in the months and years ahead.

In addition to what I have described above, the bishops were hosted at three receptions. The first was at the Villa Stritch, the residence of U.S. priests who serve in the Roman Curia. It provided the opportunity for us to discuss practical pastoral concerns with the priests and to express our deepest gratitude for the service which they give.

We also had the occasion to visit with U.S. priests who are doing graduate studies in Rome at a reception hosted by the Casa Santa Maria, the house of the Pontifical North American College for priests undertaking graduate studies in Rome.Father Kristian Teater is residing at the Casa Santa Maria as he undertakes his studies at the Pontifical Theological Faculty and Pontifical Institute of Spirituality, popularly called the Teresianum, which is under the care and direction of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers.

On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, James Nicholson, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, received us at his residence, speaking with us about particular aspects of the relationship of the Holy See to the government of our nation.He presented us with a copy of his recently published history of the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States. He discussed with us a strong concern about the reservations which some in the Church have in the matter of genetically modified organisms.He urged that the concerns be resolved for the sake of feeding the starving of the world.

I conclude by recalling one of the first experiences of the grace-filled week of the ad limina Apostolorum visit.After we bishops had arrived in Rome on the morning of Nov. 21, I went to the Basilica of St. Peter to pray at the tombs of St. Peter, Blessed John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, who ordained me to the priesthood on June 29, 1975.I then went out to St. Peter’s Square to hear the Holy Father’s regular Sunday Angelus message and to receive his blessing.A pilgrim group from a diocese in Italy held up a large banner which read: "Your weakness gives us strength" ("La tua debolezza ci da forza").Meeting with our Holy Father Pope John Paul II and observing him during the days of the ad limina Apostolorum visit, I frequently recalled this expression of esteem and love of a portion of the faithful for their shepherd.St. Peter suffered harassment, arrest, imprisonment and a cruel death by crucifixion in order to give his every energy in service as Shepherd of the Universal Church.Our Holy Father, who suffers severe physical infirmity which would hinder him in his service, is giving his every energy to serving us as our good shepherd, after the heart of Christ the Good Shepherd.Over and over, during the week of the visit, I thought to myself how, in the mystery of grace, our Holy Father’s weakness indeed gives me strength.

Let us pray for our Holy Father that the Lord conserve him in health and grace for his apostolic ministry.I pray that his weakness will give me strength to be a good shepherd for the Church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.Please pray for me that I will continue to respond to the graces of my first ad limina Apostolorum as archbishop of St. Louis.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Introduction

From Monday, Nov. 15, to Thursday, Nov. 18, Bishop Robert J. Hermann and I participated in the General Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.You may have viewed some part of the meeting on Eternal Word Television Network, which broadcasts all of the proceedings.

The Conference of Bishops is, according to Church discipline, the full body of bishops of a certain nation or territory, exercising jointly some of their pastoral responsibilities for the faithful in their pastoral care.The conference is to pursue the greater good which the Church offers to all, above all "through forms and programs of the apostolate fittingly adapted to the circumstances of time and place" (cf. can. 447).In other words, in the case of the United States, the Conference of Bishops provides a vehicle for all of the bishops to take pastoral action together. For example, the bishops work together in questions regarding the sacred liturgy or moral questions facing the entire nation.

The apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, was present for the meeting, representing our Holy Father. Archbishop Montalvo addressed the assembled bishops, giving an inspiring synthesis of the discourses which our Holy Father has been giving to the groups of bishops of the United States, making their ad limina apostolorum visit this year.As I mentioned in my column of last week, the bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska will be making our visit this week (Nov. 21-28).Of the 14 regions of bishops, only Region IX, our region, and one other region has yet to make the ad limina visit.Archbishop Montalvo’s presentation helped us to reflect more deeply on our Holy Father’s Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis, "On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World" (Oct. 16, 2003), and the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops of the Congregation for Bishops (Feb. 22, 2004), which the Holy Father has been discussing with each region of bishops as they meet with him during their ad limina visit.

Election of officers

At the annual meeting, the bishops elected the leadership in the Conference of Bishops for the next three years.Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane was elected president of the Conference of Bishops and Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago, was elected to the office of vice-president.Please pray for them.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of our neighboring Diocese of Belleville completed his three years of service as president of the Conference of Bishops.Bishop Gregory has led the bishops’ conference during three of the most difficult years of the Church’s history in the United States, especially due to the terrible scandal of sexual abuse of children by the clergy.The bishops expressed heartfelt gratitude to Bishop Gregory after his final presidential address.

The bishops also elected a number of bishops to give leadership in the conference’s various committees.The committees are important, for they do the groundwork in the matters which are presented to the full body of bishops.

Plenary Council

As you may know, two years ago, several bishops, including myself, asked the Conference of Bishops to request from the Apostolic See approval to hold a Plenary Council of the Church in the United States for the purpose of addressing the serious doctrinal and moral confusion in the Church in our nation.While the preparation and execution of the Plenary Council would have required a tremendous amount of work and resources, the bishops proposing it believed that the gravity of the situation required such an extraordinary measure.The Plenary Council is an ancient institution of the Church to help her to present with new enthusiasm and energy the Church’s teaching and discipline.As a solemn form of consultation, it enjoys the special assistance of the Holy Spirit.Prayer and liturgical celebrations — especially the holy Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours — are at the heart of the activities of the Plenary Council.

After almost two years of discussion, the proposal of the Plenary Council did not win the support of the majority of the bishops.The bishops, however, indicated the desire for days of reflection to be included in the regular meetings of the conference to address especially the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments; evangelization and catechesis; and vocations to the consecrated life and the priesthood.
New Spanish-language liturgical books
The bishops approved three new liturgical books in Spanish: the Rite for the Baptism of Children; the Blessing of Young Women on their Fifteen Birthday to be included in the Book of Blessings; and the Rite of Marriage.The translations from the original text in Latin were prepared in the Spanish spoken by the many Hispanic faithful in our archdiocese.The new liturgical books should make the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals fuller and more fruitful for our Hispanic brothers and sisters.

Catholic Catechism for Adults

The bishops approved the text of the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, an adaptation of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" for members of the Church in our nation.The text follows the structure of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church." A story or lesson of faith is provided at the beginning of each chapter.Each chapter also includes a section relating Church teaching to our culture. Finally, the chapters conclude with a meditation and prayer.Once the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults is published, the St. Louis Review will be informing you about the publication and about its availability in the archdiocese.

Protection of children
and youth

The bishops continued the work begun at our meeting in Dallas in June of 2002 to address the grave evil of sexual abuse of children by the clergy. The central concern in all of the discussions is the prevention of any further commission of this crime, which violates a most sacred trust and causes grave and enduring harm to the victim.

At the same time, through a thorough review of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and the accompanying "Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests and Deacons," care is being given to ensure that the processes in place respect the dignity and human rights of all involved.Consultation will take place in the archdiocese through the Presbyteral Council and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.Also those who have been assisting the archdiocese in the implementation of the "Charter and Essential Norms" will be consulted. A workbook has been prepared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, so that all who are consulted may comment on the two documents in their entirety.
Please pray for the work of the review of the charter and essential norms.Please continue to pray for the victims of child sexual abuse by the clergy and for the clergy who have perpetrated such reprehensible actions.

Task Force on Catholic bishops and Catholic
politicians

The bishops continued the discussion on how best to address the grave scandal of Catholic politicians who publicly and persistently espouse anti-life legislation. There is a diversity in approach regarding the application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which requires that a Catholic who persists in a manifest and gravely sinful act not be admitted to receive Holy Communion.The Task Force, headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., will continue its work, especially concentrating on education regarding the moral law and on dialogue with Catholic politicians.No new statement was made by the Conference of Bishops.

Conclusion

I have given you a summary of some of the matters discussed at the annual meeting of our Conference of Bishops. A number of other matters, both relating to the internal operation of the Conference of Bishops and to pastoral questions also were addressed.I am certain that I speak for Bishop Hermann, when I thank you for your prayers for us during the time of the meeting.
My very best wishes for a good beginning of the Advent season on this coming Sunday, Nov. 28. May the season of Advent open our minds and hearts to understand more fully the mystery of God’s love for us, expressed most perfectly in the Incarnation. May the strong grace of the Advent season inspire in us a more perfect love of God in return for His immeasurable love of us. As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, may He bless us with joy and peace.

Thanksgiving and the care of the poor

Introduction

As we prepare for the celebration of Thanksgiving, our thoughts turn to the many blessings with which God has showered upon us throughout the year, beginning with gift of life itself and our Catholic faith.I hope that you will be able to participate in Mass on Thanksgiving Day. Holy Eucharist means literally "Holy Thanksgiving"; participation in the Eucharist is our most perfect way of expressing gratitude to God.If you are not able to participate in Mass on Thanksgiving Day, please take time in your home to reflect upon God’s abundant blessings and to offer Him thankful prayers.

My prayers, especially the celebration of the Eucharist on Thanksgiving Day, will center very much on you, the faithful of the archdiocese, whom God has blessed me to serve since Jan. 26 of this year and who have welcomed me so warmly and generously.My first 10 months of service as archbishop of St. Louis have shown me the strong life of the Church in the archdiocese and have afforded me the occasion to meet so many devout and dedicated Catholic faithful in all parts of the archdiocese. I thank God for you and pray for you daily.

Thanksgiving Day will find me, together with Bishop Robert Hermann, in Rome, making my five-year visit to the Holy Father to report to him on the status and activities of the Church in the archdiocese.Together with the other bishops of Missouri and the bishops of Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, I will travel to Rome on this coming Saturday, Nov. 20, and will return to the archdiocese on Sunday, Nov. 28.The five-year visit, formally known as the visit "ad limina Apostolorum (to the thresholds [of the tombs] of the Apostles [Peter and Paul])," includes not only a private visit with the Holy Father but also a visit with the various offices of the Holy Father in order to receive assistance and direction.The heart of the visit is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul in the Patriarchal Basilicas of St. Peter in the Vatican and St. Paul outside the Walls, and at the Patriarchal Basilicas of St. John Lateran — the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome — and of St. Mary Major.After my return, I will give you a report of my visit through this weekly column.

You may wonder why I am making the visit during the week of Thanksgiving.The reason is our Holy Father’s extremely busy schedule, which requires that one group of U.S. Bishops make the visit at Thanksgiving time.Thanksgiving Day is not a holiday in Rome, and the Holy Father needs to use the week during which it falls for visits with bishops.

I will be praying for you throughout my time in Rome, especially as I, with the other bishops, celebrate Mass and pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and at the other holy places.Please pray for Bishop Hermann and me, that we have a safe journey and that, through the ad limina visit, we receive many graces for our pastoral care and direction of the archdiocese.

Care of the poor

As we reflect upon the many blessings for which we are thankful to God, we are also deeply conscious of our brothers and sisters in need. At Thanksgiving, we naturally desire to show to others a sign of God’s care for them. Thanking God for His many gifts, we are reminded that the gifts which He gives to us are not only for our good but for the good of all.God gives His gifts into our hands in order that we may be His good stewards, serving Him and our neighbor in self-sacrificing love.

Since 1970, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked every parish to take up a collection, on the weekend before Thanksgiving Day, for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, formerly known as the Campaign for Human Development.The Catholic Campaign for Human Development was established by the U.S. bishops to help us all to respond, in a Christlike manner, to the most serious situation of domestic poverty in our nation.The campaign addresses the root causes of poverty and provides funding to groups working to break the cycle of poverty.

Historically, the campaign was established in connection with the civil rights movement in our nation in the 1960s, which addressed the evil of racism by working for the elimination of the practice of segregation.By the late 1960s, the practice of segregation had been mostly eliminated, and it was time to address, as a second phase of the civil rights movement, other questions of justice, including solidarity with the poor.

The aim of the campaign is to help the poor to help themselves.It, therefore, funds groups which have been organized and are working to improve their local communities.Such groups, for example, provide affordable housing, offer job training, promote worker-owned cooperative businesses and give support to working parents with children.

A key part of the campaign is education of all the faithful in the Church’s teachings on economic justice.Through the materials produced in conjunction with the annual collection and, especially, through the homily on the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day, Catholics grow in their understanding of the requirements of social justice, especially as our Lord taught them to us in the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).

The annual collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the works funded by the campaign strengthen the solidarity among all economic classes in the archdiocese.A generous response to the collection draws us closer to our brothers and sisters in most need, as the Good Samaritan was drawn to care for the man who had been robbed, beaten and left to die along the roadside (Luke 10:30-37).Helping those in need to help themselves is a powerful sign of respect for them and for their God-given gifts.Knowing our deep respect and love for them, they grow in respect and love for us.

The campaign in the archdiocese

During the 34 years of the existence of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis have contributed $5,466,993.29.

During the same period of time, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded a total of 56 projects in the Archdiocese of St. Louis with a total of $1,806,600.This year, the campaign has funded two projects: Paraquad Inc. (the Missouri Disability Vote Project) and the Economic Development Program of Metropolitan Congregations United.

Paraquad Inc. is a center for independent living.Established in 1970, it was the first of its kind in Missouri.The center helps persons with special needs to live as equals with us and as productive members of society, especially through employment and political participation.

The Missouri Disability Vote Project, as part of Paraquad Inc., began in 2001 as a statewide, nonpartisan grassroots effort.It seeks to bridge the gap in political participation between people with special needs and the general population.It has brought together a coalition of nonpartisan organizations to achieve its noble end.This year it will receive $25,000 in funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Metropolitan Congregations United is a faith-based organization representing 70 diverse congregations in the region.Formed from three neighborhood clusters in 1999, it advocates for city policies and state laws which expand health care for the poor, promote transportation equity, protect economic development incentives for distressed communities, generate funding for education and create affordable housing.Over the years it has received a total of seven grants worth $272,500.This year it will receive $30,000 as a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Conclusion

The need for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is greater than ever.According to reports received, nearly 35 million Americans live below the government-established poverty line.By joining together, we can change the situation of domestic poverty.Let us be one with all our brothers and sisters throughout the nation in striving to break the cycle of poverty.Our generous participation in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will help our low-income fellow citizens as they work together to solve community difficulties, increase educational opportunities and create jobs.

May you have a joyous celebration of Thanksgiving Day with those whom you love.May our celebration of Thanksgiving Day be the occasion for us to express our solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in need through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Syndicate content