HARTFORD – Bishops, priests and deacons often preach from a pulpit, high above the heads of their listening congregations. It’s part of their job – their ministry – but, for Archbishop Leonard P. Blair at least, it’s not enough.
He also likes to get down to eye level with his followers in the faith – or, as in his weekly radio show “Archbishop’s Corner” on the archdiocesan radio station WJMJ, ear level.
“I had a show like this in Toledo, so my thought was that I’d want to do the same here, and we were well-poised, well-situated here in Hartford to do it because of WJMJ and Father [John] Gatzak’s experience in these things,” Archbishop Blair told The Catholic Transcript during a recent taping at the chancery of the question-and-answer show.
Father Gatzak, executive director of the Office of Radio and Television for the Archdiocese of Hartford, explained the format of the 30-minute broadcast. “Our listeners are given an opportunity to either email their questions in or use our call-in line and voice the questions themselves,” he said.
Father Gatzak moderates the show, reading questions submitted by listeners and inviting Archbishop Blair to respond. A discussion of that Sunday’s Gospel is also included, after a dramatized reading recorded separately by a professional actor.
Archbishop Blair is no stranger to this informal kind of evangelizing and educating. He said that while he was bishop of Toledo, in addition to his radio program, he would use his extensive classroom teaching experience during high school visits, where he would invite students to bring up almost any topic they wanted to discuss. During October’s Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference in East Hartford, he fielded questions from many of the 400 men in attendance.
He said he likes the personal approach and the challenge of crafting his answers to satisfy what he perceives as the intent of the questioner.
“You have to think about something not in terms of some abstract topic, but you have to think in terms of what the particular person is asking you, and you have to try to give an answer that is concise and yet does justice to the various factors, various perspectives,” he said.
“I think classically, in religious teaching and in the academic world, question and answer and personal exchange has always been a very important part of transmission of the faith and also the learning experience,” he added.
Some frequent topics of discussion on recent “Archbishop’s Corner” shows have included Archbishop Blair’s views on Pope Francis and on the recently concluded Synod on the Family. But he said he is willing to discuss whatever a sincere questioner brings up.
“I always hope that people would ask a question respectfully – and they always have – and that they will ask it through the perspective of the Catholic faith, even if they have difficulties sometimes with various things,” he said. “It always saddens me if I were to think that someone no longer accepts the faith, but I can’t say that I find that. People who ask these questions, they really are trying to deepen their faith and to understand better what the church teaches.”
His goal, he said, is simply to do his job. “I’m just carrying out my ministry as a teacher of the faith – that’s what a bishop is supposed to do – and be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. And so this kind of relationship and this kind of faith exchange is very important.”
Apparently, he is succeeding. Father Gatzak said, “I was speaking to a priest just the other day who told me that he listens to the archbishop’s program and he thinks that the archbishop’s doing a wonderful job.”
Archbishop Blair said, “Most places I go, confirmations or parish anniversaries, almost inevitably at least one person tells me that they listen to the program. It’s very encouraging,” he said.
“Archbishop’s Corner” airs on WJMJ 88.9 FM Sundays at 7 a.m. with a rebroadcast at 1 p.m. To submit questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-805-5045.