The newly appointed bishop of Lincoln, Neb., James D. Conley, said Americans nationwide can learn much from the Latino community on how to live their faith.
“They bring a strong sense of family, a great love of the Catholic faith, of the sacraments and of the blessed Virgin Mary,” said Bishop Conley.
“Those are all positives and I think we Anglos can benefit from that because it's almost instinctual for Hispanics,” he told CNA shortly after the Dec. 8-12 Ecclesia in America conference in Rome.
“They're the ones having children, working, looking for jobs, finding their place and so we need to be right there with them,” said Bishop Conley, who was installed as the ninth bishop of Lincoln, Neb. on Nov. 20.
He worked with Latinos for the first time in his priesthood when he lived and served as the auxiliary bishop of Denver, where they currently make up 51 percent of the archdiocese.
“I really came to appreciate their contribution to the Church,” he added. “Over half of the world's Catholics live in Hispanic America so the more we work together, the bigger the impact we can have in the world.”
According to Bishop Conley, the growing Hispanic population in the United States “has an impact and we can't be on the sidelines, but bring them into the full life of the Church.”
The 57-year-old prelate also reflected on the positive impact young people are having on the Church in America.
“There is an infectious joy that's really inexplicable and contagious when young people are living their faith and fulfilling their vows, even in the midst of sacrifice and people want that,” he said.
The bishop noted that “young people are tired of what we face, which is a radical relativist world, where no one believes there is truth or that we can embrace it.”
“They know it exists and when they find it in the Catholic Church they embrace it with great enthusiasm,” he added. “I've discovered that when I worked with young people and the world needs their example of faith, commitment and joy.”
Bishop Conley recalled how he converted to Catholicism when he was a student at the University of Kansas.
“As a convert I've always had a great enthusiasm for teaching and preaching the Catholic faith,” said the bishop, a Missouri native who was raised in a Presbyterian family.
He observed how Pope Benedict's Year of Faith – which opened in October and marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II – coincides with his new appointment as bishop of Lincoln.
It's a “great and providential thing,” he said. “I'm excited about bringing faith, not only to people who're already Catholic and fallen away from the sacraments, but also to those that have never heard of the Gospel.”
“I'm also looking forward to utilizing the graces of this year of faith to bring the message of hope and truth and the good news to Southern Nebraska, which is already pretty strong in the Catholic faith.”
Bishop Conley said he feels blessed to be the bishop of Lincoln because “faith and family life is very strong" there. “Not only do we have a high number of priests, but they're really good, hard working and holy priests.”
There are currently 153 priests in Lincoln, with an average age of 48, and 44 seminarians. And the bishop believes the city, which has a population of about 260,000, has the highest percentage of seminarians per Catholic in the United States.
Bishop Conley, who will ordain three new priests and six new deacons in May, is hoping this year of faith “will bring about a lot of fruit” by building upon strong family life, strong Catholic identity and strong priests.