Saturday, March 03, 2007

Salt Lake's Home Stretch

Speaking of Things Levada, in Wednesday's post on the circuit's next stops, we were remiss in forgetting the installation of the Grand Inquisitor's firstborn, Bishop John Wester, as head of Utah's rapidly-expanding lone diocese on the 14th of the month.

(However, despite not being back-to-back as previously noted, the confluence of two events in a month's space inaugurating African-American bishops into their new ministries still shatters precedent.)

Though permission was granted for Wester's rollout as the 9th bishop of Salt Lake City to be scheduled beyond the canonical threshold of 60 days post-appointment so that Levada (who ordained Wester as his auxiliary in San Francisco in 1997) might attend, the Vatican's highest-ranking American ever later cabled back that he couldn't make it. As a result, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles will head the hierarchical delegation of around 30 bishops, alongside over 100 priests, and 1,100 family, friends and well-wishers who'll pack the downtown Cathedral of the Madeleine.

In a nod to the longstanding cooperation and goodwill between Utah's Catholics and the members of the state's dominant religious community, also present will be the three-member First Presidency of the Mormon church, as well as Governor Jon M. Huntsman, himself an LDS and scion of the influential family which donated heavily to the Madeleine's renovation. The Republican governor is among the representatives of church and community slated to greet Wester immediately after he is escorted to his new throne by papal nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi and his Salt Lake predecessor, current San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer, whose 11 years in the Utah post were marked by a fairly consistent atmosphere of Catholic-LDS lovefest.

While invite-only's the plan and seating is at a premium, the website of the diocesan paper, the Intermountain Catholic, will host a live stream of the liturgy, which'll be complemented by one of the US' finest cathedral choirs.

In the meantime, the self-described "new kid on the block" has given an extensive interview to the IC... some snips:

“As a bishop, I’ve learned a lot as I’ve dealt with people struggling in ministry and struggling in their faith, and that’s been a real change for me. What has been most meaningful for me has been the trust we have shared. I’ve been able to walk with people on their personal Way of the Cross and I value their trust very highly.”

We all have our own images of God, Bishop Wester said, “and I have been seeing God at work in the lives and hearts of different people. Seeing the awesome power of God at work in others has allowed me to learn more about my own image of God – it has been complimented and enhanced. I would say the same about my image of Our Blessed Mother.”

Speaking personally, he said his experiences in ministry have made him more patient and a better listener. “Each person’s story is unique, and I won’t hear those stories unless I listen.”...

Whether it will be as he gets to know the clergy of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, the Catholic students outside our Catholic schools or those able to attend Catholic schools, or getting to know the leadership and the people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bishop Wester’s approach will be the same.

“It all begins with one conversation,” he said. “It’s opening a dialogue and being open to understanding someone else’s experiences and beliefs. That’s how we build friendships and trust, then we’ll take it from there, and we can explore all kinds of things.

“In my interfaith and ecumenical work here, I’ve been able to spend some time studying the Mormon Church’s teachings, and I see that their faith and ours have many things in common – the importance of marriage and children, the sacredness of our ancestors, our outreach to those in need, and our sense of missionary spirit and openness to new members. We have many obvious differences in belief, but we share many values. We can respect one another’s differences, and that is where dialogue can begin – good dialogue.

Bishop Wester has both taught in a Catholic school – Marin Catholic High School – and served as assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese. He is moving into a diocese in which about 90 percent of Catholic student don’t attend Catholic schools.

“It is important for me to understand and be sensitive to the issues our children face. I care very much about the dynamics it. If there are issues of isolation and feeling left out in school, there may be ways we can address them in our parishes. We can come together as church to discuss what it’s like when our children are not included in social activities.

“In our parishes, we can reinforce the goodness of our Catholic students,” Bishop Wester said. “There are ways we can address the issues they face and be pro-active. We can also get together with other groups and dialogue about these issues. Parent leadership is important. Together we can help others help us.”

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is 150 years old, and over the past few years has seen parish closures. Bishop Wester is moving to a diocese 50 years younger than the archdiocese, one that is growing, with new churches being built and new Catholic communities cropping up, like St. Andrew Parish in Riverton.

“It’s very interesting and exciting,” he said. “I’ve learned from Archbishop Niederauer that the Diocese of Salt Lake City had grown more in the past 20 years than it did in the previous 100 years. I plan to bring my toolbox – a metaphor for being a builder of communities. I love working on small projects, building relationships, and planning for the future.”

When Bishop Wester talks about his toolbox he’s talking about a real box of hammers, screwdrivers, and plumbing tools. He finds tinkering and fixing things relaxing. The toolbox may be a metaphor, but it’s a working metaphor.

“My projects will just get larger,” he said. “We need to look first at the immediate needs of people, and look ahead with foresight.”

Within five days of his installation, Wester will embark on a confirmation circuit of the diocese's 65 parishes and missions, an idea reportedly of his own initiative. The "Hit the Ground Running" tour will wrap in late June.