The following was Bishop Moynihan’s last column as ordinary of the Diocese of Syracuse, originally published in the May 21, 2009, edition of the Catholic Sun.
For those of you who may not have had the benefit of six years learning the language, and nine more spent in speaking and writing in it, the Latin words that begin this column mean “Hail and Farewell.”
“Hail” in the sense of a warm welcome to Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, who will be succeeding yours truly in the enviable task of shepherding the good people of the Diocese of Syracuse; “farewell” in the sense of “au revoir” (but not “goodbye”).
Bishop Cunningham and I have known each other for a number of years, most recently as members of the New York State Conference of Catholic Bishops, and on a wider scale, the U.S. Catholic Conference itself. We are both native sons of Upstate New York, Bishop Cunningham from the Diocese of Buffalo, and myself from the Diocese of Rochester. Now Bishop Cunningham comes to us after five years spent shepherding the priests and people of the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Before that, he was an associate pastor, a pastor, and a chancellor of the Diocese of Buffalo. But now, he says that he comes to us as a pastor once again, shepherding the flock of his brand new diocese.
In coming to Syracuse, he may have felt somewhat like I did on April 4, 1995. When I left LaGuardia Airport on that April morning to come here for the press conference and the announcement of my appointment, it was a rainy and rather miserable day in Gotham land. The skies continued overcast as we made our way northward, but as we approached Upstate New York, the clouds began to separate and I could see the land and the lakes down below. I said to myself as the plane descended and the clouds began to disappear, “I know this country — with its rolling hills and beautiful lakes and lush green hills and valleys — so different from the asphalt jungle I was leaving — I know this country and I feel that I am home.”
The intervening days between the announcement on April 4th and the installation on May 29th were days of excitement and anticipation, and I am sure that those same feelings are with our new bishop as he begins to disengage from his for- mer position and get used to the idea that from here on, his home will be the Diocese of Syracuse.
What a very special diocese it is. The territory is much smaller than the one he is leaving — 5,749 square miles verses 12,036 square miles — and it is a diocese that is very easy to get around in. I remember commenting on one occasion after my arrival, “I can get out of bed in the morning in Syracuse and shake hands with the people of Binghamton” — that’s as close and as personal as the people of the Southern Tier had already made me feel. Miles and distances between points are a serious consideration in the North Country, but in this diocese, the bishop is only an hour and ten minutes away from the See City when he is confirming in Binghamton, Endicott or Johnson City. The other evening I was speaking to Bishop Cunningham via telephone, and he told me that he had just returned from a confirmation in Champlain, which was a three hour drive from Ogdensburg. I assured him that there was no place in this diocese that would be so far removed from Syracuse because in comparison, distances are hardly a factor here.
When all is said and done, however, it is not so much the rolling hills and sparkling lakes or the beautiful churches or the lush green country sides that make this Church of Syracuse so special. It is you the people — the clergy and the religious and the laity that make this plot of earth that is Central New York such a wonderful place to be.
During these years together we have all grown — spiritually, prayerfully and emotionally. Has there ever been more thought given to such topics as reconfiguration, reallocation of resources, rethinking of the blessings that we surely have enjoyed in preparation for the rethinking of how we can better utilize them in the future.
I believe that we have also become more tolerant, which is probably another way of saying more Christ-like. Diminishing numbers have had a way of forcing us to think of doing things in new ways, while at the same time not losing the values and the precious treasures that have come to us from our rich past.
Surely I am very conscious of the fact that I myself would not even be here now had it not been for the multitude of prayers and rosaries and Masses that have been offered on my behalf during the months of my recovery from heart valve surgery, and later the insidious effects of an infection that would not go away. My orthopedic surgeon said to me recently: “Bishop, if a hundred people were as sick as you were last summer, all one hundred would have died.” Some might chalk that up to the miracles of modern medicine and antibiotics. But you and I know better. We know that some “miracles” are also the direct result of endless and heartfelt prayers.
Bishop Cunningham’s big day will be May 26, 2009, the Feast of St. Philip Neri, a beloved priest of 16th century Rome. He was famous for his humility and his selfless love of people of all ages, particularly the young. In this time in which we live, we pray that St. Philip Neri will bestow a special blessing upon our new diocesan bishop, and that he will also be known for his selfless love of others, both the young and the not so young — but all of them the young at heart.
As for this outgoing bishop, you can pray that he will soon have two new knees that will carry him on for a few more years.