March 28, 2012
WTC: Bishop Zurek, welcome back from Rome. Can you give us an overview of your Ad Limina visit and your time with the Holy Father and your brother Bishops of Region X?
Bishop Zurek: It was a marvelous experience. Everything went like clockwork. There was an incredible exchange of information and pastoral experience, not only between the Vatican departments, the congregations and the Holy Father and ourselves, but also especially among my brother bishops. There were about 25 of us on the Ad Limina, representing Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It was a wonderful fraternal time and a beautiful time when we gathered for the sacred Liturgy at the tomb of St. Peter, at the tomb of St. Paul, at St. Mary’s Major, at the Pope’s Cathedral of St. John Lateran and, finally, on the last morning we were there, we all gathered at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II and offered Holy Mass.
WTC: Can you go into detail in regards to some of the content that was discussed in Rome?
Bishop Zurek: When we arrived, we had a meeting and were told how the actual mechanics of everything would take place. The meeting with the Holy Father, it had been decided, would be by Province. The Bishops of the Province of San Antonio, which includes the Diocese of Amarillo, met with the Holy Father on March 16. We gave, through Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, an overview of the region. Then, we were asked to divide up into different areas of concern. Since Amarillo is first in the alphabet after the Archdiocese of San Antonio, I was the first one to address the Holy Father, and it was a rather remarkable exchange. The Holy Father did not ask a question, but in a sense I instructed him as to the pastoral realities in regards to the Catholic relations with the Evangelical Christians in my area.
I began by saying that most of the dioceses in the western part of our Province are predominantly Evangelical Christian. I told the Pope that the relationships began to thaw when he came to the United States in April 2008. At the greeting at the White House with then-President Bush, he talked about the Faith of the American people. He spoke as if the very fabric of being an American contains the fabric of Faith. He lauded the Faith of the Native Americans and of course, of the Catholic peoples, but also of the Evangelical Christians, of the Protestants, of the Jews, the Muslims and peoples of other religions. It made a dramatic difference in our relationships.
I informed him also of the recent controversy in regards to the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services to provide birth control at Catholic institutions, that we have received tremendous support from the Evangelicals in our region and I, in particular, from the people of the Diocese of Amarillo and the Evangelical Christians in our area. What we share in common are Gospel values. The Evangelicals and ourselves are really on the same page with traditional moral teaching, in regards to marriage between one man and one woman, marriage for life and being against abortion. We have good support there and we thank God for them and we want to continue to work with them. The Holy Father was very, very pleased to hear that.
We spoke through Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas about the explosive growth of the Catholic community in the Province of San Antonio. A large increase in the population comes from Hispanics, but there are also many Catholics moving to the area from Florida, from California and the upper Midwest, which are traditionally more Catholic. The challenges we presented to the Holy Father included the fact that we have the need for more priests, we have a great need to enlarge and build churches and to build new schools and yet we’re proud to do that and happy to do it. He said that we were the only region who came to him with good news—the news of expanding churches rather than churches that are being closed and schools which are also being closed.
Another issue that was very important for us was migration. We explained that a challenge there was meeting the needs of the people in Spanish, finding candidates who can be made Bishops who are bilingual and bicultural. There’s also the challenge regarding the people who migrate here—unlike people in the past who came with their own priest, their language and their customs. We spoke of the complexity and sometimes difficulty of bilingual liturgies and yet we were told to be intelligent and to be pastoral in response. Sometimes it’s not possible for everyone to have the entire Liturgy in their own language.
One of the other challenges we had to admit were some Evangelical groups trying to proselytize, convert and sometimes confuse our Hispanic Catholics in this new reality. One of the concerns on the part of the Holy Father was simply ‘Do you make them feel welcome in two areas: Do you welcome them into your church community as brothers and sisters and do you welcome them into your civic communities?’
WTC: Bishop Zurek, we now begin the most important week in the Church calendar: Holy Week. Some thoughts about that as we prepare for the Triduum and the Vigil of all Vigils coming up on Holy Saturday night…
Bishop Zurek: What most people don’t realize is that Lent ends inconspicuously in the afternoon of Holy Thursday, so by the time we come to the celebration of the Eucharist Holy Thursday evening, Lent is over and we begin a whole new season, the Triduum, the special three days: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter itself in the Great Vigil. In my mind, to really understand the Paschal Mystery, the Mystery of Christ dying and rising, one has to attend and participate in the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.
It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope; you see the same glass, arranged in different ways. You look in the Triduum at the same Paschal Mystery—dying and rising of Christ, through the vision of Eucharist, through the vision of service and giving of self and through the rebirth that comes through Resurrection and Baptism.
It actually begins Holy Thursday, normally with the Mass of Holy Chrism, the Mass of the Holy Oils that morning. For pastoral reasons, we switch it to Tuesday evening. In that Mass, we celebrate the institution of the priesthood by our Lord Jesus Christ and we bless the Holy Oils that will be used for the Sacraments of Initiation at that particular Easter Vigil and will continue, throughout the year, to be used for the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the anointing of a priest’s hands at a priestly ordination. This year, however, we have no ordination, so I would invite everyone at the Liturgy of the Chrism Mass and during Holy Week to pray, pray, pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more vocations to the priesthood to serve the Diocese of Amarillo. The Oil of the Sick is also blessed to be used to anoint those who are weak and in need of physical or spiritual healing. We also bless the Oil of the Catechumen that is used for those preparing for Baptism itself.
The Chrism is also used for the consecration of a church, a new one or one that has been renovated, and the consecration of an altar. This year, the oils that we bless will be used for the re-consecration of Immaculate Conception Parish, Church and altar in Vega and we will congratulate them now and also on that particular day.
Good Friday will celebrate a part of the Paschal Mystery. We gather on one of two days in which there is no Mass ever celebrated in the Church’s year. No Mass on Good Friday—the Church is in mourning, with the death of its Savior. No Mass on Holy Saturday, as the Church continues its mourning, until the Vigil while we await in anticipation of the celebration of the Easter Sacraments. We have the reading of the Passion, the General Prayers for the Church, the world, the governments, peace and justice. We have a Communion Service in which we receive the Eucharist at the Mass that was celebrated the night before, the Mass of the Institution of the Eucharist.
Finally, on Holy Saturday, after sunset, the Church celebrates what we refer to as the Vigil of All Vigils, the Resurrection of the Lord from the dead. It is THE LITURGY of the year: it is THE CELEBRATION of Easter. It begins in memory of all the good things God did for the people He chose in Sinai, the people who migrated from Egypt to the Holy Land, the people of God of the Old Testament. These are our roots, so we remember what has been done for us also.
It continues with the Easter Sacraments of Initiation, the Baptism and Confirmation of those entering the Church, through Baptism or for those who have been baptized before in another Christian Church, who make their Profession of Faith and are confirmed in our Catholic Faith. We celebrate the Resurrection, obviously, with great festivity and we celebrate this most solemn Eucharist, thanking God for this gift of new life and the hope of Resurrection for all of us.
I encourage you to join us in your own parishes for these celebrations. I know the old saying, ‘Oh, they’re a little longer, we can’t take time.’ The Lord took time to spend 33 years with us on Earth, in flesh. He took time to spend three hours on the Cross to gain Salvation for us. In comparison, a little extra time seems to be a very weak explanation for not attending the services that commemorate these great Paschal Mysteries.
Join us and join your priests on Tuesday at the Cathedral of St. Mary’s to celebrate the Chrism Mass, to hear the priests recommit their priestly promises and in praying in a particular way for your priests. Join us for the celebration in your own parishes of the Institution of the Eucharist, the Washing of Feet, then rededicate yourselves to Christian witness and service. Join us to mourn with Christ and to ask for forgiveness for the role our sins played in His passion and death. And join us in your own parishes for the glorious celebration of Resurrection, the great trust and love God has for us, not only to create us, but to recreate us in Baptism and recreate our being in death into fullness of life in His presence.
In preparation for the Year of Faith too, I hope your Profession of Faith at Easter and the renewal of your Baptismal Promises will be sincere, will be grace-filled and will be lived out in powerful Christian witness. May you have a very Blessed and Happy Easter and may this extend to all your family and friends.