On June 29, Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne will received a wool vestment — called a pallium — from the hands of Pope Francis at the Vatican. This vestment dates back to at least the fifth century and symbolizes a bishop’s authority as well as his unity with the pope. Shortly before Archbishop Etienne’s departure to Rome the Catholic Anchor asked him about the upcoming trip and its purpose. The following Q&A interview is edited for length and clarity.
What is the significance of the pallium for you personally?
One of the things that came to me in my prayer in just the last week is that being an archbishop is not really just about a particular location. It is about a closer relationship with the Holy Father. It is about a heightened awareness of my role of leadership within the church. It’s a closer communion with that apostolic succession and just growing closer to Christ.
Everything about my office as a bishop — the starting point for me to understand it — is Christ. In everything I do I have to manifest Christ. He has to come more to life in and through me because that is my role as a successor to the apostles. Particularly, as a metropolitan archbishop my role is to strengthen my brother bishops in Juneau and Fairbanks and to make sure that all that we are doing as a church is leading people closer to Christ.
When will you first wear the pallium?
Archbishop Christophe Pierre (apostolic nuncio, or papal representative to the United States) will come to Anchorage to officially confer the pallium upon me. In the past, as soon as the Holy Father placed the pallium on the new archbishops on June 29 they could wear it from that point forward. But the Holy Father wanted to change this to make it a celebration with the local church, so he has required that the nuncio, as his representative, come back to the local church to confer the pallium. This manifests that we are all a part of the universal Roman Catholic Church. It’s as if the Holy Father is here in Anchorage on that day, September 8. I encourage everyone to attend this Mass to help make it a truly local celebration.
Is there anything specific we should know about the pallium?
On the pallium — on the white strip of wool — there are six black crosses, and in three of those the bishop places pins, which represent the nails of the crucifixion of Christ. This is significant of that closer relationship with Jesus, of wearing this liturgical vestment in which you now bear the mark of Christ each time you vest for the Eucharist. That tells us something about the cross — it is the greatest manifestation of God’s love for the world. This is part of what the bishop is to be living out in his own life.
To receive the pallium, I understand that you are leading a pilgrimage. Who is going with you?
My family in Indiana is going and a few of my former parishioners from there, a few people from Wyoming, from my seven years there, and a contingent from the Archdiocese of Anchorage. Pope Francis has asked the bishops not to make a big deal by spending lots of money and dragging lots of people to Rome. He wants the celebration to be with the local church. But I want it to be a pilgrimage and an encounter with Christ in the context of the church. So we will visit the major basilicas in Rome. Of course there will be Mass on June 29 in St. Peter’s with the Holy Father. A unique grace for me is that on June 27 I will celebrate my 25 anniversary as a priest. In the old calendar, that was the feast day for Our Lady of Perpetual Help, so for that day’s Mass we are going to a Redemptorist church where the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is kept.
We will also celebrate Mass at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where the remains of Saint Catherine of Sienna are kept. Catherine has been a significant saint in my life, and I want her to be a part of this pilgrimage. And we will do the tour underneath St. Peter’s Basilica to see where Saint Peter is buried, where his bones still rest.
Will you receive your pallium directly from the hands of Pope Francis?
That’s what I understand. At the end of Mass he will hand us the box with the pallium, personally. In the past the new archbishops have also had an audience with the Holy Father. I’m hoping that will be the case again this year.