The U. S. bishops are meeting this week in Baltimore, the first American diocese. Over the weekend the bishops came in to participate in preparatory meetings of committees on which they serve. At present I serve on several committees, two of which took up all day Saturday. The first, Priorities and Plans, maps the work of the bishops’ Conference in accordance with the priorities the bishops establish for a four-year period. To my mind this has changed and greatly increased the vision of the Conference and the clarity we have in pursuing our mission of service to the local churches and the church across our country.
Monday morning we met for an hour in our regions. Region II, New York, like the other 14 regions, discussed the Dallas Charter on the protection of children and young people. This was a valuable opportunity to share best practices and to reinforce our commitment of the past dozen years to make our local churches, parishes and apostolic works safe havens for children and youth. The commitment is clear, and faithfulness to staying the course is evident among us all.
Two talks characterized the morning. The first by the Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was a beautiful reflection for us bishops on being centered on Christ and being evangelical in our witness. He placed before our eyes the example of Pope Paul VI, especially dear to me, and showed us how this extraordinary pope, by his faithful service and clear and unambiguous teaching, showed us bishops and the Church how to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world.
Cardinal Dolan gave us his farewell address as the conference president. He focused on religious freedom around the world. His message reaffirmed our commitment to the defense of religious freedom in our country, then called us to see how tragic is the reality of religious persecution is around the world. 75 percent of persons put to death for their religious faith in recent years were Christians. Our brothers and sisters in countries in every part of the world live in fear and under the constant threat of persecution.
While the NY Times once again misinterpreted the Cardinal and his message, I can tell you that he called us not to something new, but rather he reminded us of our responsibility, one we have maintained for almost a century, to be a voice for the voiceless and to assist the suffering and help the persecuted of every religious faith around the world.
The other issue that took up much of the day was the response to the poor and those suffering from natural disasters. The work of Catholic Relief Services, CRS, the bishops’ relief agency for humanitarian aid, held center spotlight. The Church in our country has contributed over 20 million dollars, for example, to help rebuild Haiti. Our concern for the Philippines and Vietnam these past days received wholehearted commitment from the bishops. Time and again the discussions returned to the love and care of the poor as a standard by which we measure ourselves and a task we make our own.
Other topics were raised to which we will return today and tomorrow. In addition today we will elect a new president and vice president and chairs of several committees.