As of this writing it has been just a little over two months since I was installed as the new Archbishop of Portland. It has been a true “whirlwind” since that beautiful installation Mass at the University of Portland on April 2. My time has been occupied with getting up to speed on the operations at the Pastoral Center, unpacking and getting settled into my new home, and meeting new people who are involved in the life of the Church here in Western Oregon. And then came the Confirmation circuit! I understand that my predecessor, Archbishop Vlazny, referred to this as the “Chrism Trail.” Clever!
In addition to all of the above, on May 19 my mother, Joyce, arrived with her one-way ticket to Portland. As many of you know, she has decided to make Portland and Western Oregon her new home. She is living with me in my residence, so add unpacking her things and getting her settled in to the above list of activities.
You will find that I will generally use my column in the Catholic Sentinel as an instrument of the New Evangelization, i.e. as a means of catechesis and faith formation for the local Church in Western Oregon. In this early column, however, I would like to share with you some of my initial impressions of this wonderful Archdiocese. I thought you might like to know what your new Archbishop is thinking.
In the short time that I have been here I have had the privilege and honor of celebrating the Holy Mass in 19 of the parishes of the Archdiocese of Portland. I just turned over 3,000 miles on the odometer of my Jeep! My visits have taken me certainly throughout the greater metropolitan area of Portland, but also well outside of the city to the more rural areas now under my pastoral care. I have even been as far as Brookings on the south coast. I am told that this will be my farthest drive. And what a beautiful drive it was! Based on my previous experience in Michigan, I want to reassure the communities that are somewhat distant from Portland that I will make every effort to be present to them and to be their shepherd.
My first impression is of the goodness and generosity of the faithful of this great Archdiocese. The good people of God have been so warm, welcoming and hospitable to me that I can honestly say I am not homesick for my former diocese. I do miss my friends, but I am quickly making new friends here in my new home. I have been very touched and humbled by the warm welcome I have received. I want to thank you all for that. It has made this transition much easier.
My dear mother, who loves to travel with me for parish visits such as Confirmations, has expressed the very same sentiment. I am not allowed to share her age, but suffice it to say that such a transition for her at this stage of her life is certainly not easy. But again, the people have been so kind and hospitable toward her that she too is finding the transition much easier. So God bless all of you good people that I have met so far!
My second impression is of the tremendous cultural diversity present here in the Archdiocese. At this point in my time here, I have experienced this mostly from the Hispanic community, the Vietnamese community and the Filipino community. You all need to know what a big change this is for me as your new Archbishop. My previous diocese was of a much more homogenous nature as it concerns the culture of the people. You also need to know how much I am enjoying and loving this new dimension to my ministry. What a blessing these different cultural groups are to our local Church. It also tells me a lot about what the future of our local Church will certainly be.
I am working to learn to speak Spanish in a conversational way. I can read and understand Spanish, but feel very bad at this point that I am unable to comfortably converse with many of you. I am told I speak Spanish in the Mass with an Italian accent! I know Italian and that is making learning Spanish actually a little more difficult, even though they are similar. Please be patient with me and be assured of my interest in engaging all of cultures in my new home.
My third impression is of the strength and vitality of many of our parish communities. In a secular culture which is often not just indifferent to us, but even hostile toward us, it is consoling to find such strong faith among our Catholic people. My sense is that we need to continue to strengthen and build a strong Catholic identity and culture in the face of many challenges and in order to enable us to be effective in the work of the New Evangelization.
My fourth impression is of the dedication and zeal of our priests and deacons. The priests especially are my principal collaborators in my ministry as Archbishop. I am enjoying getting to know them, although it is a challenge to keep names, faces and parishes all straight at this point. I look forward to building strong and friendly relationships with my brother priests. I am also counting on the spirit of service of our permanent deacons in assisting my ministry.
My final impression is, of course, of the beauty of this great Archdiocese. What everyone has been telling me is proving to be true. This is indeed a beautiful portion of God’s wondrous creation. I love the outdoors, and I am stunned at times by the beauty of Western Oregon. I only wish I had more time to enjoy it outside of my car! And in case anyone is wondering, no, I do not mind the rain!
I apologize for being so personal in sharing my impressions at this time in my new ministry as your Archbishop. In future columns I do not intend to be so focused on myself. As I said in my installation homily, this isn’t about me or anyone else. It is about Jesus Christ in our commitment to love and serve him. God bless you, and may we work together for the glory of God and the sanctification of his people!