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NOTE: The following letter was published in the March 23, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
My recent pastoral letter included this encouragement: “Imagine if every person just affected one other person to consider Jesus again in their lives. Now is a time for holy boldness.”
As we continue on our Lenten journey, I encourage you to think of people in need of an invitation to return to weekly Mass or to become a Catholic, then invite them. These can be members of our own family, co-workers, and classmates at school or people in our neighborhood. We are never too young or too old to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, we have a great treasure to share. The fruit of such a way of living was evident on the first Sunday of Lent as we celebrated the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at our Cathedral. As members of each parish in our diocese announced the names of their catechumens -- this year a record number, 124 -- I felt like I was traveling around to all of your parishes again. We will be welcoming these catechumens into full membership in the Church during the upcoming Easter Vigil.
What a joy to encourage them in their spiritual journeys and greet them after they signed the Book of the Elect, as well as the even greater number of candidates who are seeking continuing conversion to the Catholic faith.
A heartfelt thank you to all involved with our Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs for being good evangelizers and awakening the call of the Lord in the lives of our catechumens and candidates! Let us all pray that the new members of our Church will bring great enthusiasm to their parishes and help to renew us by their own witness and participation.
The Second Sunday of Lent, I was again filled with gratitude. Our “in pew” pledge weekend for the Bishop’s Annual Appeal took place. As you already know, this year’s campaign saw some changes and I thank all of you who have already responded generously. The funding from the Appeal will provide for so many vital pastoral ministries in our diocese which we could not do without your financial support; amongst others, the funding of the 20 priests who minister as hospital chaplains, funding for the seminary training of our 15 seminarians and $1.7 million dollars for Catholic Charities ministries.
Through your generous donations to the Appeal, you have touched many people’s lives and have clearly put your faith into action, and for this I am most grateful. All of the money donated will go directly to support the ministries listed in the Appeal brochure.
We will be issuing updates on the campaign's progress and a full report on the Appeal after it is concluded. In the meantime, I encourage all who have not yet supported the Appeal to consider contributing and help us continue to carry out Christ’s work in our local Church. It would be wonderful if everyone helped with a gift of some amount and joined in this great ministerial moment.
As part of being good stewards with your donations, we have started making some changes at the St. John Neumann Pastoral Center in Piscataway. As you may be aware, this center houses our diocesan curia who are the people who assist me in shepherding our diocese. Their work includes both guiding our pastoral action and seeing to the good and efficient temporal administration of the diocese, our parishes and institutions.
The Pastoral Center also houses our tribunal and the offices which oversee the formation of our lay ministers, seminarians, deacons and priests. As your diocesan bishop I have the responsibility and privilege to see that all the affairs which belong to the good and efficient administration of the diocese are well coordinated and ordered to appropriately serve our local Church. Everything we do in this work has to have as its goal the further conversion of our hearts, the deepening of our friendship with Christ and evangelization.
In a sense, our Pastoral Center is to be the companion of our Cathedral of St. Francis, which truly is the center of our unity as a diocesan Church. The Cathedral and our diocesan center are to be our visible link to the apostolic tradition and our life of communion.
The Pastoral Center cannot simply become the “headquarters” of the diocese that is supported by the parishes, but rather has to be a place teeming with life, a place of prayer, planning, supporting and helping to inspire our parish communities and all who minister in our diocese. To assist us in this, we now have daily Mass in our Chapel and with the Blessed Sacrament reserved there, it is a welcoming place for holy respite with our Beloved for employees and visitors alike. I find that going there every day for a visit helps to focus me as I begin my office work.
As you might be aware, our Pastoral Center building is quite spacious, so while we are evaluating our work in the light of our mission, we have begun to consolidate our diocesan offices moving all of them to the first floor.
Later this spring, the second floor will be rented by Saint Peter’s University Hospital, which we sponsor. In the space, they plan to house some of their administrative offices. By renting out half of the building, we are working to eliminate the budget deficit we have experienced in recent years. Please know that we are certainly striving to be good stewards of our diocesan resources which you have entrusted to us.
Indeed, the Lord is blessing us in many ways this Lent, much of it through your good efforts at living our faith, witnessing to others and gently inviting them to share in our way of life.
He is blessing us through your generosity, which makes the charitable and pastoral works of the diocese possible.
As we continue our Lenten pilgrimage with the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, may the Lord abundantly bless you and your loved ones with His gift of peace.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen