August 22, 2013
Yesterday I had my first meeting with the Presbyterate of El Paso. For me it was a long anticipated meeting and one which held great significance for our diocese. I was delighted to see that over 90% of our priests, diocesan and religious,
were present. What a joy to see gathered this group of dedicated men who ranged from those young men only ordained a couple of years to Msgr. William Ryan, our most senior priest, who has been Ordained since 1948! After our time of prayer my first words to them were to thank them for the warmth of their welcome to El Paso and for the ministry they do from day to day. I assured them that if I ever might be tempted to get a big head in my new role as their bishop all I have to do is to remember that for a year and a half the Diocese kept running, sacraments were celebrated, people were served, bills were paid,….without a bishop. I went on to assure them that I have a great respect for their ministry because I have always understood myself as being called to service as a parish priest. That is primarily what I have done in the many years I have had the opportunity to serve as a priest right up to the time I came to El Paso. I love, understand and respect this ministry. I assured them that I am under no illusions. It would be impossible to fulfill my role here without them, nor would I want to try. The healthier and happier they are the better I will carry out the charge I have received from the Lord. Sometimes that may mean challenging them, but most of the time it will mean supporting them and doing all I can to assure that their ministry is fruitful and they are happy. My door will always be open first and foremost to the priests. I will do anything in my power to support them in their life and ministry. As a sign of this I shared my personal cell phone number. My biggest concern, I assured them, is their spiritual wellbeing. We need to be first and foremost disciples and men of the Church. In our prayerful celebration of the Liturgy we find the very meaning of our priesthood. From this all other ministry flows. If people can easily peg us by our faithfulness to a party platform we are probably not getting it right. One of the biggest complements I was ever given in ministry was one time within a matter of weeks when I was accused of being a member of both the Republican and the Democratic National Committees. Our Faith transcends party ideologies. I think Pope Francis is showing us how to do this. This region remains so very new to me. I assured them I will be working very hard to become familiar with it, its history, geography, its people, its issues. That will take time and will require some patience. But I know that I have a great treasure of wisdom and experience in the priests of the Diocese. I will need to take every opportunity to hear them and to receive their guidance. With this in mind I reappointed the Vicars, pro tem. We may in time have a new process for selecting Vicars. I have also formed a Personnel Board which will be meeting next week for the first time. We will elect and appoint a new Presbyteral Council. I plan to appoint Consultors soon. On the Presbyteral Council we will consider such things as the need for a Pastoral Planning process for the Diocese, we will examine pay and benefits of priests, we will review sacramental and other policies and update them where needed. The priesthood had its beginning in the group of presbyters or elders who advised the bishop. As such, their collegiality, their brotherhood is an essential element of the presbyteral ministry. I told them I would like to see us build that brotherhood. We will look for ways we can break down the distances between us. To do this we will need more opportunities for spiritual, formational and social gatherings. In the limited time available I addressed a number of issues, knowing that others would have to wait for another day. Here are a few issues I addressed: Safe Environment – One of my priorities, I reminded them, will be to strengthen our Safe Environment Program. We have suffered a great deal in this Diocese from the effects of child abuse. I want to make sure we are doing everything in our power to assure that our parishes are places where people can feel safe and where they can be educated about this scourge on our society. Casitas – We are hoping that the first Casitas San Mateo will be ready sometime in September. I will be looking to the new Personnel Board to deal with issues relating to the assignment of priests to the Casitas. We are also in the process of forming a board that will oversee policies relating to the casitas, to their maintenance and other issues. Vocations – Vocations will be a big theme for me and for our Diocese. We need vocations of women and men to all forms of religious life. Our special responsibility as a Diocese will be to call forward men who will discern a vocation to the diocesan priesthood. We are beginning this year with 15 men in the seminary. 9 of them are in Theology. One, Deacon Allan, will be Ordained this December, God willing. I appealed to the priests that I would need your help on this. I told them that the best way they can promote vocations is to themselves be happy, holy priests. All of these aspects are important in the short term, but I am more convinced than ever that preparing people to live deeply Christian Marriages and to form vital families open to life is absolutely essential. Within this context young people will naturally ask what God’s will might be for their lives and be disposed to give themselves with generosity. Financial – Thanks in large measure to work of our priests with the laity the Diocese is plugging along pretty well on the financial front. At the present we are in the black. However, during the interregnum some momentum may have been lost in regard to the annual Progress appeal. It is presently several hundred thousand behind in pledges. I asked them to consider whether there is anything they can do, especially if their parish hasn’t yet made its goal, to encourage more people to pledge and to support the many essential works of the Diocese. We concluded the meeting with the comments, questions and lunch. I departed the meeting very encouraged and proud to have the opportunity to work with this great group of men so dedicated to the service of the Lord in the Church.