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Bishops gather for meeting, Eucharist is focus

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

June 30, 2021

Twice a year, the full body of the Bishops of the United States gather, normally in June and November, in what are referred to as plenary sessions. Due to the pandemic, our recent gatherings have found us meeting virtually. On June 16-18, we held our most recent plenary session virtually. For the bishops of New York State, it has been even longer since we last met. We were in Rome for the ad limina visit with the Holy Father in November 2019, the last time the U.S. bishops convened in Baltimore.

At our recent meeting, one of the first agenda items that required action by the bishops included votes that advanced the causes of canonization of Joseph Lafleur, Diocesan Priest and of Marinus Leonard LaRue, professed Brother of the Order of St. Benedict. There was overwhelming support for both causes.

The bishops also approved the development of a new formal statement of and comprehensive vision for Native American / Alaska Native ministry. I found this to be especially timely in light of the recent discovery of the buried remains of 215 lost indigenous children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia about which I wrote in my column in the June 16 issue of the North Country Catholic.

I was privileged to be invited to a special Farewell Gathering held in Akwesasne on June 19 when the parishioners of St. Regis Mission honored Sister Mary Christine Taylor, SSJ for her inspiring ministry to the Native Americans at Akwesasne for over forty years. Many inspiring stories were told of Sister’s devoted service and loving presence to the native Americans. Congratulations and thank you Sister Christine and Sisters of St. Joseph!

Our virtual meeting also saw the bishops approve some edits in liturgical books, including the Liturgy of the Hours and the Order of Penance. Also approved was a proposed draft of “Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life Ministry in the United States.”

In addition to such “Action Items,” reports were offered by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) regarding the pastoral care of migrants, refugees, and travelers; The Catechism of the Catholic Church; “A National Framework on Youth and Young Adults;” and a report and discussion on urgent immigration matters.
The chairwoman of the National Review Board, Ms. Suzanne Healy, commended the American bishops for the progress that has occurred since 2002 when the sex abuse scandal rocked the church. She cited several examples of significant improvements that have been instituted since the promulgation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. She challenged the bishops to continue with outreach efforts to address the ongoing needs of survivors.

A few weeks ago, I held regional meetings with the priests of our diocese and then with our permanent deacons. This was a good opportunity for us to share our pastoral and personal experiences during the pandemic and speak of our concerns as we move forward, hopefully soon, out of the emergency mode into a state of somewhat normalcy.

A concern that surfaced at all our local gatherings was participation at Eucharist. Would the faithful return to Mass? How can we increase Mass attendance beyond what it was before the coronavirus reared its ugly head? Livestreaming was a wonderful tool for those who did not come to Church, but it does not substitute for actual presence. From these discussions, there was a consensus that now is the time for us to focus our efforts on the Eucharist. This is a “teachable” moment. With that in mind, several weeks ago, the clergy of our diocese took part in an online program on the Eucharist presented by the editor of Adoremus and director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Christopher Carstens.

Monsignor Robert Aucoin is coordinating our diocesan efforts to address the centrality of the Eucharist in the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Simultaneous to this, the USCCB is proposing a Eucharistic Revival 2022-2024 that will include: Diocesan Revival, Parish Revival and National Revival. This national project is in its formative stage. We plan to integrate our local efforts with the national project.

Given the times in which we live, I believe it essential to focus on the Eucharist, the “source and summit” of who we are and what we believe as Catholic Christians. I strongly support the decision that approved the request of the Committee on Doctrine to proceed with the drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. In its development, I hope the document will focus on: The Eucharist: A Mystery to be believed, to be celebrated, and to be lived. The proposed document would include teaching on the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion as well as moral transformation.

I am a pastor of souls, not a policeman of consciences. I have the responsibility of teaching what Christ has handed on to His Apostles and, through them, the Church. No one is exempt from having a well-informed conscience and living what Christ has taught. This is to be a teaching document on the Eucharist, not a public indictment against certain individuals. The bishops have a responsibility to proclaim the Truth with conviction and clarity. The truth should strengthen, not weaken our unity.

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