by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
As this week’s Leaven arrives in your home, I am in Rome with the bishops of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska making our “ad lumina apostolorum” (“to the threshold of the apostles” pilgrimage/visit.
Every five years or so, each diocesan bishop must submit to the Holy Father a written report on the life of the church in his diocese. The American bishops were one of the last groups to make an “ad limina” visit during the papacy of Pope John Paul II. In November 2004, when I was coadjutor archbishop, I accompanied Archbishop Keleher for my most recent “ad limina” visit.
The church is a little bit behind on these visits because of the transfer of governance from Pope John Paul II to Pope Benedict XVI. It takes a while for a new pope and those who assist him to be prepared to receive the bishops and their diocesan reports.
The archdiocesan report that I submitted to the Holy Father was 80 pages in length and compared the life of the church in northeast Kansas today to what it was like in 2004. I am grateful to Father John Riley, our chancellor, who with the assistance of many on our archdiocesan staff, assembled the “ad limina” report. I had to write a report about my own ministry, as well as provide a general assessment of the state of the church in northeast Kansas and a forecast for its future.
It was a helpful exercise to review what has transpired in the archdiocese in the past seven years. Indeed, we have many challenges.
Though not as bad as in other parts of the United States, there has been a significant decline during the last 40 years in the percentage of Catholics who participate every week in the Sunday Eucharist. The number of couples seeking to marry in the church has de- clined, while the number cohabitating has increased. Welcoming, attending to the pastoral needs, and tapping into the many gifts and virtues of a growing Hispanic population are some of the most significant pastoral challenges and opportunities.
Attempting to keep Catholic education accessible financially — as well as motivating those with the resources to make the sacrifice necessary for their children to attend a Catholic school — is a challenge. Despite our best efforts, the overall enrollment in Catholic schools has declined since 2004.
Our “ad limina” report also includes many encouraging facts. Since the report for 2004, the number of seminarians has increased, the permanent diaconate has been established, two religious orders of women (the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George and the Little Sisters of the Lamb) have established a convent here. Actually, since the report was submitted, a third community has made a new foundation (the Poor of Jesus Christ) in the archdiocese.
Also since the last “ad limina” report, a new Catholic high school — St. James Academy — opened in Lenexa. The Holy Family School of Faith was founded and began offering adult educa- tion and faith formation, particularly to the faculties of our Catholic schools. One of the most significant enrichments of the life of the church is that the faculties of all our Catholic secondary and elementary schools receive regular and systematic faith formation. I believe that this has better equipped the entire faculty to fulfill their responsibility to help form their students in the faith.
The number of parishes offering Christ Renews His Parish retreats has increased significantly. Many other parishes offer the Light of the World retreats. The number of parishes offering Catholic Bible studies has also increased. Several parishes offer men the opportunity to participate in the That Man is You program, as well as several parishes provide faith enrichment groups for women, such as Endow or Women of Grace. More than a thousand people, in addition to our Catholic school teachers, participate in School of Faith adult faith formation classes. The archdiocese has become a satellite campus for the Maryvale Institute from England which offers master’s degrees in catechetics, as well as a certification program for catechists.
The expansion of the presence of the Apostles of the Interior Life in the archdiocese with the establishment of their house in Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park has been a great blessing. The Spiritual Mentorship Program that they have developed is making a positive impact in the archdiocese by helping participants to deepen and grow in their own prayer life as they prepare to assist others in the development of a rich interior life.
Hispanic ministry has also expanded in the archdiocese, with Spanish-language Masses being offered at several additional parishes. Our Hispanic ministry office assists parishes with a significant Hispanic population, not only to offer Spanish-language Masses, but also faith formation programs for parents and children.
The name “ad limina apostolorum” reveals that the most important element of these pilgrimages is for the bishops to pray at the thresholds of the tombs of the great apostles — Peter and Paul. On Wednesday (March 7), we celebrated Mass near the tomb of St. Peter. On Thursday (March 8), I had the privilege of being the principal celebrant for the Eucharist near the tomb of St. Paul. At both tombs, the other bishops and I prayed that the same zeal and dedication, that characterized the ministry of Peter and Paul will also be evident in our pastoral work.
In effect, we are challenged to pray for the grace to be martyrs for Jesus and our Catholic faith. The word “mar- tyr” literally means “witness.” Those whom the church venerates as martyrs gave the ultimate witness by shedding their blood rather than betray or deny their faith. Whether any of us will be called to die a martyr’s death, we are all being invited to pour out all of our lives in love for Jesus Christ and his people.
Despite our significant challenges in the archdiocese, preparing for the “ad limina” visit has been an opportunity for me to step back and simply be amazed at how the Holy Spirit has been very active in the archdiocese. I have communicated to our Holy Father your love and affection for him, as well as your prayers for God’s continued blessing for the pope. Please know that I carry each of you and your intentions in my prayers during these days of pilgrimage.