The bishop honors this year’s recipients, and reflects on his 5 years in Camden and the challenges facing the church
Bishop Joseph A. Galante poses for a photo with Kevin Hickey, director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, and Justice for ALL honorees at the awards dinner held Thursday, April 30, at the Adelphia Grand Ballroom, Deptford. Pictured with the bishop are, from left, Kevin J. Connor (The Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio Award for Leadership); Jesuit Father Jeff Putthoff (The Msgr. Michael Doyle and Msgr. Robert McDermott Award for Parish and Community Ministry); Hickey; Nelva Josefina Ancona Paraison (The Peter J. O’Connor Award for Social Justice); and Bill Klatt (The Sister Grace Nolan Award for Social Ministry).
Bishop Joseph A. Galante prepared the following remarks for the Justice for ALL dinner April 30, at the Adelphia Grand Ballroom, Deptford.
I am delighted to be here for the annual Justice for ALL dinner. I am honored to share the stage with this year’s honorees—Kevin Connor, Nelva Ancona Paraison, Bill Klatt, Father Jeff Putthoff—and to be with all of you, including past honorees, whose commitment to social justice is so encouraging and life giving.
This year, this event happily falls on the fifth anniversary of my installation as seventh bishop of Camden. When I came to the diocese five years ago, I must say I didn’t know that much about it. I knew the Atlantic City Expressway and the Garden State Parkway. I said my objective once I arrived here would be to learn about the diocese and its needs by doing a lot of listening: listening to the people, the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and laity. I spent 15 months and met more than 8,000 men and women at more than 140 Speak Ups.
At these Speak Ups, I was moved by the love our people have for their faith. I heard and saw so much that is good in this diocese and in its people. I also heard a yearning in the people for us to do more. They told me over and over that they want better liturgy, more opportunities for lay ministry, more vocations to priesthood and religious life. They said they want increased opportunities for youth and young adults and lifelong faith formation. They said we must do more to reach out with compassion to Catholics who have left the faith, as well as to the poor and alienated, the marginalized, and the forgotten.
And yet, I soon discovered that many of our parishes were not in a position to address the priorities the people said were most important.
For me, my consecration as bishop requires me not to be first an administrator or a corporate manager, but a shepherd who takes seriously his obligation to serve the needs of the people and to lead people to Jesus. Before I was installed, I hardly could have imagined taking on an initiative like the planning process we are in now. Yet, after spending time with the people and getting to know their needs, after seeing up close the challenges we are facing as a Church, I knew things could no longer be deferred.
We know well what those challenges are. They’re facing most Northeast dioceses: There has been a sharp decline in the number of diocesan priests available for ministry, from a peak of 350 in 1970 to 152 today and 85 or fewer in six years. This is not just a hypothetical. This is a fact and it concerns me deeply.
Mass attendance also is down sharply, from 74 percent in 1960 to about 23 percent today. There are far fewer Catholics—about half—in the pews today then there were four decades ago. This isn’t my opinion. This is a fact and it concerns me deeply.
Catholics are leaving the faith they were raised in. The Pew Forum survey that was released just this week found that far too many Catholics raised in the faith leave it before they move into adulthood. Those who have left the Catholic Church outnumber those who have been received into the Church by nearly a four-to-one margin. Of those who said they left the Church, most said they did so because they stopped believing in Church teaching—and it is doubtful that they ever were formed deeply enough to know what the Church actually teaches. Many say they left because they found that their spiritual needs were not being met. Of those raised Catholic who leave the faith, almost three quarters do so before age 24. This isn’t fiction. This is a fact and it concerns me deeply.
There have been shifts in population from one area of the diocese to another. In Camden County for example, most municipalities have smaller populations than they did in 1970. The population of the six counties of South Jersey also is becoming much more diverse, especially seen in the dramatic growth of the Hispanic population and other newcomers. Yet these new Catholics are not being fully served by the Church. This isn’t speculation. This is a fact and it concerns me deeply.
One third of our parishes are in such financial difficulty that they are having difficulty meeting their most basic financial obligations, like paying utilities and employee benefits. Hiring qualified staff to carry out pastoral priorities like compassionate outreach, youth ministry, ministry to seniors and newly married couples is impossible for these parishes. This isn’t an exaggeration. This is a fact and it concerns me deeply.
All of these things concern me, so much so that I knew in conscience that I could not push them off onto the next bishop of Camden.
I knew how great the challenges would be, but I also knew that even greater would be the benefits to the Catholic people if we could work together to lead people back to Jesus. I knew how great the opportunities would be to further the Church’s mission if we could help Catholic people grow in the Faith so that it can be lived more fully in love of God and neighbor.
That is why we have taken on this initiative to strengthen parishes. It is necessary that we do it and that we do it now.
It has now been a year since I announced my intentions for the reconfiguration of parishes. When we are through, we will have 68 parishes served by at least 107 churches. We’ll have fewer parishes, but with God’s grace, we’ll have stronger parishes, new growth, new life and improved care to the people of South Jersey.
I want to thank our Priest Conveners and the more than 350 Core Team members who have given generously of their time and talent to prepare parishes for merger. I am so encouraged by your dedication and faithful service. I want to thank the members of the Diocesan Merger Review Committee that I have appointed this week for their willingness to serve and who soon will conduct onsite visits of those parishes who have completed, or are nearly completed, their preparations for merger. They will report back to me on these parishes’ readiness to merge and, if all preparations have been made, decrees will be issued formally establishing the new parishes.
I want to thank the people of the diocese for your patience and understanding during this time of change. I am grateful for your expressions of support and encouragement.
For those who are opposed and angry, I want you to know that I have heard you and understand your feelings. I know that some of you may not be able to accept the need to address these challenges, to address them now, or to address them in this way. Even if we can’t always agree, let us in our disagreement be patient and charitable with one another, let us recall the bonds of our baptism, the dignity we share, the communion we have by being one with Jesus in the Eucharist. Let us love one another as brothers and sisters who love Jesus and His Church.
Much has been accomplished as our first parishes ready for merger. I am greatly encouraged by the progress that has been made. Yet, more work lies ahead. Even so, I know that even in the challenges ahead, in the hard work ahead, we have reason for hope. Not wishful thinking, but authentic hope that comes from our Christian faith. The hope that comes from uniting our suffering, cares and concerns to Jesus’ own suffering so that we, too, may rise with Him.
As the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et spes said, “The Church, sharing in mankind’s joys and hopes, in its anxieties and sadness, stands with every man and woman of every place and time, to bring them the Good News of the Kingdom of God, which in Jesus Christ has come and continues to be among them.” It goes on to say, “In the midst of mankind and in the world she is the sacrament of God’s love and, therefore, the most splendid hope, which inspires and sustains every authentic undertaking for, and commitment to, human liberation and advancement.”
If we believe that the Church is the People of God, then we must be the ones who share in each other’s joys and hopes. We must stand with every person to bring them the Good News of Jesus. We must be the sacrament of God’s love in the midst of poverty, oppression, discrimination, and every kind of injustice. We must be the hope that inspires and sustains our brothers and sisters, by living the Gospel and carrying out the implications of our faith and the implications of our sacramental life.
By baptism, we are given a new identity in Christ. As I said recently, the Catholic faith we profess cannot be just for Sundays, conveniently tucked away in the pew until we return the following week. It must permeate our life. In order to be morally coherent our faith and life must be integrated, so much so that our faith is elemental to our identity as persons. Our Catholic faith and identity should not be taken on and off like a coat or hat, or when pressured, covered up. Our Catholic faith and identity should suggest who we are, what we believe and how we act.
Catholics often say, “We have the Eucharist.” Indeed we do. We have Jesus present in a most special way in the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our Christian life. Yet, the Eucharist is never inwardly focused. At the end of every Mass we hear these words, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Or, more literally, from the Latin, Ite missa est: Go, you are sent. Implicit in our Eucharistic celebration, then, is a sending forth. We recall Jesus’ own words on the evening of that first Easter, when he appeared to the disciples and said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Jn 20:21). Here we have the necessity to go beyond ourselves, beyond our own needs, concerns and interests. We are called to “permeate society with the Gospel” (GS 40), not just by teaching the Gospel but by living it, by caring for the needs and concerns of others, by our solidarity with the poor and most marginalized, by pursuing the good of all, by pursuing justice for all. As Pope John Paul II said, “It is not possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself and to persevere in this conduct without the firm and constant determination to work for the good of all people and of each person, because we are all really responsible for everyone.” (Encyclical Letter, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)
That is why I am delighted to be here this evening to commend in a special way this year’s honorees for being faithful to your Catholic identity, for living your faith and for seeking justice not for a few, or for some, but for ALL God’s children. I commend Catholic Charities, our executive director Kevin Hickey—and all those here who serve Catholic Charities as employees and volunteers—for the wonderful work you do every day, often quietly, to meet pressing human needs, to uphold human dignity, and to serve one another in Jesus’ name. Finally, I thank our sponsors and all of you here tonight who have joined us for this year’s event. Your ongoing support of Catholic Charities is essential in the Church’s effort to serve men, women and children in South Jersey whose need is even greater during these difficult times.
As we consider the work that lies ahead in revitalizing parish life, in living out our Catholic identity and the implications of our faith, let us thank God for all that has been accomplished here. As we consider the great challenges and work ahead, and if we become frustrated or impatient, wondering sometimes if our work is bearing fruit, let us recall the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero:
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view…
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”
May God continue to guide you and bless you. Thank you.
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