What will he be like?
"What will he be like?” they wonder. It is a natural reaction. His predecessors were well-loved and accepted during their time of service. But change can be difficult, even under the best of circumstances. His immediate predecessor had been welcomed by so many, but had been ill for a while. He had walked with them over the last few months of his life, offering his goodbyes, until finally he returned home. When he died, it was natural for all of them to wonder who would follow in his footsteps.
That was the situation in December 1999, when Fr. Dan Wunderlich, my immediate predecessor as pastor of the Catholic Community of St. Jude, died of pancreatic cancer that had been diagnosed only a few months earlier. When I arrived at St. Jude at the end of December, I could sense a great deal of anxiety within the parish community. That was only natural after having been served so well for so many years by my predecessors. For a time, the parish experienced “the priest of the week” until my assignment there. That probably contributed to the heightened uncertainty. All in all, it was a situation not unlike that in which we found ourselves following the death of Pope John Paul II.
At my first Masses with the parish community on the weekend after Christmas – the Feast of the Holy Family – I tried to be honest with everyone. I could sense what many were feeling. My request in my homily that weekend was simple: let’s give each other the gift of time – let me get to know all of you, while I try my best to let all of you get to know me. It was my firm belief then – as it remains today – that if we could be open-minded toward one another, there would soon no longer be “me” and “them,” but only us. I pray my hope that December day is now the daily reality we live as a parish community.
We experienced many of the same thoughts and feelings when Bishop Povish was granted retirement and we waited for our new bishop. Over time, as we allowed ourselves to become acclimated to Bishop Mengeling, we have come to know him as a dedicated pastor, evangelizer and shepherd. Is he exactly like Bishop Povish? No. Is he better than Bishop Povish? No. He is simply different. We gave him time to grow into his role as our bishop.
I pray that all of us approach our new Holy Father, Benedict XVI, with the same open-minded fairness. If we were in his shoes, wouldn’t we ask the same of those around us? The experiences of my parish community and of our diocese show that resisting the temptation to make quick or rash judgments has permitted all of us to grow together.
Pope Benedict, at the age of 78, has accepted a position of leadership within the church. He is in a postiton filled with immense responsibility, which, nearly by design, will make it impossible for him to please everyone all the time. Rather than focusing on differences or potential negatives, let us instead offer him our support as he seeks to grow into and grow through his new ministry to our church community. Let us offer him our prayers, even as we can be sure that he prays for all of us. And so our journey in FAITH continues.