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NOTE: The following letter was published in the June 15, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
While I was in Rome recently for some activities at the Pontifical North American College where I had served as Rector before coming to be your Bishop, I had the blessing of a few words with Pope Francis. It is always so encouraging to see him and receive his blessing. In a previous visit to Rome, the Holy Father had asked me about our Diocese and particularly about our priests. This visit, the first thing he asked me about was our youth. I think the youth are particularly in his heart and on his mind as he prepares for a Synod of Bishops next year on the youth of the world. I told Pope Francis that gratefully our Diocese is blessed with some of the best youth in our country. He responded, “good,” and then asked me to deliver a message to you. “Tell them not to be afraid to give themselves to Jesus, to give themselves generously to Jesus because they have nothing to lose. Jesus only wants to help and guide and assist, to accompany them, He will not take anything from them, but rather only wants to assist them.”
Since returning from Rome, I have been sharing Pope Francis’ message with the youth of our Diocese and did so with the graduates of our four high schools, Bishop Ahr in Edison, Immaculata in Somerville, Mount Saint Mary in Watchung, and Saint Joseph in Metuchen. Thanks be to God, we are blessed with four wonderful high schools in the Diocese where our youth are formed not only in intellectual and human formation, but are nourished in the faith and built up with good values and in virtue, too. We are indebted to all the teachers, administrators, pastors and benefactors who keep our schools open. In sharing the Pope's message, I tried to emphasize to our young people how true the Pope’s message is. The Lord, who knits us together in our mother’s womb, knows what we need to be happy in life, so the more you can stay in touch with Him and carry Him with you on your journey over the years ahead, the more you do to keep close to Our Lord, and figure out what His plan is for you, the happier you will be in life and able to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
As I handed diplomas to our graduates at their commencement exercise, listened to valedictorian speeches and prayed for and with our young people, I felt they were prepared for the next chapter in their lives. During the past four years, they have been able to take a wide range of courses, including religion classes, AP classes, STEM courses, drama, art and even financial literacy that prepared them academically for the rigors of college courses.
More importantly, I know our graduates have taken advantage of countless opportunities to develop and nurture their faith lives, deepening their friendship with Christ. In order to assist in this development, at both of our diocesan high schools we will now have full-time diocesan priests on staff to be available to the students, fully participating in the life of the school community. All four high schools have priests who assist with this, and each of our high schools have campus ministry programs staffed with religious sisters and lay staff offering our students so many avenues for service to others — working from Appalachia to Guatemala and all over New Jersey.
Our high schools truly bring to life the words Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was referring to when he said, “A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school should help all its students to become saints.”
Our Catholic schools are another available and valuable avenue of helping our youth attain the goal of sainthood for which we all strive!
In the supplement of this edition of The Catholic Spirit, you can read about each of our graduations, their valedictorian’s speech, the awards given, and scholarships received. Amazingly, more than $92.5 million dollars in scholarships for colleges were awarded to our graduates! The articles in this supplement will give you a sense of why we are so proud of our graduates and hopeful that they will continue to be disciples of Jesus who will build up His Church.
As exciting as the future looks for not only our graduates but all graduates, and as prepared as they are for the future, we cannot forget that challenges lie ahead for them. Sometimes with transitions – whether to college or the work force - we can easily become forgetful or distracted, and then some fears can creep into our lives. For a while, some of our graduates, even though they have been given a firm foundation in their faith, might even try to live without God, or think they are, but we know we all need Him. Reiterating the words of Pope Francis to all our youth, I urge all our graduates to stay close to Jesus. As they sort through all types of new situations and relationships, Jesus is a known and welcome voice which will lead them in the right direction.
The graduates, and indeed, all of us, must remind ourselves at times, we are never alone as we go into the unknowns of life. To help remind us of Jesus’ presence and love, I encourage our graduates, and indeed, all of us, to keep some religious object with us, the rosary would be wonderful, or to wear a religious cross or other object that will help us to live every day trusting in God’s ever present love for us. It is a good practice for us all. Physical reminders can help raise our minds to God, reminding us of His presence and love. They assist us in our prayer and remind us to turn to Him often. Prayer is the only avenue to deepening our friendship with Jesus.
So, as we congratulate and celebrate our graduates at this time of year, let us remember they need, now more than ever before, our prayerful support. It is a good time, too, for all of us to remember God’s desire to be with us, all the time, but especially when we are in transition and face new challenges in our lives. As Pope Francis has said to our youth, “God wants the best for us and remains close to us.” What a blessing for us all!
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen