This past Sunday, Valentine’s Day, I had the privilege of celebrating Holy Mass with our Vietnamese community at St. Patrick Church in Fort Wayne. Our Vietnamese brothers and sisters were celebrating Tet, the Lunar New Year. It was a beautiful celebration of faith and culture, reminding me of the wonderful diversity of the Church. The Vietnamese presence in our diocese is a blessing. Though a relatively small community here, the faith and devotion of the Vietnamese community are an example for us all. There are over 1 million Vietnamese living in the United States, of whom over 300,000 are Catholic. We have many priestly and religious vocations from the Vietnamese community in our country, a testament to the strong faith of our Vietnamese families.
St. Patrick’s is a wonderful multiethnic parish. I thank Father Chau Pham, pastor, and Father Thomas Ascheman, parochial vicar, for their devoted ministry there. I enjoyed dinner with them at the celebration after the Mass. Not only did we eat delicious Vietnamese soup, but also some Mexican tamales! What an interesting combination of food, a reflection of the parish’s diversity. While eating, we watched the parade of the dragon and enjoyed other Vietnamese New Year traditions.
Earlier in the week, I spent three days in South Bend. I continue to adjust to being bishop in a diocese with two see cities. While in South Bend, I enjoyed the hospitality of the Holy Cross Fathers at Corby Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. I wish to thank in particular Father Peter Jarret, the superior of the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame, for his gracious welcome. While there, I celebrated Mass with the Holy Cross Fathers and shared with them in my homily my gratitude for their ministry in the northern part of our diocese. I was happy to recall their recently beatified founder, Father Basil Moreau. In my spiritual reading these past few weeks, I have enjoyed learning about the holy life of Father Moreau in the biography by Gary MacEoin. It is good to recall that this holy priest visited Notre Dame and our diocese in 1857, the same year that Pope Piux IX established our diocese and also approved the constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Blessed Basil Moreau and the Congregation of Holy Cross remind all of us of the hope and wisdom of the cross. As we approach the season of Lent, it is good to reflect on our call to embrace the cross of Jesus by self-denial and the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The Lord Jesus calls us, His disciples, to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. This is the essence of the meaning of Lent. It is an important time to heed the counsel of St. Paul: “Be reconciled to God” — 2 Cor 5:20, especially through the reception of the sacrament of Penance. I hope that we will all make time during these 40 days to confess our sins and receive the Lord’s pardon and peace.
While at Notre Dame, I gave a speech at the Mendoza College of Business on the sanctity of human life. This was part of an annual lecture series for Ethics Week at the Business College. I spoke of our duty, and the duty of Catholic universities, to bear witness to the truth about the sacredness of human life and the inviolable right to life of the innocent unborn. This universal, objective and unchanging moral truth serves our true freedom as human beings. I spoke about the true meaning of freedom, as opposed to the distorted view propagated by pro-choice advocates. As the great Pope John Paul II reminded us in his homily in Baltimore back in 1995: “… freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin.’” The choice to kill an unborn baby is an abuse of freedom and brings harm, not only to the innocent child whose life is taken, but also to all who participate or cooperate in the evil act. We only need think of the suffering of women who have had abortions, many having been deceived into thinking that the choice to abort was an exercise of their rightful freedom, to later discover that they were anything but free after the destruction of their unborn child. The Church’s ministry to women who have had abortions is vitally important so that the wound left in their hearts is healed and true freedom restored through repentance and God’s merciful love.
The highlight of my time at Notre Dame was the beautiful Mass on Feb. 9, during which the university president, Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, and the university community officially welcomed me as the new bishop of our diocese. I am deeply grateful for their warm welcome and the gift of a beautiful walnut crozier (pastoral staff) with painted images in the crook of the staff of my coat-of-arms and of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Celebrating Mass in the beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart was a wonderful experience. As I said to the congregation, “in this basilica, all are invited to contemplate the Heart of the Redeemer, the Heart which gives life to the Church and to this university, the Heart which awakens within us not only deep gratitude for our redemption in Christ, but also the desire to worship and to serve the One whose Heart was pierced after His death upon the cross. From that Sacred Heart flowed blood and water. His Heart is the source and the fountain of the living water, which gives us the life of grace, the sacraments, the Church and the Holy Spirit. It is Christ’s redeeming love that is at the origin of our salvation. At every moment we are enveloped in the love of His Sacred Heart!”
Earlier on Feb. 9, I had the joy of celebrating the All Schools Mass in the Joyce Center for children from our Catholic Schools in the South Bend area. I was surprised that the Mass was not postponed because of the snow, as would have happened in Harrisburg, but I am learning that several inches of snow does not mean school closures or delays in South Bend! In any event, the liturgy with the children was very beautiful and uplifting. I was especially impressed by the joyful participation and reverence of all the children. I thank all who organized this beautiful, spiritual event.
On Friday, Feb. 12, I celebrated Mass for the residents at St. Anne’s Home in Fort Wayne. I was very happy to meet and greet many of the residents there and to share lunch with our retired priests who reside at St. Anne’s. It is important, particularly during this Year for Priests, to remember and to thank our retired priests, those who have labored so faithfully among us and have been instruments of God’s grace through their devoted priestly ministry through the years. Many of our retired priests, if they are able, continue to help out in various parishes. They all continue to serve our diocese through their prayers. Let us also remember them often in our prayers.
We now join together in our Lenten journey. I end this column with a quote from Pope John Paul II: “How should we respond to the invitation to conversion that Jesus addresses to us in this time of Lent? How can there be a serious change in our life? First of all, we must open our hearts to the penetrating call that comes to us from the Liturgy. The time of preparation for Easter is a providential gift from the Lord and a precious opportunity to draw closer to Him, turning inward to listen to His promptings deep within.”
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