We have had a wonderful year of remembrance, not only celebrating our 150th but looking back to our roots of Catholicism which began 315 years ago in Old Bohemia with the Jesuits at St. Francis Xavier and recalling the hard work and steady growth of the church during those early years on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Just yesterday I was at St. Joseph Mission in Cordova, Talbot County, Md., founded in 1765. I celebrated Mass in that stational church, one of 9 designated for this anniversary year. The founding pastor, Father Joseph Moseley, was a true hero and inspiration at a time when all Catholics here were persecuted and could only worship in secret. He served for 23 years.
Here in New Castle County in Wilmington, St. Peter’s Cathedral opened in 1818, first populated by Haitians and then the Irish. In 1804, Father Patrick Kenney came from Ireland to Wilmington, tried to go back home because of the heat and humidity, stayed and served all of Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania for years. He began celebrating Mass in homes, in Hockessin and finally in St. Peter’s new church.
Our readings would have made a lot of sense to those early Catholics. King Solomon and the entire Israel Community sensed God’s presence in the two tablets in the ark recalling His covenant. Our early Catholics knew God’s presence through Jesus in the Eucharist. The sacraments were critical to those early communities just as they are to us. That personal relationship with Jesus strengthened each week at Mass is essential for our salvation. Often it would not be weekly because of difficult travel and thus would be even more meaningful to them. It could be 2, 3, 4 months. Everything was horseback or boat.
Peter in our 2ND reading tells us of our importance to God as a people of His own, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, bound to Him and one another. God wants us to be close to one another and to His Son.
Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel asks Peter and each of us – who do you say that I am. Peter responds You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We are to say that too – to believe, to affirm, to witness, to share the Good News with all.
This year we were pilgrims. Some to Annecy and Rome, some to stational churches. Many joined together in Ocean City for our diocesan convocation. My brother priests and I had a wonderful retreat this past fall. Our deacons and their wives did too. Our outstanding committee created two memorial books, a commemorative rosary and our own Our Lady of Wilmington Portrait.
Our theme was, REJOICE IN THE LORD. My sense is we did that well even as we navigate through difficult times in the Catholic church. Much of what is being dealt with now, we confronted shortly after I arrived here. But it will still impact us as other dioceses deal with these issues. We share that joy of our theme now as an invitation to encourage others to join us. The ongoing challenges and goals during these final years of my watch is to continue to be welcoming and hospitable to all, to witness and talk about the great news of Jesus, to celebrate His presence with us in the Eucharist, as I mentioned earlier – essential for our salvation, and to utilize the tremendous power of the Holy Spirit that can be unleashed in each of us as that gift empowered the early church.
Ten and one half years ago I asked you to walk with me. You have done so remarkably well. Thank all of you for making this a most memorable and meaningful year for the Diocese of Wilmington and a continued wonderful tenure for me as the 9th Bishop of Wilmington. We have had our challenges, but the church has blessed me by assigning me here. I am forever grateful.
May the Lord continue to bless us.