My dear brothers
and sisters in Christ:
January 3, 2018, the Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, marked the fourth anniversary of my installation as the Bishop of Rochester. These four years have passed very quickly and each year filled with many and varied activities. I have visited many parishes, our schools, charitable institutions, religious houses, hospitals, health-care institutions and participated in many, many meetings. All these experiences have reflected the deep faith and commitment of our priests, religious, deacons and laity. Each visit, and yes, even meetings, brings to mind the devotion of our people, you, my sisters and brothers, to the mission of Jesus which He entrusted to His bride, the Church.
These years have not been without their challenges as we address parish planning and assuring the celebration of the Sacraments for the faithful; strengthening our Catholic Schools and religious-education programs; assuring the ongoing vibrant ministry of Catholic Charities; encouraging vocations to the priesthood, religious life and permanent diaconate; and the continuing formation of our laity whose participation in the life of our Diocese is so essential. Each of these areas requires resources and countless hours of selfless dedication on the part of so many. What motivates us? I believe it is a sincere desire to provide our children and young people with a strong and vibrant Church which nourishes them in Word and Sacrament and gives them a strong foundation upon which to build their lives and which sustains them throughout life’s journey. This is so consistent with the Church’s mission as recognized by Pope Francis in his September 2015 pastoral visit to the United States when he spoke these words: “The Church in the United States has always devoted immense effort to the work of catechesis and education. Our challenge today is to build on these solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions.” (Pope Francis in the U.S., Words of Mercy and Hope, Pauline Books and Media, ©2015, p. 107).
As we continue our observance of the 150th anniversary of the founding of our Diocese, in concert with the Year of the Eucharist, I am grateful for the many parish and institutional efforts to nurture an increased understanding of and devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist, from Penn Yan to Brockport, from Rochester to Owego, from Phelps to Spencerport. I am also aware of the increased participation of our young people at Eucharistic Adoration as evidenced nationally at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis, Indiana, this past November 2017, and recently at the Pro-Life events in Washington, D.C. To see the faith of our young people rise up in such a confused and often disoriented period in our history is a cause for gratitude to God and a great source of encouragement. Once again, in his stay among us in September 2015, Pope Francis spoke of youth’s potential: “How many young people in our parishes and schools have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the Church! I ask you: ‘Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and help them to do their part; to find ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others? Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?’” (Ibid., pp. 106-107). This outreach to young people is so very necessary in fostering vocations to the priesthood and the religious life and for cultivating a life-long commitment whether in a religious vocation or in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony or in any other commitments to serve the Lord and His people.
In cooperation with the Bishops of this Metropolitan Province of New York, I also pray in the years ahead we preserve our religious freedom so that we can openly and without fear express what and in Whom we believe without worry or anxiety or recrimination. Over the years the proclamation of the Gospel and the teachings of our Catholic faith have been met at times with strong opposition and even hostility. In other places, our sisters and brothers have fled persecution and violent attacks because of their faith. In Egypt alone, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs reported: “It is estimated that over 2,000 attacks on Coptic Christians by extremists have occurred in the last three years alone.” (Statement of Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, Chairman, Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, December 20, 2017). But even in our own country we have experienced violent attacks upon worshipping communities. This threat to our religious freedom should be a cause of grave concern to all people of good will. This was a predominant theme in the messages of Pope Francis in that historic 2015 papal visit to our country: “Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Because religion itself, the religious dimension, is not a subculture, it is part of the culture of every people and every nation.” (Ibid., p. 66). In this new legislative session, I pray that leaders in government will seek God’s wisdom and protect our right to religious freedom, “for it has been given to [us] by God himself.” (Ibid., p. 68). In union with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville and Chair of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, I express gratitude for the creation of a new Division on Conscience and Religious Freedom within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights and other related administrative actions: “We applaud HHS for its significant actions to protect conscience rights and religious freedom. For more than forty years — dating back to the Church amendment of 1973 — Congress has enacted federal laws protecting rights of conscience in health care. We are grateful that HHS is taking seriously its charge to protect these fundamental civil rights through formation of a new division dedicated to protecting conscience rights and religious freedom.” (Statement of Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Kurtz, January 19, 2018).
In a related statement upholding the basic human right to life, Cardinal Dolan offers the gratitude of the Bishops to the House of Representatives for passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (H.R. 4712): “This common-sense legislation offers a simple and widely supported proposition: a child born alive following an abortion should receive the same degree of care to preserve his/her life and health as would be given to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” (Statement of Cardinal Dolan, January 20, 2018). We pray that the Senate also will pass this bill.
In looking to the future, I thank God for the legacy of the faith lived in the Diocese for 150 years. Together we face the challenge to hand over such a legacy to future generations of believers. Each in his or her heart must ask: “What am I doing to contribute to the faith I have received?” The home, the Domestic Church, is the place where the legacy begins. In caring for and loving their children, parents give to their children the greatest possible gift, the gift of faith in Jesus. Praying together, worshipping together each week at Mass, these were the building blocks upon which our 150 years of history were built and they remain the same building blocks for the next 150 years. “Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that He is part of the lives of His people, that He is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope …” (Ibid., p. 94). And the greatest hope, the supreme solace, the ultimate gift is found in all the tabernacles throughout the world: the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament! May He be clearly visible in our churches, visible in our love for the poor, the refugee, the outcast, visible in our own personal lives!
The holy season of Lent soon to begin on Ash Wednesday, February 14th, is an ideal time to intensify our personal and communal devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist by attending daily Mass, by our parishes having increased opportunities for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and by our reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation that worthily we may receive our Savior. And as our parishes, Catholic Charities programs and many of our other institutions so beautifully nourish and feed the poor, let us also invite these sisters and brothers to be nourished with the Bread of Life. Only recently, Pope Francis reminded us that “… God engages those who, confined to the margins of society, are the first beneficiaries of his gift, namely — the gift — the salvation borne by Jesus … To these people, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, ‘appeared a great light’ (cf. Lk. 2:9-12). … To these people, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, appeared a great light which leads them straight to Jesus.” (General Audience, December 27, 2017).
Invoking the intercession of Our Blessed Mother Mary, and our patron, Saint John Fisher, that the Lord will continue to bestow His blessings upon us all, and begging your prayers for my continued ministry among you, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester