April 8, 2013
The West Texas Catholic: Bishop Zurek, we have a new pope! What did you know about the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Borgoglio and what are your first impressions of the now Pope Francis?
Bishop Zurek: “My answer to your first part is simply ‘nothing.’ I knew very little of him, I knew he was the Archbishop from Buenos Aires. I did know he was redactor generalis, the one who did the final redacting of the document when the bishops of Latin America met in Aparecida, Brazil a few years ago. He was the one who put the Aparecida document together. If you want to look at the future and what Pope Francis may be like, where he may go, my first thought is to go back and read the document of Aparecida. It basically is a pastoral plan for the next few years for the Church in Latin America. There you will find a lot of what we have experienced with Francis up to this point.
Impressions? We always like someone who has a wonderful smile, someone who is happy and approachable. I see a newness in him and also a freshness. Everyone who saw him would probably agree with that. When he first came to the balcony of St. Peter’s to give his blessing, he spoke a little bit; he spoke without notes, like a grandfather, in beautiful Italian, as if speaking to his children. What impressed me most was when he said, “Before I give you my blessing, I want you to pray for me and I want you to bless me. And only then will I bless you.” I thought, I wondered, where this is going. He put his hands on the railing of the balcony and profoundly bowed his head and allowed the people to pray in silence. I thought this is really fresh, really new and it speaks of a tremendous amount of humility. Watch out for what will happen in the future!
The few days he has been in office I think we see quite clearly that he is not tied to everything that was done before. In other words, he is not tied to the old protocols. He reminds me of a movie that came out a couple of decades ago called The Shoes of the Fisherman where the Holy Father one day just wandered out of the Vatican to a little village, dressed in a black cassock. Only one person recognized him. He just wanted to go out and be with his people. In some ways Pope Francis is outside the box, so to speak, in regards to protocol. His style is simple. You see that in his vestments, his miter, the cassock he wears. You see him wandering out of the Vatican without announcing in time for the Italian government to be prepared for him. This is an interesting dilemma because Italy is responsible for the pope every time he steps outside of the Vatican. I’m not sure they will be very happy with a pope who just decides to go on his own. They will not be able to protect him. It bespeaks again of certain freshness.
When the pope went to St. Mary Major Basilica he carried his own little bouquet of flowers to the altar of Our Lady, Mary Health of the Roman People, a very popular icon in Rome. On returning to the Domus Santa Martae, the Vatican hotel for the bishops, he stopped at the place he was staying before the conclave, across the street outside the Vatican property to pick up his luggage from his room, to pack his own things and to pay the bill himself. Pulling money out of his own pocket, he said, “This is my bill, not yours.” He again showed a tremendous amount of humility in his whole manner.
Yet he is definitely within the box where he needs to be. He certainly is one who is firm in regard to the teachings and disciplines of the Church. Some people were wanting, and were speaking of all kinds of change—as if he could change the Truth of the Gospel, the Truth of the Church, the Truth of the Disciplines that the Church has had since the time of Jesus Christ. He cannot do that and he will not do it. What was Truth in the beginning will be Truth in the end. What you will see in him is a true disciple of the poor, of those in need, of the abandoned, of the immigrant and those unjustly treated. That will be a freshness in the sense of how strong he acts on that issue. Other popes have also been very strong in regards to the Social Gospel of the Church. But this pope, in a sense, lives it in a different way than prior ones. When he went into the conclave I think the Catholic world expected some change and what we got was a small earthquake.
WTC: We also need to talk about Saturday, Sept. 14th, a date we need all Catholics in the diocese to put on our calendars. We will have a diocesan celebration for the Year of Faith. Bishop Zurek, what is the importance of the date and more importantly people attending and participating in the event?
Bishop Zurek: First of all, this gathering, as other things we have been doing during this Year of Faith, is a direct response to Pope Benedict XVI’s call that we have a Year of Faith and study the content of our Faith, the Catechism of the Church, so that we can better understand it, pray about what we are called to, and above all give witness to our faith. He also called us to reflect on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. When I go back to those documents I realize that those documents were written in the mid-Sixties of the last century; but they could have been written yesterday. They are quite contemporary!
This Diocesan Celebration is important because Benedict asked us to gather together to make a communal Profession of Faith. That is the center of the day. It is the center of the Year of Faith. The Eucharist will come at the end of the day, the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Cardinal Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, will be the keynote speaker and also presider and homilist at the liturgy that afternoon. But the centerpiece is the actual coming together and making the Profession of Faith. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “Open your hearts to Christ and deepen your faith so you will be greater witnesses to your love for Jesus and His Gospel.”
Most of the day will be bilingual with the presentations and Liturgy being in Spanish and English.
We are asking all the parishes to send at least 30 representatives so we can give a powerful witness by numbers as we gather at the Civic Center at 9:30am that Saturday. There will be three presentations: 1) I and another priest will deliver a talk on the Social Gospels of the Church. It is ironic that we planned this before the election of Pope Francis. As I said earlier in this conversation, he will be the champion of the Social Gospel and Teachings of the Church. It is perfect that we will reflect on that.
2) Then we will have a reflection on the domestic church in which we will look at how we will live our faith, celebrate it, and practice it in the home environment. What kind of prayer do we have in the home? What kind of devotions do we celebrate? Do we bless each other? Do we really express love and forgiveness, and to quote Pope Francis, do we express “goodness and tenderness” to each other in the home?
3) The keynote address will be given by Cardinal Rodríguez on the New Evangelization seen through the eyes of Christian Charity, the eyes of love and concern with concrete acts of charity that we bestow one on the other, especially on those in need.
Cardinal Rodríguez and I spoke last before he went to the conclave in Rome. He is very excited to come here; he himself wishes that we fill the Civic Center Auditorium and give an example of our Catholic Faith here in this area where we are in the minority. It is important for us to come together once in a while as Catholic people to support one another and to make the Profession of Faith together. It is also important that those people who drive by the Civic Center and see all those cars, with the marquee stating: Celebration of the Year of Faith by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Amarillo. Those driving by will express amazement that there are that many Catholics coming together to study our faith and give public witness to it. It will be an external symbol too of our love for Jesus Christ and His Gospel in the Catholic Church.
It is significant that we come together on that day. I have asked the priests not to offer Mass on that Saturday in their parishes. The Mass will be at the Civic Center. I have asked the priests to bring at least 30 parishioners, maybe more, to the celebration where our witness will be strong and powerful and joy-filled.