Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Growing in community"
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Oct. 23, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
The Church at every level is a community of faith. Every parish, every diocese should work to build up relationships within its boundaries.
The bishops of the United States gather regularly as the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops to address matters of common interest, need and support. There are about 185 other dioceses in our country. On the grander scale, we are of course only about 6 percent of the total world Catholic population. So we as Church here in the U.S. must relate to the larger Church as well.
By the time you read this, selected bishops from all over the world (along with other participants) will have concluded the Synod of Bishops in Rome focusing on the theme of the Word of God. We all hope that collective wisdom, insight, and future direction come from such gatherings of the world Church.
In our own diocese, several significant meetings are taking place which bring people together to discuss what Church means for us: our challenges, and some of the goals we need to set for ourselves. The seven Regional Ministry meetings bring together pastors, parish boards, and my staff, the Secretariat, to focus on evangelization. The Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting on Oct. 10-11 discussed the same theme.
On Oct. 1-2, the priests of the diocese gathered in Walla Walla for our annual convocation. We met in St. Patrick Parish’s social hall, with lunch provided by the Spanish-speaking Marriage Encounter community. The dinner on the first evening was held in the hall of Assumption Parish, and our final luncheon took place in St. Francis Parish Hall, with an Italian theme. I haven’t seen the evaluations yet, but I suspect the comments for all of the meals were superb.
Walla Walla is a very historic place in our diocese. It was the first diocese in the State of Washington and the place where the first priests in the state were ordained. The history of the establishment of the diocese, along with the Whitman massacre, is fascinating and complex. For the first part of the priests’ gathering we heard of some of the history there. What happened in those years of the 1840s and ’50s becomes part of our own stories, and we should not forget those roots. I have to admire the tremendous courage, vision and hardship of all peoples involved in those days – the Native Peoples, the families, the missionaries.
Next on the agenda for the presbyteral assembly was a discussion about our internal relationships as priests, given our rich diversity, many gifts, and the tensions that naturally arise in our very challenging ministry. In more recent years in the U.S., there has been increasing focus placed upon fraternity among priests – their relationship with one another, and an appreciation of their common bond and ministry. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that even in monasteries, residents need to deal with the human factor that is a part of all of our lives. So it is with a diocesan presbyterate as well in addressing the growth in relationships and support of one another. Like family relationships, things are never perfect, and we need to work at it.
A significant part of our discussion in the assembly focused on the challenge of faith formation and catechesis. How do we become better informed about our faith? How well do we pass on the faith? How can we assist one another in addressing the need for all of us to grow in the knowledge of our tradition and the teachings of the Church? With a culture in which most of us have become increasingly busy, how can we all settle on non-negotiables like attending Mass on Sundays, continuing to learn, and growth in our holiness of life? Maintenance mode, coasting, is never acceptable. These challenges should provide motivation to look for effective solutions and a willing heart to do our best.
The final day of the assembly included a presentation by Father Steve Dublinksi, the diocese’s Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, on the financial situation the diocese. As we have emerged from Chapter 11, we have significant debt we need to address as we support various ministries and responsibilities. Deacon John Ruscheinsky, the director of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, gave a report on the center and its work. Next year will be the facility’s 50th anniversary. A half-century of use will demand some wise decisions and planning. I then spent a couple of hours talking about the state of the diocese.
To say the least, the schedule of the almost two days of the assembly was very full. The priests and I are very grateful for the hospitality of the parishes in Walla Walla.
All of this involves our working together as Church to take seriously the mission Jesus has handed on to us. With hearts open to the Holy Spirit, with responsibility as stewards of the moment, we know God is with us as we journey in faith. May we all accept the task gladly and joyfully.
Blessings and peace.
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