Recently I reread the homily I delivered at the Mass that welcomed me as the Coadjutor Bishop of Orlando on August 22, 2003. At that time, I attempted to articulate the vision that would guide me when I would become your bishop upon Bishop Dorsey’s retirement.
On November 13, 2004, I did become the fourth bishop of Orlando – and we have been busy ever since. Together, we “started afresh from Christ” with our first Diocesan Synod with its themes of Communion, Conversion, Solidarity and Stewardship. Together we celebrated the Diocese’s 40th Anniversary with our Festival of Faith and the Year of Evangelization.
Together we sought to be “Witnesses to hope” and “Alive in Christ” with the first diocesan wide capital campaign despite a challenging economic environment. .Together we grew – into more parishes and missions and, thankfully, together we welcomed many new priests and seminarians to serve the spiritual and pastoral needs of our people.
As I head to Miami, rather than enumerate a new list of priorities or goals, let me say that my “platform” remains essentially the same: simply to witness, as a religious leader in an increasingly secularized world, that God matters.
What Pope Benedict XVI has characterized as the “dictatorship of relativism” wishes to reduce faith to the realm of the “private” and the “subjective” and thus tries to exclude religious voices from the public square – as if God didn’t matter. But, because God matters communities of faith are called to model a life in which man, made in God’s own image and likeness, matters as well.
For this reason, Catholics should involve themselves in the public square – and do so coherently and unapologetically. This is not to “impose our views” but to “make our proposal” about what is necessary for human flourishing in society. Thus, we bring to public policy debates on issues of human dignity, justice and peace, an understanding of the human person that, while founded on the Christian Scriptures, is also accessible to human reason.
While this understanding expressed in the Church’s social teachings can seem to be quite complex, I believe it can be summarized in one simple phrase: no man is a problem. This why as Archbishop of Miami I will continue to proclaim – as I hope I did as Bishop of Orlando – a positive and consistent ethic of life.
No human being can be reduced to just a problem. When we allow ourselves to think of a human being as a mere problem, we offend his or her dignity. And, when we see another human being as a problem, we often give ourselves permission to look for expedient but not just solutions. The tragic history of the 20th Century shows that thinking like this even leads to “final solutions”.
For us, Catholics, therefore, there is no such thing as a “problem pregnancy” – only a child who is to be welcomed in life and protected by law. The refugee, the migrant –even one without “papers” – is not a problem. He may perhaps be a stranger but a stranger to be embraced as a brother. Even criminals – for all the horror of their crimes – do not lose their God-given dignity as human beings. They too must be treated with respect, even in their punishment. This is why Catholic social teaching condemns torture and advocates for the abolition of the death penalty.
I am told that South Florida has its challenges – but, then, what else is new? At any rate, I pray that the lessons I learned here as the Bishop of Orlando will stand me in good stead as I assume the responsibilities that await me come June 1st when I become the chief shepherd of some 1.3 million Catholics in the three counties that make up the Archdiocese.
I will carry with me many memories of this dynamic and vibrant local Church. And, though words fail me, I deeply grateful to all of you. I pray that you will remember me as fondly as I will remember you – and that we will never cease to pray for one another.