On June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, I was blessed to receive from the hands of Pope Francis the vestment known as the pallium. This ancient insignia, which I described in an earlier Transcript column, has been conferred on metropolitan archbishops by the pope since ancient times.
I have been asked what it is like to receive this honor, and there is no denying that it is an honor. However, in the spirit of the Gospel, we know that “of the one to whom much is given, much will be expected in return.” From the perspective of faith, every gift and blessing is not primarily a personal honor, but a grace given for building up the body of Christ, the church.
This is reflected in the liturgy for the conferral of the pallium. It speaks of the pallium as a symbol of the communion and unity for which Christ so fervently prayed on the eve of his Passion. Just as the first Apostles were united as one, with Saint Peter as their visible head, after our Lord’s Ascension and Pentecost, so, too, the archbishops who receive the pallium have a special responsibility to preserve, with the pope and all the bishops, the bonds of unity and peace in the universal church. At the Mass in St. Peter’s, seated on either side of me, were an archbishop from Brazil and an archbishop from Pakistan. Although our countries have very different histories, cultures, languages and challenges – think of what the church in Pakistan is facing – we are one in Christ, one in the profession of our Catholic faith with the pope, the successor of Saint Peter.
Another dimension of the pallium is that it takes the form of a yoke placed over the shoulders. It may appear to be beautiful and ornamental, but the liturgy of the pallium refers to the yoke that Christ bore on the cross. Yet, as Jesus reassures us, his yoke “is easy and his burden light.” One of the ways that the yoke of our responsibilities for pastoral care of the church as archbishops is made easier for us is the fact that we share it together with one another and with the holy father.
After the Mass at St. Peter’s I was asked, “What did the pope say to you? He seemed to take longer with you than with the others.” I don’t know about that, but I can say that when Pope Francis placed the pallium on my shoulders, he said, “Will you pray for me?” “Yes, Holy Father,” I replied. Then, looking at me very intently, he said, “Do you promise to pray for me?” to which I replied, “I promise,” and he gave me a big smile. You can be sure that no day goes by now without my saying a prayer for the pope. I invite all of you to pray for both of us, that we may faithfully discharge our responsibilities and so bear the yoke that Christ makes light for us.
I was very happy to be accompanied to Rome not only by family members and friends, but by a pilgrim group from the Archdiocese of Hartford that included both clergy and laity. My experience has been that these pilgrimages to Rome really serve to strengthen the faith of the participants and leave a very lasting impression of the universality of our Catholic faith and our bonds of communion with the holy father. I am also grateful to the Knights of Columbus, for whom the Archdiocese of Hartford is home in a very special way. The participation of the Supreme Knight and those accompanying him in Rome, and their assistance to me, is deeply appreciated.
Having received the pallium, I rededicate myself to serving this great archdiocese and all its clergy, religious and laity. As Pope Francis asked for my prayers, I ask for yours, that with God’s help, I may be a worthy shepherd conformed to the heart of Christ.
God bless you.