From Rome to St. Louis to Philly

Archbishop Justin Rigali was born and raised in Los Angeles, but after he was ordained for that archdiocese, he was sent to Rome for studies and put at the service of the wider Church.

He became a Vatican diplomat and was the English-language translator for Popes Paul VI and John Paul I. Pope John Paul II named him president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where he served until he was named to head the St. Louis Archdiocese nine years ago.

Archbishop Rigali will be installed as archbishop of Philadelphia on Oct. 7, succeeding Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Archbishop Rigali spoke with Register correspondent Thomas Szyszkiewicz as he was getting ready to move east.

You grew up in Los Angeles and were ordained for that archdiocese. However, you've spent very little time there in the last 42 years. Have you missed your hometown and your family?

You're right — I've spent very little time in Los Angeles. I go back occasionally, but the occasions are not that frequent. I've been very grateful for the Church in Los Angeles as the Church of my baptism, the Church of my ordination. One of my classmates in the seminary is the cardinal archbishop [Roger Mahony].

In 1987, one of the finest family reunions I ever had occurred actually on the occasion of the Pope's visit to Los Angeles. I was able to have an audience with the Pope — I was traveling with him; I was on his team at the time — and many members of my family were able to gather in, at that time, St. Vibiana's Cathedral, so it was a wonderful opportunity for members of the family, for nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews.

Many people know you are close to Pope John Paul II, but he's not the first pope you've served so closely. You were Pope Paul VI's English-language translator and accompanied him on some of his foreign travels. How did he react to the changes that came about in the immediate postconciliar period?

You have to keep in mind that Pope Paul VI was the one who guided the implementation of the Second Vatican Council; he was the great artisan of the changes. It was a very difficult period, but it was Paul VI who had to begin this very difficult process of implementation, and he did it with enormous energy and trust.

For example, he was the one who decreed the initial liturgical changes. He guided the Church during those years, gave directives of implementation and, of course, such a massive effort is difficult.

Another thing, which is extremely important, is the Second Vatican Council emphasized to a great degree the collegiality of the bishops — that is, their being participants with the Pope in the governance of the universal Church. This was something that needed implementation, and Pope Paul VI implemented this because he was the founder and the artisan of the synodal structure in the Church. He was the one who called together the Synod of Bishops, which has continued throughout all these years.

After so many years in Rome, you've seen the universality of the Church more than most people. What kind of adjustment was needed to go from that universal experience to being a bishop of a particular church?

One of the things that certainly is among the ideals of the Curia is that the universal Church is at the service of the People of God throughout the world. That's why these central offices even exist. That's why even in dioceses the central office exists in order to facilitate the work of evangelization that's done at the local level. So it was a wonderful preparation to see how everything is directed to the local churches, because it is on the local level that the People of God live.

So yes, there's a change when you're working at one level. The only thing is that when your work involves a vision of the Church, a vision that explains what you're doing in terms of the local Church, it makes it easier to make that adjustment and become part of that local Church, always in communion with the universal Church.

While in St. Louis, you expanded Eucharistic adoration to make it a central part of the life of the Church. Can you attribute any changes there as a result of that practice? Did you find it helpful as a means of evangelization?

I believe Eucharistic adoration as a very special form of prayer helps to sustain our people; it helps to give energy and life to the People of God. It helps them to prepare to come back to the Eucharistic action, the Eucharistic sacrifice, and it helps them to concentrate on what Vatican II says is the source and summit of our Christian lives, the Eucharist.

Whereas spiritual effects are not measurable as such, I'm sure that we can, without any error, say that yes, the people of God who have been involved in Eucharistic adoration have been sustained in their Christian lives and their disciple-ship.

Is it a means of evangelization? It certainly is, because, as [Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation] Evangelii Nuntiandi [on evangelization in the modern world] speaks about, part of evangelization is to be evangelized. The Church is evangelizing because she is an evangelized Church. And certainly in prayer and reflection before the Blessed Sacrament, people enter more deeply into the Gospel, into union with Christ, and this is a very important component of what it means to be evangelized. Holiness, intimacy with God, is essential to being evangelized and to evangelizing …

I've been told that your relationship with your priests has been a hallmark of your tenure in St. Louis. How did you go about establishing that?

When I first came to St. Louis, I told the priests, quite honestly, “You mean everything to me.” It's inconceivable to have the ministry of the bishop without the close collaboration of his priests. I believe that I have received the collaboration of the priests, and I have tried repeatedly to communicate to the priests always their great importance in the life of the Church. What they do is absolutely essential.

I think the priests have been very pleased to know that their ministry is deeply appreciated by the Church and, of course, by me. I've tried to maintain personal contact to be part of their lives, part of their joys and their sorrows, part of their challenges. … I'm deeply grateful for all that they have meant for the Church and have been for the Church and will always try and will continue to try to encourage them in their goal of holiness, because without holiness both priests and lay people will never attain the full measure of their discipleship with Jesus.

You place a great emphasis on the individual person's holiness of life. Do people after Mass ask you, “How do I become holy?”

Since I've come here, we have had the inauguration of a strategic pastoral plan. This was through many meetings; it wasn't a synod, but it was something like a synod. It was subsequently renewed and is in the process of being renewed again.

But the major goals are of great importance. The first major goal that we have is of conversion, or holiness of life. In other words, to be a Church means we have to be pursuing conversion to the Gospel, and that's where the Gospel opens; Jesus opens up his public life by saying, “Be converted, turn to the Gospel.” It means “turn to God, be holy.” This is our stated first goal in our pastoral plan; everything else is going to require this.

And besides the major goal itself, we also have priorities and action steps. We won't go into all of those, but some of those are the sacraments, the Eucharistic celebration of the People of God on Sunday, Eucharistic adoration, renewal of the sacrament of penance, prayer, family prayer, etc. All of these are means whereby we strive to attain the goal. But what is the goal? Conversion in the sense of “turn to the Gospel, turn and pursue holiness of life as disciples of Christ.”

That is what we've been emphasizing over and over again. The second is evangelization, the third one is Catholic education, the fourth one is serving those in need and the fifth one is stewardship, which is defined as the generous and right use of all that we have and possess.

So these are the five goals, but they start with and totally depend on the first goal.

St. Louis has the usual urban problems, but the archdiocese is mixed with a lot of farmers, too. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is an East Coast city with what outsiders might call an East Coast “attitude.” Do you think there will be much of an adjustment needed to accommodate the different styles, or do you think your worldwide experience will help to overcome that?

When I get to Philadelphia I'll have to try to learn the situation there. There will be an awful lot to learn. Whatever differences there are between Philadelphia and St. Louis, they probably won't be so great as the differences between Rome and St. Louis.

Or St. Louis and Madagascar.

Yes, Madagascar; I was there for three-and-a-half years.

But what is very comforting is that the Church is universal and we go where we're sent; the People of God are there and it's this magnificent Catholic unity of one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and we're all in communion with the Bishop of Rome and we're all in communion with everyone else the Bishop of Rome is in communion with.

So the individual dioceses have their own wonderful traditions. St. Louis has something I call the spirit of St. Louis, a wonderful legacy of faith that I've been privileged to serve here for nine-and-a-half years. When I get to Philadelphia I'll have to learn about all their special traditions of faith and piety. In the meantime, I think there are many wonderful parallels between the two archdioceses — they both have a splendid presbyterate and they both have faithful people. And they've been doing this for a long time. Both of them have a long history.

What do you look forward to most in Philadelphia?

I really haven't had time to figure things out. I just hope to be able to fulfill the desire of the Holy Father to be a good Catholic bishop and to proclaim Jesus Christ. And I look forward to the same amount of splendid collaboration, support and love that the People of God have given me here and to be able to serve them in fulfillment of the role of a Catholic bishop, which is the Good Shepherd, to lay down your life for the people God has given you as a flock.

Thomas Szyszkiewicz is based in Altura, Minnesota.