OCTOBER 4, 2004




In His Light

by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

Parish visits: a time to teach, learn, worship together

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

“Rookie year” – that’s the term some of my students at the seminary back in Detroit jokingly used for the first 12 months after I was ordained a bishop. I have been thinking a lot about that term these days, since October 1 was the first anniversary of my succeeding Bishop Cummins as the chief shepherd of Oakland. That is, I just finished my “rookie year” as the bishop of our diocese.

This important milestone in my life fills me with profound gratitude: gratitude to God for the blessings he has showered upon me in my first days here; gratitude to all of you for the warmth with which you have received me, for the many kindnesses you have shown me, and for the constant support of your prayers.

One of the most exciting initiatives for me as I make this move out of my “rookie” status is beginning the round of my weekend-long parish visitations. By the time this edition of The Voice goes to print, I will have lived through this intense experience of pastoral care at two parishes: St. Joseph’s at Mission San Jose, Fremont, and St. Jarlath’s in Oakland.

The format for these visits is fairly straightforward. The centerpiece is the Sunday celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I offer the Holy Sacrifice at the principal times in the weekend schedule and preach at these as well as all the other Masses. The visitation is also an occasion for me to preside at other sacramental celebrations: Penance and Reconciliation, Baptism and Anointing of the Sick.

These occasions for teaching and worship are complemented by a series of meetings, times not so much for “doing business” but rather for personal encounters between us who are journeying together on the same path toward the heavenly Jerusalem.

I meet individually for an extended period with each of the priests in the parish. This is an excellent opportunity for me to hear firsthand of their aspirations and their difficulties, their joys and their disappointments in serving the portion of the flock entrusted to their care.

It is also a chance to open my heart to them, to thank them for their part in the ministry we share and to see how I can be a further support to them. Spending this time with my brothers in the priesthood, my chief co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard, is a great blessing.

On the schedule there are also visits with the members of the staff – deacons and lay ecclesial ministers who provide such indispensable assistance to our pastors – and times to gather with lay leaders in the parish.
I usually like to begin these dialogues with a question about what makes them proud of their parish and what challenges they face. These are graced moments for me to hear, and for them to hear from one another, how active the Holy Spirit is in their parish community, inspiring deeply generous responses to Christ’s command that we should love and serve each other.

Not only do these encounters help me get a real feel for what is happening in our parishes, they also provide me with the opportunity to offer words of encouragement and appreciation. Our times and culture bring their own particular difficulties for living the life of grace. It’s important to remember that even in our own day, surrounded as we are with material resources and so many kinds of conveniences, now, as in every generation before us, there are hardships that inevitably come with “being on the mission.”

In Pope John Paul II’s new book, “Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way,” reflections on the ministry of bishops, he offers his own personal testimony to the importance of a bishop’s parish visitations because they put him “in direct contact with people” (p. 73).

About such contact he says a little earlier in the book: “A bishop should try to ensure that as many as possible of those who, together with him, make up the local Church can come to know him personally. He for his part will seek to be close to them, to know about their lives – what gives joy to their hearts and what saddens them” (p. 65).

It is with just such an intention that I have begun the round of parish visitations as I start the second year of my ministry as your bishop. It will take some years to complete these, to visit all the parishes, but I believe God in his Providence has provided a good beginning.

And no matter how long these may take to complete, I look forward to the blessings they will be for all of us. I know firsthand the truth of what the Holy Father says. There is already a whole new set of names and faces to be included individually in my prayers for all of you.

As a postscript I want to mention that on the afternoon of Oct. 1, the feast of St. Theresa, I presided at a Holy Hour at St. Theresa Church, Oakland.


Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.