Pray the God gives pope strength to continue ministry

NOTE: The following letter was published in the March 22, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This past week, I was able to join tens of thousands of others from across the country at the events surrounding the 2018 March for Life which is held annually in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in our land. This year marks 45 years since this tragic decision.
I was so impressed by the number and diversity of youth in attendance. While recent surveys show that Millennials (ages 18-31) are increasingly opposed to abortion, I was able to experience first-hand their infusion of enthusiasm as I saw scores of teenagers and college-age students praying for life at the National Prayer Vigil at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Youth Mass at the Capital One Center. Students from our own high schools as well as young adults from Rutgers Catholic Ministry and our parishes were among the many young people chanting “We are the Pro-Life Generation!” as they rallied at the March for Life.
Perhaps it is the development of technologies such as 3-D ultrasound, which shows the beautiful reality of human life growing in the womb, which has contributed to the shifting opinions and attitudes regarding life. Whatever the reason, the March for Life, with its youthful presence, has become a symbol of hope for an abortion-free America. No doubt, the prayers of many are having an effect!
The theme of this year’s March for Life was “Love Saves Lives.” We know that as Christians ‘love’ is our mission. I am grateful to so many of our faithful from across the Diocese of Metuchen who put this mission into action every day serving life at all stages and in every condition. Here are just a few examples of the good work being done by members of our local Church:
those who assist women facing unplanned pregnancies at local pregnancy help centers, 
healthcare workers at the Gianna Center who care for couples facing infertility in a way that respects a woman’s dignity and the sanctity of human life, 
doctors and nurses at Saint Peter’s University Hospital who humbly care for the sick, the injured and the terminally ill, 
the staff at the Center for Great Expectations who offer a safe place for homeless, pregnant or parenting women and their children, 
the religious sisters at St. Joseph’s Senior home who witness to the compassionate Christ by serving the sick, elderly,
the folks at our Catholic Charities who serve the poor, the vulnerable, the immigrant and all people in need in more ways than I would be able to list! Your contributions to the Bishops Annual Appeal make this invaluable ministry possible!
Working to build a culture of life and love also means speaking up to advocate for public policy, which protects all human life, especially the innocent unborn child in the womb, but including all those who are vulnerable – the frail elderly, the sick, the dying, the homeless, the imprisoned and the immigrant.  
This March for Life was historic because the President of the United States addressed the crowd for the first time ‘live’ via satellite from the Rose Garden at the White House promising his support for the babies in the womb and their mothers and pointing to several legislative measures which have been taken in the past year for their protection. Progress is being made in this pro-life area and our voices matter.
This past December marked the 10th Anniversary of the Elimination of the Death Penalty in New Jersey. Ten years ago (Dec. 19, 2007), I was able to be present when the Colosseum in Rome glowed in honor of New Jersey with the words, “There is no justice without life.” While we recognize the horror of violent crimes and grieve for the victims, we believe that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, who alone is the absolute Lord of life from its beginning until its end (Genesis 1:26-28). The death penalty diminishes us as a society. We cannot teach respect for life by taking life.
In the same way, we need to oppose the pending legislation in New Jersey that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in our state for those who face terminal illness. As St. Pope John Paul II stated in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “True ‘compassion’ leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.” Suicide is always a tragedy. Love saves lives. When life is difficult, we need to turn to Jesus who can deliver us from the power of darkness.  
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Jennifer Ruggiero, director of our diocesan Office of Human Life & Dignity, and all those from around the diocese who helped to organize bus trips so that pro-life pilgrims, young and old, from our diocese could join so many others in witnessing to life.
I encourage all who attended the 2018 March for Life events to share your experiences on social media and in conversations with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. In this way, as missionary disciples of Christ, we can work at changing hearts and minds about the injustice of abortion and other attacks on human life. Nothing is more convincing than a joyful witness! With God, who is Love, we can help to transform the world.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On March 13, we marked the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election as the successor of St. Peter! It certainly has been a quick five years. The election of a pope and witnessing his ministry are gifts for the Church and for all people of goodwill as we see how God, through the actions of the Holy Spirit, is guiding the Church. 

I was blessed to be ministering in Rome and actually in St. Peter’s Square when Pope Francis was elected, as I was when Pope Benedict was elected. It was quite a thrill to see both of these great popes emerge onto the central loggia of St. Peter’s for the first time and to receive their blessing. My priestly spirituality and ministry has been greatly influenced by both of these popes as I had a chance to hear them teach in St. Peter’s so often at Masses and audiences, share in prayer with them, and even was blessed to have had private meetings with each of them while serving as rector of the Pontifical North American College. 

Recalling the election of Pope Francis, I still remember the second day of the conclave of cardinals who were gathered in the Sistine Chapel in prayer to elect Pope Benedict’s successor. Since we did not expect the cardinals to reach a definitive vote quickly, some friends and I were planning on having dinner together while some of their bosses were tied up in the conclave. We met in the square before dinner to see the smoke from the chimney burning the ballots, expecting it to be black signifying no new pope. Much to our surprise, as well as the people in the square, the smoke at first came out black, but turned to white.  

There was great excitement in the square as everyone pushed forward toward St. Peter’s Basilica to try and get a good spot to see the new Holy Father come out on the major balcony of St. Peter’s for the first time. There was much shouting, prayers and even tears. Of course, we all spoke about who we thought the new pope might be. No one I heard had guessed Papa Bergoglio. Even after he arrived and they announced the joyful news including his name, many were still not sure who he was. We have certainly learned all about him since that momentous day.

Our new Holy Father chose the name Francis, the first time a pope has ever chosen this name. He wanted to emulate St. Francis’ life of simplicity and his emphasis on the love and mercy of God for us and all His creation. The new pope would also speak about his desire to have a special place for the poor in his Petrine ministry. Over the past five years, he has carried out his mission, by how he lives his life and his regular visits with and care for the poor in Rome and throughout the world. 

If I had to pick one word that characterizes his pontificate, I would say it is joy. Two of the major documents he has written to guide us in our work of evangelization and building up the Kingdom of God bear joy in their titles: “The Joy of the Gospel” and “The Joy of Love.” He encourages us to always share with others the love that God has for each of us and asks us to share our own joy in sharing the good news of the Gospel with others. He has reminded us that bringing others the announcement of the salvation of Jesus should be a source of joy not only for those who receive it, but also for those who proclaim it, a shared joy.

As we begin Holy Week, I ask you to join me in praying that God preserve our Holy Father and give him strength to continue to guide the Barque of St. Peter in our turbulent days. This most sacred week of the year brings us into contact with the saving mysteries of our faith as we celebrate Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. It is a time for our faith to be fortified by our giving ourselves more generously in prayer as we deepen our own friendship with Jesus, grateful for the great gifts with which He blesses us.    

Know of my love and prayers for you, especially during this sacred time, and please pray for me too. God bless you all!

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