Proud to be Oakland's bishop and sharing our story with Rome
Once every quarter I meet with Solomon Belette and Steve Wilcox, respectively the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Catholic Charities of the East Bay, to get an update on CCEB's plans and activities.
At my recent quarterly meeting with them they gave me, as usual, a spiral-bound booklet reporting on the many programs they are managing. As I was perusing the information-packed little volume after our meeting, all of a sudden it dawned on me how easily I — and probably many others — take for granted the vast array of services Catholic Charities offers: mental health and violence prevention (including programs such as Restorative Justice Services, Crisis Response Support Network, Mental Health Internship Services, School Counseling, Domestic Violence, Integrated Mental Health Services, and Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention); education and workforce development (Refugee Employment and Resettlement Program, Project BMAT Bilingual Medical Assistant Training, Family Literacy Program and Project Access); poverty reduction (such as the Family to Family program and John Muir Senior Outreach Project); and Legal Services. While Catholic Charities is now having to be more strategic in its programming decisions to focus more directly on its mission to "lift people out of poverty by promoting self-sufficiency," we can be proud as Catholics of the Oakland Diocese of all the unique Christian charity work accomplished by CCEB here in the East Bay.
As I reflected further, I thought about even how much more there is to our Church's service of the community here in these two counties. Our Catholic schools are another prime example of putting the 2,000 years of Catholic intellectual tradition and practical know-how to work for our children and young people, especially in supporting of those many families in our diocese afflicted by urban poverty. And there is so much more beyond this that is going on in our parishes: the St. Vincent de Paul Society, faith-based community organizing and ecumenical cooperation in reaching out and serving the poor and needy in our neighborhoods, to name just a few.
But our Church's ministries don't stop there. We, of course, get to the heart of the matter: assisting our people in their moral and spiritual formation, so they may "know Christ better and make him better known," and so, as St. Paul would tell us, "work out their salvation." All that our parishes accomplish at this deep level hit home to me at the Chrism Mass. The most moving point of this ceremony for me is when I go throughout the Cathedral to incense the holy oils in the devotional chapels that I just blessed and consecrated. There they are, on display from all of the parishes and other faith communities in our diocese, representing many hundreds of people who have been instructed in the faith and made ready for Christian initiation, or will be comforted by the sacramental healing presence of Christ through his Church in the moment of their suffering.
I reflect on all of this at this very opportune time, as I prepare myself to travel to Rome for the "ad limina" visit. This is the visit that all diocesan bishops are required to make every five years to meet with the pope and officials of the other departments of the Church's central offices in Rome (it has actually been a seven-year interval since the last one for the U.S. bishops). They will review the reports we sent on the status and activity of our respective dioceses and probably ask us questions or raise concerns or offer insights, and we will have the opportunity to do the same with them. But the primary purpose of the visit is revealed by the name: "ad limina" means "to the thresholds," meaning the thresholds of the tomb of the apostles Peter and Paul. Both bore witness to Christ by their martyrdom in Rome and are buried there, St. Peter in the Basilica of St. Peter's in the Vatican and St. Paul in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
The whole point of the visit, then, is to foster a spirit of communion and collaboration in care for the pastoral governance of the Church: with those who have gone before us in the episcopal office reaching all the way back to the apostles of whom we are the successors, and with those in this moment of history.
As I reflect on our very busy, active and productive diocese, I will approach this, my first ad limina visit as a diocesan bishop, with much confidence and delight in what I will have to share. Thank you for making me proud to be your bishop. It will be a joy for me to pray for you at the tombs of the two "super apostles" in Rome.