|Bishop Frank J. Caggiano|
As I write today, I am in the midst of our annual Presbyteral Convocation, which is fancy terminology for a meeting or gathering of priests. We are in Avalon for three days enjoying some priestly fraternity, listening to and absorbing a few talks, sharing some meals and discussions, praying and being encouraged to minister with more dedication and love for you, the People of God.
This year’s guest speaker is Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He is originally from Brooklyn, NY. His manner of speaking and overall demeanor bespeaks the son of Italian immigrants from Sicily. He presented the Camden priests with many insights and challenges in his three talks to us. The standing ovation at the completion of his presentations told me that his observations were right on target.
I had been thinking about one of the points he made to us for some time now. I take it as a confirmation for me that I should write something briefly about it. Has anyone ever said to you: “I am spiritual, but not necessarily religious?” I have heard statements like this on many occasions. Most likely, the person does not have an active affiliation with a church or with organized religion while still believing in God or sensing the need for a higher power in their lives.
What has happened that there is this disconnect from organized religion or the church?
For some reason the church is seen as less relevant or insignificant in many people’s lives today. An average weekly church attendance of about 25% of registered Catholics in our area reveals this to us pretty clearly. When I use the word church, I mean all that is associated with the community of believers gathered together, with going to Mass to pray and worship, with being a moral compass, guide and teacher in people’s lives, with the theological concept of the Body of Christ, etc. In a word, it’s not just about me, and what I think and believe, but it is about us, and what we stand for, think and believe. It’s about community and belonging to something greater that any one person, while still maintaining the inestimable value of each and every individual within the group.
Pope Francis' recent trip to the east coast brought this somewhat to the forefront. People came from far and wide to be part of something bigger than oneself and to connect with others in the process. People seem attracted to someone who has the ability to connect with people, to take time for the individual and to show people that they are loved, valued and wanted.
The way that we are going to change the trend in society to be more of a separate individual is for all Christians to have a similar welcoming and accepting spirit as Pope Francis, in conjunction with a clear mission and purpose for believers and non-believers to see. We, as a church, need to be witnesses in the world, to the world of the importance of Jesus Christ and his cross. As Bishop Caggiano reminded us, we can never separate the cross from our mission as Christians, since the cross signifies for us the suffering, and death of Jesus, leading us to eternal life.
I will speak more on the cross of Jesus subsequently.
Fr. Ed Namiotka