Archbishop Michael Blume
As you may have seen in the news, last week (November 18-20), our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, made his second trip as Pope to Africa. He visited the country of Benin. While there, the Holy Father presented an important document, an apostolic exhortation, to the Church in Africa. This exhortation came as a result of the 2009 special Synod of Bishops for Africa. It contains important guidance for the Catholic Church in Africa where the Catholic population has nearly doubled in the past 30 years.
You may know that the Apostolic Nuncio to Benin (and also to Togo), Archbishop Michael Blume, SVD, is a native of our diocese. He was born and raised in South Bend. He grew up in Our Lady of Hungary Parish and attended Our Lady of Hungary School. At age 14, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, in 1972.
As a priest, Archbishop Blume served as a missionary in Ghana, from 1974 to 1990, followed by service in Rome as secretary general of the Society of the Divine Word and then undersecretary to the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. He was ordained an archbishop in 2005 when he was appointed apostolic nuncio to Benin and Togo. In this position, Archbishop Blume represents the Holy Father in relations with the Church and the governments in both countries.
Last summer, while visiting home, Archbishop Blume shared with me some of the busy preparations he was making for the Holy Father’s apostolic visit to Benin. We can be proud that one of the native sons of our diocese is serving the Church and the Holy Father in this important ministry. Let us pray for Archbishop Blume and for our brothers and sisters in the Church in Africa.
Last week, we had the Plenary Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Both Bishop D’Arcy and I attended the Assembly meetings. As always, it was good to meet with our brother bishops in prayer, reflection, and collaboration for the good of the Church in our country.
As usual, we had a full agenda. As Chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, I gave an oral report to the bishops on our efforts to strengthen marriage and family life, one of the five Conference priority goals the past few years.
I reported on the variety of resources we have developed, based on the understanding that protecting and defending marriage as an institution goes hand in hand with strengthening and supporting all those husbands and wives who are trying to live in a relationship that is faithful, fruitful and forever.
I would like to highlight the 2009 Pastoral Letter of the U.S. Bishops entitled Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan. I highly recommend it for your reading. I would also like to highlight two major public awareness and education campaigns in both English and Spanish. They are the “For Your Marriage” campaign and the “Por Tu Matrimonio” campaign. These campaigns make use of a dedicated website, a Facebook page, a monthly e-newsletter, and a series of radio and television public service announcements. I highly recommend the “For Your Marriage” website to all our married couples and to those preparing for marriage. Since it was launched four years ago, this website has attracted over a million visitors with more than six million page views.
Though we dealt with several topics during our Baltimore assembly, the most prominent was that of religious liberty. As bishops, we are deeply concerned about threats to religious liberty across our nation, at the federal level and in various states.
Religious freedom is a basic human right, part of our human dignity. It involves more than being able to worship freely, but also the right to live and express our faith in works of charity, education, and health care. The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of educational, social, charitable, and health care services in our nation. These services are part of our mission. Increasingly, our freedom to offer these services in accord with our beliefs and values is being threatened. There are many examples on both the state and federal levels. One example: sadly, in several states, diocesan Catholic Charities have had to withdraw from adoption and foster care services because of our fidelity to the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. Another example: the regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human services that would mandate coverage of sterilization and contraception, including abortifacients, in all private health care plans. There are many other examples. We must oppose the growing threats to religious liberty in our nation and defend the free exercise of our religion as envisioned by our Founding Fathers and enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution.
Finally, I ask for your prayers as I go to Rome this week to make a presentation at the Vatican on health care in North America. I was called to Rome by the Pontifical Council for Health Care to deliver this address at a meeting during the International Conference on Health Care sponsored by this Council. I am happy that Mr. Albert Gutierrez, President and CEO of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, will also be attending.
In these early days of Advent, may Our Lord bless you with His grace and peace!
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