Bishop Reflection: Cardinal Donald Wuerl

‘Because of the Josephites, the faith of the
African-American Catholic community continues to
flourish, grow and meet the challenges of the day’

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of interviews with bishops who lead dioceses where Josephites serve. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, reflects on his experience with Josephite parishes and African-American Catholics.

(CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Who are the Josephites to you?

As the spiritual shepherd of a large archdiocese, I am most grateful for the dedication and service of so many who help this Church in her mission to manifest the kingdom of God in our midst. The Josephite priests and brothers, in their own way in that respect, continue to offer significant service as they live their charism within the archdiocese. The gifts they bring to the Church are undeniable as they are evidenced in the vibrant faith of the African-American Catholics throughout the archdiocese and the nation, and it is a joy for me to call the Josephites brothers and co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord.

The Society of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart (the Josephites) plays an important and invaluable role in the life and mission of the Archdiocese of Washington. For example, we are privileged to be host to the order’s Saint Joseph Seminary, and their Pastoral Center, which brings many good men from around the country and the world here to study, pray and bear witness to the loving care and freeing truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Also, multiple parishes in the archdiocese are currently, or have in the past, been entrusted to the care of the Josephites, including the Church of the Incarnation, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Saint Luke’s, and Saint Benedict the Moor churches. Each of these longstanding parishes offers substantial social outreach and each in turn often works together with other churches historically serving the African-American community, such as for events like the annual East of the River Revival.

Thanks to the sacramental, educational and pastoral ministry of the Josephites, that portion of the flock entrusted to them has grown and been strengthened in the Spirit, and they have also helped to build up the kingdom of God in a way that others simply might not be able to. Because of their work, the faith of the African-American Catholic community continues to flourish, grow and meet the challenges of the day. This has included making use of their particular gifts in the service of our common calling to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and to be a bridge to the greater community, recognizing that we are all sisters and brothers, one human family before God.

In what ways do you interact with the Josephites?

As archbishop, it is my privilege to regularly visit our parishes, including those with Josephite leadership. It was my pleasure just a short while ago to celebrate a major anniversary of one that had been given to the care of the Josephites when it was originally established. Looking back at their history, I noted that the parish was a living tribute to the great faith of the African-American members of the Church who in both good times and bad, when enduring injustice and struggling for justice, always remained strong in the faith and in recognizing our identity as God’s family. The archdiocese also recently held its special liturgy and reception to celebrate Black Catholic History Month at one of these parish communities under the Josephites’ care.

Last April the Josephite Pastoral Center and the Archdiocese of Washington, along with the National Black Catholic Congress and Pax Christi USA, hosted a Black Catholic Convocation for parishioners. What do you see as the benefit to gathering Black Catholics within the archdiocese?

The Convocation offered a fruitful opportunity for area African-American Catholics to gather for fellowship and prayer, and to discuss topics relevant not only to them, but all peoples, and not only within this archdiocese but across several dioceses.

Saint Paul, in referring to the Church Universal as the Body of Christ, reminds us that within this one body, this one family of God, there are many parts, each existing not as separate units, but with their own special gifts in communion and harmony with the whole. These gatherings are unique opportunities that showcase the enriching cultural diversity in worship, community and leadership that exists within the Catholic Church, which together is also like a beautiful symphony. Each time these gatherings take place, the Church expresses its universality and gives testimony to our basic belief that we are all created and loved by our God.

How are religious communities included into the mission of the Archdiocese of Washington?

When we speak of the contributions made by religious communities, we must first give thanks to God and acknowledge that the reason our Catholic education and healthcare systems exist at all is precisely because of our women and men religious. Beyond their legacy of first establishing and operating our schools and hospitals, even with lay people now taking over many of these functions, the spirit of these religious continue to inspire. Our archdiocesan Office of Consecrated Life works to promote and support vocations to the religious life and our Office of Missions works closely with religious communities as well.

Since our nation’s capital is located here, together with institutions of higher learning like The Catholic University of America, nearly 70 communities of women religious and more than 40 men’s communities have a presence in the archdiocese in addition to many societies for apostolic life and institutes of religious life. They have all given their life to daily serve the Lord and others and we depend on their charism quite a bit, from the great importance of their prayers to their diverse ministries of teaching, healing, caring, and evangelizing. As with the Saint Joseph Society of the Sacred Heart, these religious orders have an invaluable function here in working for the renewal of society through their support and participation in the New Evangelization.

In 2016, you celebrated the 50th anniversary of your priestly ordination. In your 50 years of priestly ministry, how have you seen the diversity of the Church change?

Here in the archdiocese, because Washington is such a cosmopolitan city, we are privileged to be able to experience the richness of multi-cultural heritages and perspectives. We celebrate Mass in more than 20 languages and minister to people from all around the globe in our parishes and through our archdiocesan Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach. When Pope Francis came to visit Washington in 2015 and we had that grand celebration of Mass for the canonization of Saint Junípero Serra on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, as you looked around at the assembled crowd, what you saw was a slice of the whole world, reflecting the universality of the Church and the whole human family. People of every nationality, ethnicity, race and socio-economic background were there.

This diversity has always been present in the Church Universal from the very start, as we read in the account of the first Pentecost. This diversity of peoples and cultures, which includes the whole human family, has always been there, but a bit disjointed and not always so visible and apparent, and in this respect, we have seen great change in the past 50 years. Back in the 1960s, a person’s experience of the world was often limited to his or her own community; now we have a global awareness and this strengthens our bonds of communion and solidarity.

During my priestly ministry, the world saw the popes – Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis – becoming international apostles, traveling to practically every point on the globe. Developments in the news media, television and then the Internet progressively exposed us to a greater international experience. Now, today, we have a much greater awareness and appreciation for the universality of the Church and for the fact that we are one human family, whether we can trace our family lineage back to Europe, Asia, Africa or our Native American ancestors have been in the Americas for centuries.

As at Pentecost, rather than everyone speaking a different language, we are increasingly speaking and understanding with one voice. This greater realization and experience of cultural, ethnic and racial diversity has been not only a blessing for our Church, but for our nation and for our world. There is still more work to be done though.

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