Friday, June 06, 2008

End of the Road, Day One for Rodi

After eighteen days, five ordinations, two installations... and a Ted with a Golden Jubilee, the Festival Express wraps up today by going Mobile for the installation of Archbishop Thomas Rodi.

The successor to the nation's longest-serving metropolitan, Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, Rodi takes possession of the 65,000-member church at a liturgy scheduled for 3pm local time (4pm Eastern; 2000GMT) in the Gulfside city's historic 700-seat Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, first founded in 1703. A webstream link is being provided, and will go live at Mass-time.

A canon and civil lawyer, Rodi served as second-in-command of his native archdiocese of New Orleanean until his 2001 appointment as bishop of Biloxi, where he scored high marks for leading Southern Mississippi's hard-hit church of 70,000 through Hurricane Katrina. As previously noted, with the rebuilding after the 2005 storm still topping the diocese's plate, the Holy See has named Rodi to double-duty as apostolic administrator of Biloxi pending the arrival of his successor there. With the archbishop-elect understood to have been consulted on a replacement well in advance of his transfer's public announcement (video), and the Holy See's well-known concern for the area's progress in the wake of the storm, the common thought in bishop-making circles is that the Biloxi file will be fast-tracked to the Pope's desk.

On a contextual note, as with practically every other Southern diocese, Mississippi has seen an infusion of Hispanics (and, thus, a spike in Catholic population) in recent years, an influx that's said to have been ramping up even more quickly in its lower half since Katrina due to the demand for laborers.

Having blessed the Biloxi fleet and said his farewells -- even though he'll still be half-timing it in the diocese for the short-term future -- Rodi introduced himself to 'Bama with an extended interview in Mobile's Press-Register:
[Rodi]: Having gone through something as terrible and as devastating as Katrina, we owe it to ourselves to bring good out of it. And although we will not be the same as a diocese, with God's help, we can be a stronger diocese. And I'm convinced that that's the future for the church in south Mississippi.

The biggest challenge in priestly ministry is preaching the word of God and making God's love known. And that's really what priests dedicate their lives to, and that's always, in every generation, the main challenge. Since Katrina, there's been a tremendous amount of administration. But first and foremost, I'm a priest.

Q. A recent survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life showed Catholicism had lost more people to other religions or no religion than any other religious group. Why do you think that's the case, and what are some ways that you plan to go about addressing that?

A. The most important thing is that the church remains faithful to sharing God's love through word and worship and service. The church is at its best when it really gives people hope of why we're here. We're here for a purpose. And we're here to be on our journey to eternal life.

I find that the three most basic questions that we human beings have are: Why do I exist? How can my sins be forgiven? And what's going to happen to me when I die? And the church is at its best when the church addresses those questions.

There's a reason why we exist. We're here to love God and to love ourneighbor. And God is with us on our journey. And God is not going to give up on us. And God is willing to forgive our sins and to give us a new start, so that when we die, we are with God for all eternity.

The message of Jesus Christ is not a complicated message. It's a challenging message, but it's not complicated. And the church is at its best when it responds to those questions. And then that gives people hope.

Q. During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI addressed sexual abuse victims personally and also addressed the crisis during some of his public speaking engagements. How did what he had to say and his actions affect you?

A. That was probably the most powerful moment of his visit (his meeting with five abuse victims). And it demonstrated that healing is possible. He expressed so beautifully the shame that the entire church feels, the outrage that the entire church feels and the hope that the entire church feels that we need to bring about healing.

Q. When did you first get a sense of a crisis, or the existence of a problem, regarding sexual abuse within the church, and how did you respond at that time?

A. I would think when it first really came to light — I would say that would have been the mid-1980s — and that would have been the first time. And that was really through the media. At that time, I was a parish priest. It raised awareness that we need to look at how we're conducting church ministries.
Read that last bit again: a bishop giving credit to the media for shining a light on sex-abuse in the church.

If you're not pleasantly shocked, you haven't been paying attention.

Though the diocese comprising Alabama's southern half was founded in 1825 -- and, as a result, the 59 year-old Rodi stands to lead it through its bicentennial year -- it wasn't until 1980 that Mobile was made an archdiocese, and native son Lipscomb (the diocesan administrator following then-Bishop John May's promotion to St Louis) became the last US priest ordained a residential archbishop.

Its province comprising Alabama and Mississippi -- i.e. the Deepest South -- Mobile was just one of two Stateside metropolitan sees created in the pontificate of John Paul II, Galveston-Houston being the other. Along with Archbishops Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore and John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis, Rodi will receive his pallium from the hand of the Pope come month's end.

PHOTO: Tim Isbell/Biloxi Sun-Herald