Most Rev. John Vlazny Archbishop Emeritus of Portland
The coming days will be filled with some significant memories for me. It was back on October 12, 1983, that I received a message from the then Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C. that Pope John Paul II had appointed me to be a bishop. Fourteen years later, on Oct. 15, 1997, I received the message that the Holy Father had appointed me to be the Archbishop of Portland in Oregon. Both calls invited me to serve as a successor of the apostles in a particular Catholic church, while making sure that all I did and said helped the people entrusted to my pastoral care to be catholic Catholics! Let me explain.
It has always intrigued me that we call ourselves Catholics. Other Christian churches call themselves Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. Our Catholic name is a reminder that ours is an all-inclusive universal faith community with sisters and brothers all over God’s beautiful world. This sometimes brings a little tension into our lives as church members. To be honest, I would say most Catholics are more congregational then catholic. This is understandable because it is the local parish which helps us celebrate our faith, learn our beliefs and serve our mission. But that name “Catholic” is a prod to move beyond the myopic vision we often have in being focused almost exclusively on our own local community to open our eyes and our hearts to that larger church of which we are all members, in the world under the leadership of the Pope, in a diocese united to a bishop who is called upon to give us a shepherd’s care.
Ever since those messages of 29 and 15 years ago, I have been living with the tension of trying to be attentive to the needs of the local churches assigned to my pastoral care and also of the universal church all over the world. All these years I’ve allowed my pastoral calendar to be printed in The Sentinel so that folks would be aware that Catholic life goes beyond their own parish and even beyond this archdiocese. Many activities here require my vigilance, attention and support. On the other hand, from the day of my ordination as a bishop, I was reminded that I am a member of the college of bishops and that, together with the Pope, all bishops are directly responsible for the evangelization of the whole world. Hence regional, national and even international matters require our attention at times.
Pope John Paul II stressed this point urgently in his encyclical letter, Redemptoris Missio, issued in December of 1990. He furthermore asserted that the church’s worldwide mission is not a responsibility unique to bishops. All baptized Catholics must be mission-minded and work together to build the kingdom of God here on earth, particularly by bringing the beliefs and values of our faith community to the world in which we live, as unwelcome as such activity may be at times. For that reason, I have come to see now one important responsibility of every bishop is “keeping Catholics catholic.”
Pastors face much the same challenge in the parish. They obviously have significant matters that require their attention in caring for their parishioners. But they also share a responsibility with the bishop for the pastoral care of the whole archdiocese, which here in the Archdiocese of Portland includes all the Catholic people and institutions west of the Cascades. Even when pastors understand and accept this responsibility, I have observed over the years that many times they are thwarted by some in their attempts to invite parishioners to expand their faith horizons beyond the parish boundaries and to support other initiatives in neighboring parishes and the local diocesan church.
One concrete example of the struggle some parishioners have in understanding this truly catholic nature of the church arises annually at the time of the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal and most recently in our Sharing our Faith Shaping our Future capital campaign. Too many parishioners look upon church support as a matter of providing for the needs of their own particular parish. They seem to think that it’s somebody else’s business to educate future priests, train lay ministers, care for college students, look to the needs of aging clerics and religious, and especially, support the initiatives of the bishop and his close collaborators. As a result, sometimes pastors are hesitant and even reluctant to present these other needs to their people lest they incur their disfavor. I even heard that some parishioners were advised to remember that parish needs come first and then, if anything’s left, help the bishop.
Such a narrow perspective on truly Catholic life impedes our outreach of support and service beyond western Oregon. Second collections are not the most popular topic these days among pastors and people. Priests are paralyzed because no one wants to be known as one of those pastors who’s “always asking for money.” On the other hand, they have the duty to encourage their people of the obligation to support the evangelizing mission beyond their own local church. The second collections throughout the year for various needs, like the one coming up on World Mission Sunday, help us understand and better serve the worldwide evangelizing mission of our Catholic Church.
At recent meetings of the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council, our priests have been talking about the possibility of establishing a “sister parish” relationship between parish communities of this archdiocese. It would be a way of sharing time, treasure and talent, again beyond the parish boundaries. What I like about the idea is that it helps us move beyond sharing financial resources and allowing us to have priests exchange pulpits, parishes with more resources to serve the poor in a concrete way through sharing of food and clothing, and parishes with talent but not so many material possessions to spread their gifts of music and fellowship as a way of building bridges and overcoming all those barriers that culture, language and distance can create.
Sunday, Oct. 21, will be this year’s World Mission Sunday. It is a Sunday every year when we make a concrete effort to support and pray for the nearly 1100 mission dioceses in the world. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in his message for World Mission Sunday during the Year of Faith, “Like St. Paul, we should be attentive to those who are distant, to those who do not yet know Christ or who have not yet experienced the Fatherhood of God.” He invites us to pray, “Oh Lord, accompany your missionaries in the lands to be evangelized, put the right words on their lips and make their labors fruitful.”
Because we are a truly Catholic Church, a second collection will be taken up on World Mission Sunday in all our parishes. Please be generous with your financial contributions and your prayerful support. God bless.