July 10, 2009

‘Who touched me?’ Archbishops receive pallium, a sign of unity, from pope

By Daniel Conway (Special to The Criterion)

ROME—The Gospel reading for Mass on June 28 included the story of the woman who was afflicted with a disease that many doctors could not cure (Mk 5:25-34).

“If I but touch his clothes,” the woman said to herself, “I shall be cured” (Mk 5:28).

St. Mark tells us that this woman was just one of hundreds of people who jostled Jesus in an attempt to get close to him.

But when she managed to force her way through the crowd, and succeeded in touching him, “Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched me?’ ” (Mk 5:30).

The disciples were incredulous. How could he possibly expect an answer to that question with so many people pushing, shoving and touching him?

As happens so often in the Gospels, healing is connected to faith. Thus, when the woman identifies herself, and tells Jesus she has been cured as the result of touching him, Jesus tells her, his disciples and us, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction” (Mk 5:34).

On June 28, the day before the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, during solemn vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Pope Benedict XVI formally concluded the Year of St. Paul.

Pilgrims from dioceses around the world were in Rome to witness the conferral of the “pallium,” an ancient sign of unity, on 34 newly appointed archbishops from five continents. (Related story: The pallium is an ancient symbol rich in symbolism)

All of the pilgrims had tickets for the liturgy. After waiting in long lines to enter St. Paul’s, they quickly learned that there were more people than there were seats to accommodate them. The result was lots of pushing, shoving and touching.

“Who touched me?”

Anyone asking that question there that evening, or in St. Peter’s Basilica the next morning, would receive the same answer that the disciples gave Jesus.

Even the new archbishops experienced the press of the crowd as well as the heat and confusion of thousands of people eager to get as close as possible to the Holy Father and to them.

But on this occasion, although the question is the same, the answer would be different because the roles were reversed.

As Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis told the pilgrims who accompanied him to Rome from Saginaw, Mich.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and St. Louis, on this solemn occasion the person doing the touching was Jesus himself.

“Wherever two or three are gathered,” the archbishop said, “and wherever thousands [or millions] of people come together to worship the Lord with the Holy Father and his brother bishops, Jesus is present. He is not present in a remote or passive way. He reaches out to us—especially in the Eucharist and in the prayer of the Church.”

The Lord touches us and power goes out from him once again. The power of his touch reaches out to heal us, to comfort us, to challenge us, to forgive us and to give us hope. If our faith is strong enough, we can feel his palpable presence touching our hearts, our minds and our bodies with the power of his love.

Among the archbishops who received the pallium from the Holy Father were five American shepherds: Archbishops Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, Timothy M. Dolan of New York, George J. Lucas of Omaha and Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit.

As the readings and prayers of the feast day Mass made clear, these new archbishops are called to be a sign of unity within their new archdioceses, but also among the provinces where each now serves as “metropolitan.” (Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein is the metropolitan of the Indianapolis Province, which includes the five dioceses in Indiana.)

Every bishop is called to promote unity, but an archbishop who serves as “metropolitan” receives a distinctive call to be a sign of unity over and above his ordinary duties as the bishop of a diocese.

According to Pope Benedict, every bishop is called to be a sign of unity. In his diocese, the bishop’s ministry unites him with the entire Catholic community in each parish.

Beyond his diocese, the bishop joins his diocese (the local Church) with the Church of Rome and with all other dioceses throughout the world. Most Catholics don’t realize how much of their bishop’s time and attention has to be directed to matters that concern the needs of the Church beyond diocesan boundaries, but this is a critically important part of the bishop’s ministry.

As Archbishop Carlson said, “The role of metropolitan is a charism. It is a gift that exists for the sake of pastoral unity among neighboring dioceses and with the Bishop of Rome.”

Archbishop Carlson added that “Christ is the real source of our unity, not the bishop. But joining others to Christ in love and in truth is what the ministry of a bishop is all about.”

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial board, and president and chief executive officer of Mission Advancement Services for O’Meara, Ferguson, Whelan and Conway, formerly RSI Catholic Services.)

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