CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of an address that Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia gave Saturday when bishops of the ecclesiastical region of Pennsylvania and New Jersey met with John Paul II.
* * *
Most Holy Father,
The bishops of the Church that is in Pennsylvania and New Jersey gather today in the Holy Spirit around the sacred person of Your Holiness, Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ for the universal Church.
We rejoice in this hour of ecclesial unity, and with you, Holy Father, we profess our one holy Catholic and apostolic faith. With you we proclaim Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God, the Son of the Eternal Father, the Son of the Virgin Mary, the Savior of the world.
We represent a vast geographical area, rich in the history of the United States, and rich in the works of faith and love of our people. We bring with us the hopes and joys, the anxieties, the longings and the strivings of all our people, particularly our priests. We are blessed that in our group of 33 bishops, which include the metropolitan and suffragans of Philadelphia and Newark, we have eight bishops of Eastern Churches. These include the archeparchs of Philadelphia of the Ukrainians, and Pittsburgh of the Byzantines. The latter is accompanied by three suffragan eparchs. In addition we have the bishops of the Romanian Byzantine and Syrian eparchies. All of this is a sign of the rich ethnic backgrounds and cultures of our people. Our group takes in, besides the ordinaries, auxiliary and retired auxiliary bishops and the diocesan administrator of Harrisburg. Five of our bishops have just been recently ordained.
All of us cherish this time of being with Your Holiness, just as the apostles cherished the opportunity to be with Jesus before setting out on their mission. We want you to know how much strength we draw from your teaching and example, which faithfully reflect the love of Christ the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the flock.
Your Petrine teaching and pastoral ministry over the years have confirmed us in the faith. You have visited some of our dioceses, and next month the Latin and Ukrainian Archdioceses of Philadelphia will commemorate the 25th anniversary of your presence among us.
In so many ways we have experienced the support and assistance of Your Holiness and the Holy See. In times of joy and in times of suffering and great difficulty — one of which was three years ago this very day, September 11, 2001 — your presence and your closeness to us have encouraged and sustained and challenged us. We know that this is part of Christ’s plan for the Church. We praise God that we are not alone. We remember the words of Jesus: “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone” (John 8:29).
Holy Father, even as we recommit ourselves in your presence to the faithful fulfillment of our pastoral office, we assure you of our love and support and ask the Mother of Jesus to sustain you in grace and strength.
Justin Cardinal Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia