Since I last wrote to you, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Patroness of the United States. This year’s celebration was particularly meaningful for me, as I was able to participate in the dedication of the now completed Great Central Dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. As many of you are aware, prior to my appointment as your Bishop, I served as Rector of that historic Shrine of Our Lady in D.C. for 25 years. Those years at the Basilica Shrine were a wonderful time in my life, as enjoyable as these years I have spent among you in our Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, though each experience unique and valuable in its own way.
During my years as Rector, I concentrated on completing the works planned and begun at the turn of the last century, including the decoration of the remaining domes with noble mosaics. Having continued to serve on the National Shrine’s Board of Trustees, I am grateful to have remained part of this important work and to see the final Dome now completed. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, was the main celebrant of the Mass of Dedication and joyously led this singular event in the history of this noble Church. The music, the Liturgy, the prayers of consecration, and the rising of the incense into the Dome combined to make a striking experience in the beautiful setting. Cardinal Wuerl’s homily about the Dome dedicated to the Holy Trinity was enjoyable. I do hope that some of you were able to participate in this Mass through the ministry of EWTN. I am grateful to God to have been present for the completion and dedication of the last portion of this Great American Church, a National tribute to Our Blessed Mother.
As I wrote to you last time, I have completed my celebrations of Confirmation for this year and now have started travelling around the Diocese for our Advent Gatherings with our priests. These gatherings are a wonderful opportunity to bring our priests together and express my gratitude for them and their ministry in our parishes, especially since almost all of them live most of their lives alone and work very hard. I find that when I have the opportunity to gather with our priests in informal social settings like this, I learn a great deal from their conversations about the life of our parishes and the concerns that our priests have. I always come away from these gatherings with new insights and new pastoral priorities, but this year, especially, I have learned so much. It is always a good experience for me as Bishop to be with our priests. I thank all those who work so hard to make these celebrations so joyful for our priests, especially Msgr. Anthony Cincinnati and Mr. Rocco Basil. Their contributions make each of these events a beautiful moment for our priests.
As I write, the celebration of Christmas is now less than two weeks away and I know that many families and our parishes are busy preparing for this joyful season. There is a singular beauty in Christmas created by good people working hard together to provide the Masses that bring so many together to pray and give thanks to God. We see people working hard to provide for others, wrapping gifts and giving to those in need. There are so many who reach out to all in need, not only those in economic distress, but also those who live alone or who depend upon the care of others. So many of these services are provided by parish volunteers or by the good people of Catholic Charities West Virginia and I am very grateful to those many good people who will work hard and fulfill God’s will here on earth.
I am extremely grateful to all our priests, religious and lay pastoral staff who will minister to our people in parishes this Christmas. I know so many of our priests and religious will travel to multiple parishes and missions, to celebrate Christmas Masses for groups large and small; many of our parishes will add Masses to accommodate our good people, providing Christmas Eve Masses, as well as those at Midnight and Christmas Day, all of this coming right on the heels of having celebrated the usual Sunday schedule of Masses for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. I am very proud of our Diocese, which strives to accommodate very small communities and large ones. For me, it is the most beautiful time of year so let us all look around and thank God for so many generations who have taken care of so many others and have worked hard to do it. They have lived their faith in Jesus Christ and made it a better work for others. May you and your family have a Merry Christmas and enjoy many blessings during the New Year, 2018.