Bishop asks faithful to rededicate their lives to Mary

NOTE: The following letter was published in the November 2, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

As I write this message to you, on my heart and in my prayers, as I am sure it is on yours, are the tragic events which transpired in Charlottesville, Va., where racism has reared its sinful and ugly head and in Barcelona, where ISIS claimed responsibility for the terrorist act which took almost 20 lives and injured more than 100. There is much good that goes on each day in our diocese, country and throughout the world, but evil certainly gets our attention, and rightly so. It reminds us to further convert our hearts to be more like our Lord's, and to work and pray for the conversion of the hearts of others too.
Now let me share with you some of the good work going on in our Diocese and written about in this edition of The Catholic Spirit. Even though it is summer, and that usually means things slow down some, it does not seem to be the case for our diocese! The mission of the Church continues all the time, and you will see beautiful aspects of that mission in the pages that follow. There are stories on the Mass and Symposium on persecuted Christians in the Middle East, the diocesan multicultural Mass, a discernment day for men considering the priesthood, as well as the candidacy for one of our seminarians.
Although the diocese has kept a hectic pace of life during the last few months, hopefully the summer has provided each of us with a chance for a break, a chance to disengage from our regular routine and to visit with family and friends we might not get to regularly see. In addition to providing us an opportunity to rest, disengaging from our regular routine also allows us a chance to reconnect with our hopes and desires for our lives and loved ones. Vacations remind us to be thankful to God for our blessings and even just for the gift of life itself! Indeed, I remember as a child, my family never failed to attend Mass and pray while on vacation. We would not go somewhere that Sunday Mass was not available. It was a valuable lesson for us children that we never take a vacation from God or prayer! Of course, now as a priest and bishop, it is much easier for me to make sure that happens!
I hope you will all take time this week to reflect on our patronal Feast Day, the Queenship of Mary, which is celebrated on August 22. Of course, we often recall the Queenship of Mary as each time we pray the glorious mysteries of the rosary, the fifth decade has us meditate on the Coronation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Our prayer reveals to us how revered Mary is in heaven. As we celebrate this glorious feast day of hers, join me in consecrating ourselves anew to her and thanking her for being our powerful diocesan patroness who intercedes for us. Indeed, the 90 parishes of our diocese and the 650,000 Catholics we serve, all have much to be grateful for, even as we dare to beg for more, asking our generous Father's continued blessing and protection on all of us and our families. Every day our priests, deacons, religious and laity work wholeheartedly to make over our hearts to be more like the merciful heart of our Good Shepherd's. In this time of new evangelization, Mary our Queen is a powerful intercessor in the court of the King. Indeed Mary our Queen will keep us focused on the mission of her Son; proclaiming the Kingdom, teaching the Word and bringing the sacraments to nourish and strengthen our portion of God's Kingdom here in central New Jersey. 
When I pray to Mary our Queen, you can be assured that she will know how grateful I am for each of you and all you do to prayerfully support the blessed work of our diocese. Each of us has a contribution to make. I ask you to keep in your hearts and prayer the work of evangelization, as it is certainly a pressing need today. Sharing the joy of the Gospel with others who have not encountered it, or may have forgotten it due to the stresses of daily life or the confusion that at times seems to abound in our world. I hope you recall that in my Pastoral Letter, I spoke about creating a culture of encounter with Jesus Christ.
The dark cloud of racism and terrorism that plague our world will only be pierced by the bright light that flows from people with transformed lives of faith, committed to advancing the peaceful Kingdom of God through word and deed. May we be those people to usher in brighter days for our nation as we live faithful discipleship to the Lord Jesus.
As we honor Mary, Our Queen, the Patroness of our diocese, I ask you to make a commitment to help others encounter Jesus this week through sharing Christ enthusiastically with your encouraging words and by your example, so that others may know better the joy of the Gospel. Why not invite someone who has been away from Church to come with you to Mass next weekend; it never does harm to ask. That would be a wonderful way to thank Our Queen and show our gratitude to God for His blessings.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

October is one of two months specifically dedicated to Our Lady. The other month is May. October 7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and this year Oct. 13 marked the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Mother's sixth the apparition to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. 

More than 3,000 miles east of New Jersey, across the Atlantic Ocean, Pope Francis made a trip to the little town of Fatima in May to commemorate when Our Lady first appeared to the children in 1917. The Holy Father prayed the rosary and celebrated Mass during which he presided over the canonization of two of the Fatima visionaries, Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto. 

Embedded in the crown of Our Lady's statue at the shrine in Fatima is one of the bullets used in the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981. He credited Our Lady with his survival. During his visit, Pope Francis held up Mary as a "model of evangelization," particularly because Christian men and women can look at her and see that "humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong."  

The Holy Father prayed, "With your virginal smile, enliven the joy of Christ's Church. With your gaze of sweetness, strengthen the hope of God's children. With your hands lifted in prayer to the Lord, draw all people together into one human family. And so may we be, like you, an image of the column of light that illumines the ways of the world, making God known to all, making known to all that God exists, that God dwells in the midst of His people, yesterday, today and for all eternity."

Our own diocese is blessed with the Blue Army Shrine, the headquarters of the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA, a lay group of Catholics devoted to Our Lady and her message of peace and mercy. It is certainly a powerhouse of prayer. David Carollo, director of the Shrine, said many individuals from our diocese and beyond visited the Shrine monthly since May 13 to celebrate the anniversary of the six apparitions of Our Lady to the three young children. Together we should all make our own the prayer of Pope Francis while visiting Fatima: "Show us the strength of your protective mantle. In your Immaculate Heart, be the refuge of sinners and the way that leads to God. In union with my brothers and sisters, in faith, in hope and in love, I entrust myself to you. In union with my brothers and sisters, through you, I consecrate myself to God, O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima."

This issue of The Catholic Spirit is highlighting the blessed anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima. I pray the rosary each day during my morning walk and pray that indeed we, as a diocese, will make God and His mercy more well known. I remember learning the rosary in grammar school during October and May. Sister Mary Wilhelmina O’Donnell, RSM, from Watchung, our second grade teacher, would lead us in prayer each day. Gratefully, I have stayed close to Our Lady throughout my life and I particularly count on her intercession as I lead this beautiful flock of Metuchen.

As the Holy Father prayed in Fatima that Our Lady might "enliven the joy of Christ's Church," two celebrations we marked this month show the fruit of this prayer already. We recently celebrated our diocesan Encuentro, a gathering of our Hispanic/Latino community. It was part of an ongoing celebration taking place in our country and is preparing us for our Statewide Encuentro that will follow and then the national Encuentro gathering to take place in 2018. I am grateful to Sister Ruth Bolarte, IHM, for organizing our Encuentro. Our diocese is blessed with many Hispanic/Latino Catholics who put their faith into practice in their own lives, and who work to share that joy with others. We have more than 230,000 Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in our diocese and they are a spirit-filled group of our faithful.

Likewise, we also celebrated this month the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean apostolate in our diocese. This is another community we can be very proud of. The Korean Catholics are likewise recent immigrants who have persevered in the faith and happily share it with others, and the community is growing. We thank God for them, as they are a source of encouragement for the future of our diocesan Church.

Yes, Mary is the "model of evangelization" for us. Our diocese is under her patronage, the Queenship of Mary, one of the glorious mysteries of the rosary. May we rededicate ourselves to her this month, and take up with joy the work of evangelization, making God and His Mercy known by all we say and do. God bless you and may He continue to bless our diocese.

The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen