“Where in the bible should I start reading?” This was a question for a parish priest from someone preparing to become Catholic.
I recall this priest recommending that they begin with the Acts of the Apostles. It was because the Acts of the Apostles told the story of the beginning of the Christian communities guided by the Holy Spirit. We see in the Acts the challenges of Jesus’ followers but, more clearly, the work of the Holy Spirit in these early Christian communities. The early Christians understood, followed and served as witnesses to the salvation of Jesus Christ.
As individuals and local communities continue to process new realities of the abuse crisis in our local and global Church, it is important to remember our mission. We are followers of Jesus Christ, who showed us the way to salvation. Jesus demonstrated for us the way of hope, love, justice, compassion, healing, forgiveness, care for the poor, ways of peace and ultimately, resurrection.
From the early church, we find in our history, the story of Christians facing the challenges and struggles of this world. Through these challenges, they continued to seek understanding and guidance from the Holy Spirit in living out the message of the Gospel.
We continue to believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding the people of God as we navigate the world, especially in challenging times. Throughout history, the Church has experienced struggles that have originated from within the community. Our current crisis is no different, but we can promote healing, justice and positive change.
Change has been prompted not only by those within the Church but importantly from institutions of our world.
Following a meeting with Bishops in March of 2019, Father Hans Zollner, S.J., President of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, expressed gratitude to the voices of victims, survivors and the media that have promoted transparency and change. He stated that thanks to them, “the topic of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has come to the surface and is now present all over the world.”
The universal Church and our local Church, parishes and dioceses are at a time and place where we have to decide how our story will continue.
It is important to remember that throughout the history of the Church, many holy women and men of God followed the Holy Spirit in determining our story through their individual witness and as faith communities. Their story is ours, and we are given the privilege and responsibility to write the history for those to come.
Pope Francis reminded us in an interview from November, 2019 that the Acts of the Apostles “is a human story, in which the disciples… always arrive after the Holy Spirit has already acted.”
He continued to explain that the Holy Spirit “prepares and works on hearts…upsets their plans…accompanies them, guides them and comforts them in all the circumstances they find themselves living. When problems and persecutions come, the Holy Spirit works there too in an even more surprising way with His comfort.”
Since the early 2000’s we have maintained a Safe Environment Ministry within the Archdiocese of Anchorage. The mission of Safe Environment is to bring about awareness of abuse issues and promote a change in understanding and attitude for not only those within our Church but also within our larger communities. I believe our story is becoming one less of reaction but one of proactive response, cooperation and greater awareness and advocacy. Everyone has a role in continuing this positive direction.
In a recent presentation, Father Zollner spoke about the path moving forward. He asked two very important questions: “What does God, the Lord of the Church and of history, call us to through the scandals and crisis of this time” and “Who do we want to be as a Church?”