Bishop Frank Caggiano and the ‘Power of the Table’
The Bridgeport, Connecticut, shepherd shares his thoughts on the Convocation for Catholic Leaders and the road ahead.
Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, received an enthusiastic round of applause during the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 1-4 when he unequivocally declared, “Nobody in this room is going to save the Church. We have a Savior, and his name is Jesus Christ!”
Bishop Caggiano was part of “The Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship” session that sought to explore and answer what a missionary disciple is and called to do in light of Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and other Church documents.
Bishop Caggiano saw in this gathering “a tremendous renewal of spirit.” He said it was a blessing that people met others in similar ministries from other areas of the country; many had conversed via email or phone but never met in person until this conference.
He shared his thoughts about the conference, discipleship and evangelization with Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen in an interview July 10.
There was a lot of applause at the “Catholic Convocation” — rightly so — when you declared, “Nobody in this room is going to save the Church. We have a Savior, and his name is Jesus Christ!” Why was that such an important message for you to share?
The temptation is to think “my way is the only way.” That’s not necessarily the case.
It’s an interesting phenomenon — the same thing happened at World Youth Day. When young people come to World Youth Day, they appreciate the enormity, the beauty and complexity of the Church, with all these different groups. People walked away with the sense there’s lots of good going on in the Church: the enormity of it, the seeds being sowed in the country by different apostolates. People walked away from the convocation with the greatest sense the Lord is using many different ways to bring new life and movement to the Church and their apostolates. We’re not fully meant to be who we’re meant to be until we’re all at the same table.
You also said we’re made worthy by the love of Jesus to be missionary disciples — and holiness plays a role in that: “A radical call to missionary discipleship calls us to a radical call to holiness.” How or why is holiness the precursor to evangelization?
You cannot give what you do not have. You cannot share whom you do not know. People will see right through it until you and I respond to that deep call to the Lord: Respond to his grace, be molded into his image and become his deep and enduring friend in the true sense of the word. We have to love him with our heart, soul, mind and body, and then we can certainly love our neighbor.
Ministry is not always being the things you do; ministry is also being the person who you are. Are you being a window into the heart of Jesus? Are they actually having an encounter with Jesus?
Let me give you an example: Someone who had the privilege of meeting Mother Teresa knew she loved the Lord before she opened her mouth. When she opened her mouth, she had an impact which you or I don’t have.
We sometimes make this much more complicated than it really is. Whether [you are] a housewife, lawyer, teacher, bishop — if you’re in love with Jesus and you love the Church, which is his Mystical Body in the world, anybody who meets you is going to know it.
“Come follow me” is exactly what the Lord asked.
You also spoke about healing divisions through community and hospitality. As you said, “We need to rediscover the power of the table.” How can the Church practically live that out?
“The table” is in the broader sense of the word. It’s also sharing a cup of coffee when you sit down with someone — sharing a meal, food, something to drink. You are inviting that person into a relationship with you.
If you look at the Lord’s ministry, how often he was at the table. He instructed and taught. And it was at a table where he gave us the great sacrament of the Eucharist, which binds us to him Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
I grew up in an Italian family. The soul of our house was the kitchen table. I think we need to rediscover the power of the table. If someone welcomes you to the table, you will feel treasured and respected when you sit with them and break bread with them.
When I was a seminarian, my mother always had her ritual at the table between 9 and 10 at night. She would put on a pot of coffee even though it wasn’t dinner. [He would join her, and they would talk over daily life and everyday events.]
We sometimes think the power of the table is only at dinner. But it can be over a glass of wine or sharing a cup of coffee. When I was a pastor in Brooklyn, I and a seminarian at the church ended up at the table at 10pm for coffee, and we talked about the day and ended with Compline (Night Prayer).
Then, when you start inviting other people to that table — that is evangelization.
Have you seen this working in a parish?
A number of pastors are having “Dinner With the Pastor”: They’re inviting five or six couples from the parish every few weeks to have a meal at the rectory. The pastor cooks, or someone else does, so parishioners get to know the pastors in a totally new way. There is no agenda. After a few years doing that, those parishes are going to be completely reborn.
You also addressed outreach to young people. How can the Church make sure she hears the needs of youth? What is part of this outreach?
[This is one of] the things dear to my heart. Young people and young adults don’t want to be considered a problem to be solved. They are not a problem to be solved. They are facing their own unique challenges and want someone to listen. The challenges are daunting … technology, the internet.
We need to both accompany young people and ask them to literally “step it up.” What I mean by “stepping it up” is that young people do not want an easy way into the faith.
You ask young people to do the stretching, and they will stretch. Otherwise, what we’re asking of them is not worth their total commitment. My experience with young people is you don’t have to water down the faith. Give them the real faith, and they will respond.
They need to be accompanied [because] there are a lot of obstacles. That takes a lot of patience, a lot of time, and can get messy — but do that, as Pope Francis is asking; they will become the next generation of leaders in the Church.
What are your main takeaways of the convocation? What stands out?
There was this tremendous energy or vitality in the group. There was no shortage of goodwill and intention and a desire to do good.
I was very encouraged by the networking. People made connections; people saw they were not alone. I think friendships were born in this convocation that will bear fruit.
One challenge has everything to do with this idea of humility and listening. We still need to do a tremendous amount of work to get everyone moving in the same direction, to truly discover the power of collaboration.
The hope in my diocese is to work on that specifically. [There are] a lot of good things going on, but people don’t know about it. That’s what we’re going to be working on here — getting people more information and support so that they can work with each other, not separately.
It was about the joy of the Gospel. If we strive for personal holiness — even if we forget the words to talk about the Good News — our very lives will proclaim the Good News. It will be inescapable. People will begin to hear the message.
I had the opening Mass for the opening convocation of the Sisters of Life this morning. I said to them, “It is only the exercise of great love that can allow a heart that is indifferent and grown cold to love again. Holiness invites hearts that are indifferent to love again; it teaches what to do with those hearts once they start loving again. When you put holiness and ministry together, then you are cooking with real fire.”
What are the hopes for your diocese and for the Church at large as a result of this gathering?
For the Church at large in the United States, it was certainly a shot in the arm. For our diocese, it comes in a great moment in our lives. … This is, for us at every level of leadership, a clarion call.
Now is a time for renewal. We need a uniform vision adapted to needs, but we all have to be looking in the same direction. Coming out, the convocation was a great grace to begin that conversation with everyone and move forward.
What do you see as the first things a parish and individual should aim to put into practice from four days in Orlando?
In order to do what the Lord is asking of us, begin by looking at yourself in the mirror and assess — honestly — your relationship with the Lord. This is the first and most important step to be taken. Then all falls into place.
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