Provincial bishops discuss family, immigration and growth

CHARLESTON—Bishops from the Atlanta Province reflected on a positive trend in their areas while attending their 2017 meeting June 26-28 in the Diocese of Charleston.

All of the dioceses which make up the province are experiencing a record amount of growth, said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. In this regard, the Church in the Carolinas and Georgia is experiencing the exact opposite of some northern dioceses, where the number of people in the pews is declining in many areas, and parishes and schools are being closed or forced to consolidate.

In an interview with The Catholic Miscellany, Archbishop Gregory said that the leaders realized the scope of growth in the province while touring the Diocese of Charleston’s new Pastoral Center, which opened in 2016.

“We realized that all five of the dioceses represented here have recently opened new chancery offices,” Archbishop Gregory said. “We are all in a growth mode. That’s a good thing. We are spending part of our time here talking about the need to establish new parishes, expand pastoral outreach, and respond to growing numbers both from immigration and those moving here from other parts of the country. We all are sharing in this growth.”

Responding to that increase was just one of the topics addressed during their annual meeting.

Bishops in attendance were Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Savannah; Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston; Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., of Savannah;  Father Bernard E. Shlesinger III, auxiliary bishop-elect of the Diocese of Atlanta, and Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama of Atlanta.

All photos, Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Bishops from the Atlanta Province gather in the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., for their annual regional meeting June 27. From left to right are Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama of Atlanta, Auxiliary Bishop-Elect Bernard E. Shlesinger III of Atlanta, Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., of Savannah, and Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland, bishop emeritus of Savannah.

Archbishop Gregory said the prelates spoke about the ongoing impact of immigration in their areas, including how new legislation and the political climate are affecting the immigrant population.

Bishop Guglielmone said increased attention to the immigration question is especially important to dioceses in the province because most of the Hispanic immigrants in the region are Catholic.

“We realize that we have those who are documented and undocumented, and they are all our brothers and sisters,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “We have to see how we can be of assistance to them.”

Bishop Guglielmone said he and his fellow bishops also discussed issues related to the upcoming Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, especially the need for increased evangelization.

Another topic before the church leaders was the effect of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) on ministry to married couples and families. Archbishop Gregory said they focused particularly on how each diocesan tribunal is responding to Pope Francis’ call to streamline the annulment process, and make it more accessible and affordable.

“This meeting is important because it is a time for us to be together and to share information with each other because we are all facing the same common issues,” Archbishop Gregory said.

The archbishop also celebrated Mass in the pastoral center’s Chapel of the Holy Family, which was attended by diocesan employees and people from the community. His homily reflected on the day’s Gospel reading (Mt 7: 6, 12-14) which includes Christ’s instruction on how humans should interact with one another: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

He reminded the congregation of how those simple words developed into what is now known as the “Golden Rule,” which has become a standard of behavior in both religious and secular tradition. However, he said, these are days when the “Golden Rule” is under serious assault.

“If there has ever been a moment in human history when we should listen to this rule, we are in it now,” Archbishop Gregory said. “We have had terrible examples lately of people who have obviously forgotten how they would like others to treat them. Matthew in this Gospel does not mince words. If we all would simply treat others the way we want to be treated, the world would be in a better place right now.”