Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has called me to leave the Catholic community of Maine, where I have served as diocesan bishop since 2004. He has appointed me to serve in western New York State as the bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo.
While I am exhilarated at the prospect of a fresh challenge and of the blessing of coming to know and shepherd a portion of Christ’s flock entirely new to me, there is so much that I will miss as I leave Maine behind. Most especially, I will miss the many, many thousands of faithful, committed and supportive Catholics who are the life of our diocese, its parishes, schools, and other institutions and ministries. I will miss our priests and deacons, our consecrated women and men religious, lay ecclesial ministers, and all of the lay faithful. It has been a great joy, particularly in these challenging times, to know, serve, and collaborate with so many of you.
I am grateful to you for reasons too numerous to mention here. I am so grateful for the ways you are cooperating, often at some sacrifice, with the new configuration of our parishes in response to our diocesan pastoral plan “Telling Anew the Story of Jesus.” It is my confident hope that with more focused use of our resources, our parishes and schools will be able to engage in a truly effective way in the work of the New Evangelization. As your own faith deepens, may you feel both the confidence and urgency to lead to – or back to – Christ and His Church. It is time, Pope Benedict XVI has told us, to “re-propose” the faith in what has sadly become in Maine a deeply secular environment. You are a missionary by the fact of your baptism. Maine is mission territory. You are Christ’s witnesses. “Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
Thank you, too, if you are one of the majority of Mainers who in 2009 stood strong in your defense of marriage as God has created it: the union of one man and one woman, open to the gift of children. I plead with you now, as I prepare to leave you, at this time when marriage is again under assault, and even some of our Catholic people such as the group Catholics for Marriage Equality are, “carried about by every wind of doctrine that originates in human trickery and skill in proposing error,” that you will “profess the truth in love” (Eph. 4:14-15) – the truth of marriage as it is inscribed in the human person, revealed in Scripture and tradition, and included in current Maine law. If you have not yet read my pastoral letter “Marriage: Yesterday – Today – Always,” please do. And why not share it with family and friends who do not receive Harvest magazine?
And please get involved in the effort to preserve religious freedom at this time that it is under its most serious threat since the founding of our nation. No government can take away religious freedom, our first, most cherished liberty. The United States Department of Health and Human Services is attempting to force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their moral teaching (e.g., abortion-inducing drugs), and to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious freedom (“Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” USCCB 2012).
Finally, as I promise you my prayers in the days and years ahead, and ask a remembrance in yours, I make St. Paul’s affectionate words to the Church at Philippi my own sentiments for you:
“I give thanks to my God every time I think of you – which is constantly, in every prayer I utter – rejoicing, as I plead on your behalf, at the way you have all continually helped promote the Gospel from the very first day.
“ I am sure of this much: that He who has begun this good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:3-6).
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone
Diocesan Administrator of Portland / Bishop-Designate of Buffalo