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NOTE: The following letter was published in the June 29, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
These past weeks I was given a good reminder that I was not ordained a bishop just for the four beautiful counties of New Jersey that make up our diocese. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gathers twice a year for meetings, each November in Baltimore and each June in a different city.
This June the USCCB met in Indianapolis. The week-long gathering began with committee meetings followed by general assemblies that filled the rest of the week. We had daily Mass and prayer and as always the spring meeting ended with a Day of Recollection.
The week was long and fairly tedious, but it was good to spend time with the other bishops and to learn from them. I have been attending the USCCB meetings for more than 12 years, as the Bishops Committee for the Pontifical North American College meets during them too, and I had to give the report on how the North American College was doing. This year's topics for discussion by the whole body of bishops included approval for new liturgical texts, youth ministry in preparation for next year's Synod of Bishops in Rome, which Pope Francis has called, as well as healthcare and immigration concerns. We heard updates on all kinds of pastoral issues and from the Pope's representative to the United States, who urged us on in our pastoral care of the flocks entrusted to us.
Having known many of our bishops from my time at the College in Rome (more than 100 U.S. dioceses had students at our seminary), I already serve on some of these national committees. For the USCCB, I serve on the Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, the Budget and Finance Committee and the Subcommittee for Catechism Review. I am a member of the National Catholic Bioethics Board, the Board for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Janiculum Hill Foundation for the Pontifical North American College.
In our own state, I serve on the Board of Regents for Seton Hall University in South Orange and the Board of Overseers for the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Newark. Much of the conference work seems to be done on the committee level. The Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations committee spent a good amount of time at this meeting discussing the formation of priests and permanent deacons, as a new Program of Priestly Formation that is currently being updated as well as a new Directory on the Permanent Diaconate. The Budget and Finance committee for the USCCB oversees the budget process and audit each year, so is involved in all kinds of detailed work and analysis.
In addition, bishops occasionally get asked to do other ministries for the national or even universal Church. I will go to Cincinnati in July to give the keynote address for the annual convention of the National Diaconate Institute for Continuing Education as it opens its year-long celebration for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the permanent diaconate. I was also asked to go to Rome to give a talk on the formation of priests to an international gathering of seminary rectors and formation faculty.
While I have tried to not accept too many invitations given the learning curve of being your bishop, it is difficult to say “no” to them all. However, I do not like being outside the diocese, if I do not have to be, so I will try to keep saying “no” to these kind invitations. As interesting and good as some of these different committees and talks are, I most enjoy being here with you in our diocese. I guess on one hand, being away reminds me of how blessed I am, so I am always happy to come home. Please continue to pray for me, and perhaps for safe travels next month. As always, I will remember you in my prayers too!
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen