Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Keeping perspective with the Church Universal"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Sept. 9, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Life always has its challenges. As Catholics we find that reality no less so in our Church. It is easy to become fixated on difficult moments or moments of pain and hurt. We can lose a sense of perspective and balance. Sometimes it is easy to forget that no matter what happens, we are primarily defined by our relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Community also plays a large role in helping to appreciate who we are, especially if that community reflects in a vibrant and genuine way the presence of Jesus. All of us find that kind a feeling in a Christmas or Easter celebration – even at a funeral.

For us in the Roman Catholic tradition, we are also blessed to have the connection with the diocese and the Church Universal. Those relationships are especially recognized when the church gathers together in celebration of mystery, life and death. Certainly the funeral liturgy  for Pope John Paul II is a good example of how the Church Universal came together with much of the world community to honor and celebrate the life of a man who touched so many, so profoundly.

World Youth Day in Cologne now is history. It was a unique experience of young people gathering from all over the world for a few days of receiving welcome, of being instructed in the faith. It concluded with a massive celebration of Eucharist, in an open field. The day before was a day of pilgrimage to the Mass site itself. For most, that meant a walk of eight or 10 miles. When Sunday, the day of the Mass, arrived, approximately one million people were present for the closing Mass. The group I was with began to recognize flags from other countries, shouting the name of the country and clapping to honor their new-found friends.

What a remarkable experience of youth from around the world! So many young people feeling a strong sense of solidarity with one another, especially around the altar, celebrating Eucharist. In many ways, this is peer ministry at its finest. Everyone feels lifted up by one another.

After World Youth Day, I made a brief visit to Moscow, in the Russian Federation, and to Poland where Archbishop Dziwisz was installed as the new Archbishop of Krakow. I traveled on behalf of my role as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. On my last day in Moscow, our group visited an overlook of the Moscow River and the city. There we ran into a small group of youth from Kazakhstan. They also had been at World Youth Day and shared their positive experience in Cologne. As the world becomes more and more a global village, our experience of the rich humanity in diversity of people and culture is truly a blessing. We need to connect with humanity, not isolate and separate.

As I flew in to Moscow in the late evening, I looked down on the countryside and saw the many villages and towns, as well as the city itself. I asked myself how we as nations could have been so disconnected that we would allow such areas to become targets of nuclear missiles.

In Russia, we visited the small parish in Vladimir, over 100 miles from Moscow. The parish church had been given back recently after being confiscated by the communists. This is the first parish east of Moscow on the main road, and from a city of 300,000, only about 100 Catholics attend Mass on Sunday. But faith meant a lot to them. They survived. Our visit was to assure them that they are not alone. In the Church, we never are.

On the first day in Poland, we traveled two hours by car from Krakow to Czestochowa, where the Solemnity of Our Lady of Czestochowa was celebrated at the Shrine of the Black Madonna. Over 100,000 were present for the Mass. The people of Poland have been through a lot since the beginning of the Second World War. First, there was the war itself, and then the presence of the communist regime. The Church had much to do in assisting them recover their national dignity and pride, almost entirely without bloodshed. They never lost a sense of hope in their time of suffering and oppression.

When we celebrate Mass together, we are invited to remember how the Mass not only connects us to the Lord but to one another. That relationship is not just with the person next to me, or with those in the parish church, or even within the diocese. Always, we are part of the larger Church, in relationship to one another as part of the Body of Christ. Always, that is something to celebrate. Our own struggles, hurts, and pains are never experienced only by ourselves. They are part of our faith journey together as we take up our cross. Despite our struggles as individuals, as Church, still we celebrate those special moments of Jesus’ presence with us – he who has gone on before us. May we always give thanks.

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