.- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is using his December “ad limina” visit to Rome to pause, pray and reflect upon the whirlwind that has surrounded him these past six months.
“2011 has been an extraordinary year of change for me. The world seemed to stop on July 5 and turned my life upside down,” Archbishop Chaput told CNA while in Rome.
That was the morning he received the phone call from the U.S. papal nuncio informing him that Pope Benedict XVI wanted him to leave the Archdiocese of Denver and head the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“Since then, the time has passed very quickly,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine that it’s already December and the year’s almost over.”
The archbishop said his “basic experience” in the intervening months has been “one of dependence on God, gratitude to God for his kindness to me, and I beseech the Lord quite often and quite intensely to help me be a good bishop of Philadelphia.”
The learning curve, he said, has been vastly helped by his priests who have been “very warmly welcoming and so have the people.”
Although he describes the past three months as “interesting,” and “exciting,” Archbishop Chaput inherited an archdiocese that was shaken by a clerical abuse scandal.
“It will take a while for the archdiocese to recover from that,” said Archbishop Chaput frankly. “But because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ we recover from everything and we have hope for the future.”
His hope for the future is both natural and supernatural.
It is rooted in the “extraordinary talent and resources in terms of the energy of the people” within the archdiocese but also in the fact that they are a “diocese of saints,” he explained. The Philadelphia archdiocese has two canonized saints—St. Katharine Drexel and St. John Nepomucene Neumann—who have roots in the area.
Two saints “is a whole lot in the United States,” said the archbishop, “and we know that they’re interceding for us and they’re models for us to imitate.”
Archbishop Chaput now has nine days in Rome, along with his brother bishops from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It is a time for meetings and discussions with Vatican officials but also time for prayer and reflection at the tombs of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.
“Our schedule here isn’t hugely busy. We have a couple of meetings per day with the offices that serve the Holy Father,” Archbishop Chaput explained. “So we have a lot of time on our hands that we can use very well in terms of prayer and thought and preparation for Christmas, so it’s like having a nine-day Advent retreat.”
“Advent,” he said, “is a great time to be attentive and to be meditative, imitating Mary who pondered the mysteries of faith in her heart.”
The visit also provides another opportunity for Pope Benedict to meet with the American bishops, something that Archbishop Chaput did on the first day of the visit last week.
“It’s going to be hard for anything to follow after that,” he observed, explaining that “the Holy Father was very kind to us.”
The Pope “always offers a word of hope but also a challenge” and in doing so “shows extraordinary leadership,” he said.
“We hope to follow his example of encouragement and leadership in our own local churches.”
Archbishop Chaput believes that leadership in the U.S. is required in two key areas at present – religious liberty and a commitment to the new evangelization.
“Freedom gives us the ability to be confident and articulate in proclaiming the faith in our country,” whereas conversely “evangelical enthusiasm” is muted wherever freedom is curtailed.
“So, I think it’s very important for us to insist that people be aware of the dangers to our religious liberties.”
That requires Catholics to “stand strong,” both “politically and publicly,” and from there to “evangelize our culture in new, fresh and enthusiastic ways.”