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Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Bishop Skylstad elected vice-president of United States Conference of Catholic
by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register
(From the Dec. 6, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
It’s a “wonderful journey” from growing up among the apple orchards of Northeastern Washington to the vice presidency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
That’s how Bishop Skylstad described the events of last month when his brother bishops elected him to the number two spot in their organization.
Bishop Skylstad was elected vice-president on Nov. 13. He will serve with the USCCB’s new president, Bishop Wilton Gregory, for a three-year term. According to historical pattern, in all likelihood Bishop Skylstad will then be elected to a three-year term as the bishops’ president.
It’s been a “blessed and grace-filled journey,” he said during an interview in his office at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Spokane upon his return from the Washington, D.C. meeting in mid-November. “I’ve had the rich and wonderful opportunity of serving in two different dioceses in my journey, including my home diocese.”
When Bishop Skylstad was ordained a bishop May 12, 1977, he first served as bishop of Yakima. He returned to his home diocese of Spokane in 1990. He was ordained a priest of the Spokane Diocese in 1960.
In all that time, his goal has been “to serve the Church and to strive to build a sense of community in the Church, as well as proclaim the Gospel,” he said.
Since his ordination as a bishop nearly 25 years ago, he has been involved in several bishops’ committees, serving and learning, with a wide variety of concerns: the permanent diaconate; Catholic Relief Services; Hispanic Affairs; Domestic Policy; and most recently, the bishops’ liaison for Catholic Charities USA and for Worldwide Marriage Encounter.
He also has chaired the Catholic-Methodist dialogue as part of his role on the bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Bishop Skylstad has given a helping hand to newly appointed bishops. The bishops’ conference has a Life and Ministries committee on which he serves. Part of that group’s responsibilities includes a sort of orientation series for newly-named bishops in November, just before the bishops’ annual meeting. There is also a week-long workshop given at Notre Dame.
With his vice presidency, some of his liaison and committee work will have to go to the wayside. He said he will also miss having the time to give retreats for priests around the country, one of the sidelights of his present ministry.
In a sense, he probably won’t be traveling more than he had been — many of his committee and liaison obligations entailed a number of trips, around the country and the globe — but the travel will be of longer duration.
As president and vice president, Bishops Gregory and Skylstad will travel twice a year — in April and October — to Rome, to meet with Vatican officials heading various offices, or dycasteries, such as liturgy, doctrine, and so forth.
Bishop Skylstad pointed out that the concept of episcopal conferences such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is “relatively new in the Church.”
He said that there are a number of advantages to bishops speaking out as a group, working as a group on various concerns and issues.
“The work of the church today in the modern world is very complex,” he said. “Personally, I find the episcopal conference a wonderful way to come together to discuss the role of the bishops, to embark upon common projects that are of assistance to diocesan bishops in a way that they could never do by themselves.”
Working as a group allows the bishops to address challenges from a consultative perspective, he said, rather than a single bishop going it alone and lends greater credibility to what the Church says.
The pooling of gifts and individual resources also helps the bishops work in an increasingly complex, multi-layered culture.
“I think few people realize the complexity of the Church in her many ministries,” said Bishop Skylstad. “For example, in our own national conference here in the United States, there are some 35 standing committees at work in the conference. At the head of each standing committee is a bishop chair. Each of those committees has several bishop members, and each committee would address some specific topic or particular aspect of life in the Church — for example, liturgy, doctrine, priestly ministry, social teaching, spirituality,” and so forth.
“I find an incredible diversity in the Church Universal and see it as almost a miracle how wonderfully well that Church Universal hangs together, given that diversity, with the Holy Father of course as the chief shepherd of our Church,” he said. “The tensions are nothing compared with the good things that go on. We must keep everything in perspective.”
Of the conference’s president, Bishop Gregory, Bishop Skylstad pointed out that although the two of them have not often worked together specifically on committees, they know each other well.
“I really consider it a great honor to be working with” Bishop Gregory, said Bishop Skylstad. “His election is really an historic moment for the Church in the United States,” especially since Bishop Gregory is not only the first African-American president of the bishops’ conference, but is a convert as well.
It’s interesting, too, that both he and Bishop Gregory come to their new positions from relatively small dioceses.
Bishop Skylstad described Bishop Gregory as “very gifted,” particularly as a liturgy scholar. Liturgy, he said, is an area which continues to be an area of special focus for the U.S. bishops.
As vice president, “My role will be to support him and assist him in any way I can,” he said.
“I’m really humbled to be elected to this position,” Bishop Skylstad said. The election results “truly came like a bolt out of the blue for me personally.
“I’ve always felt very blessed to serve the church as a priest and bishop,” he said. He called his new post “a new dimension of that service.”
He also expressed his “profound gratitude to the people of the two dioceses in which I’ve served. I’ve always strongly believed that we are who we are because of how the Lord has touched our lives, but also — especially for us priests and bishops — how the holiness of people’s lives have had an impact on us and formed us. I am most grateful to so many.”
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