My dear family, as I write this month’s column, I am in Indianapolis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ June assembly. Much will have transpired between now and the publication of the July Catholic Anchor. This “in between time” is the topic of my reflection, because it very much involves all of you.
On Friday, June 23, we will ordain a new priest for service in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Robert Whitney. As you know, the journey to priesthood involves many years of prayerful discernment and formation. While an ordination is a culmination of those years of preparation, it is also a blessed beginning of the life and ministry of a priest. Please join me in prayerful gratitude to God for blessing our archdiocese with another priest, as well as prayers for Father Robert Whitney, that his life and ministry may be a continual transformation into the one, eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Following the ordination, I will board a flight for Rome, where on June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, I will receive the pallium from Pope Francis, following a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. What is a pallium, you ask?
The Pallium is about two inches wide and marked with six black crosses that it might be recognized from a distance. Every spring, new copies of the garment are woven by nuns at a convent in Rome using the wool of lambs blessed by the Pope in late January. The lambs represent the purity of the flock which the shepherd is called to protect after the example of Jesus. It is worn over the shoulder, only during Mass, and only within the province of the archbishop, thus recalling Jesus, the “Good Shepherd” who carries his sheep.
In modern times, the pallium has been reserved to metropolitan archbishops as the sign of their link — and that of the people they serve — with Peter’s successor, the pope, and the wider Catholic Church. Today, the U.S. is home to 34 archdioceses; the church’s historic term for them, “metropolitan” regions, is often used in the civic realm to refer to a major city and its surrounding area.
During this time in Rome, I will travel to the major basilicas, Assisi, and two Marian shrines, where I will celebrate Mass each day. This time will basically be for me and those who accompany me, a spiritual pilgrimage, in which I will hold all of you very closely in prayer. Another blessing of this trip is that it will coincide with my twenty-fifth anniversary of ordination as a priest, on June 27. In short, I have so much to give thanks for in my life, and now all of you are included among those many blessings!
I look forward to spending my first July in Alaska, and experiencing first hand some good salmon fishing! July will also mark a significant point in my transition as your new archbishop. I will finally move into a home, unpack and truly begin to settle in and “take up residence.” I’m so grateful for the welcome you have given me, and look forward to having a place to call home — in your midst — as your Good Shepherd.
Please pray for me, and know of my regular and faithful prayers for all of you!