New US Archbishops Look Forward to Serving God in Their Local Churches

For the three new metropolitan archbishops of American sees, the experience was a reminder of their mission as shepherds.

Newly appointed metropolitan archbishops from around the world at a Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square to receive their pallia June 29.
Newly appointed metropolitan archbishops from around the world at a Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square to receive their pallia June 29. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Newly appointed metropolitan archbishops from around the world received the traditional woolen vestment called a pallium during a special Mass with Pope Francis on June 29.

For the three new metropolitan archbishops of American sees, the experience was a reminder of their mission as shepherds of their local Churches, called to follow God and lead others to him.

The Mass, celebrated on the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul, was significant for Archbishop Paul Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, who told CNA he was “very mindful of the accompanying presence of these great saints.”

He is inspired by their great love for Christ and the Church, he said, and by the courage with which they went out into the world after encountering the Risen Lord.

“I just ask for as much of that same grace in my life and in ministry, that I can joyfully serve the Lord and present him to the world in a fashion that will be received.”

Archbishop-elect Charles Thompson of Indianapolis told CNA he knows he has a lot to learn and get to know in his new role, but he’s looking forward to serving God and serving the people of God as the shepherd of the local Church.

After the Mass, each archbishop has an opportunity to greet the Pope. For Archbishop-elect Thompson, this was his first personal encounter with Francis. Though the meeting was brief, Pope Francis “had a glow, had a great smile on his face,” he said.

“It really made me think about the joy of the Gospel and talking about having the joy of bringing people to Christ. Even though there’s also an awesome responsibility that I feel in this appointment, I just sense that the smile on his face was to do with joy: ‘Don’t let it overwhelm you. Trust in the Holy Spirit. Trust that God gives you the grace to fulfill this mission.’ And I’m banking on that, because I’m the least worthy of anybody here,” he said.

Archbishop Etienne, the previous bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, said that it was “a great privilege and a great honor” to receive the pallium from Pope Francis.

He was grateful for the Pope’s homily, which reminded him that they aren’t in this for themselves, but that they are “servants of the Lord.”

“Our life is to be giving a confession, our own witness to Christ, and we should not be surprised when the trials and the persecutions come our way; and the best way to get through it is to pray,” he said, recalling the Pope’s words. “So those are all three pretty good points that he made.”

For Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, this was his second time receiving the pallium, the first being when he was appointed archbishop of Indianapolis in 2012.

“It’s always a very moving moment to be with the Holy Father, to feel the connection with bishops from around the world and to deepen what it means to be a bishop,” he told CNA.

He explained that out of all the vestments he has to wear, his favorite is the pallium, which is a stole made from white wool and adorned with six black silk crosses. The wearing of the pallium by the Pope and metropolitan archbishops symbolizes authority as well as unity with the Holy See.

One significant thing about the pallium, Cardinal Tobin said, is the symbolism found in how it is worn: around the shoulders.

It shows “the obligation of the bishop to look for the one who’s lost and carry that one back on his shoulders. So that’s why, when I put it on my shoulders, I remember that,” he said.

It is traditional for the Pope to bestow the stole on new archbishops June 29 each year. The rite is a sign of communion with the See of Peter. It also serves as a symbol of the metropolitan archbishop’s jurisdiction in his own diocese as well as the other dioceses within his ecclesiastical province.

However, as a sign of “synodality” with local Churches, Pope Francis decided in 2015 that new metropolitan archbishops will officially be imposed with the pallium in their home dioceses, rather than the Vatican.

So while the new archbishops still journey to Rome to receive the pallium during the liturgy with the Pope, the official imposition ceremony is in their home dioceses, allowing more faithful and bishops in dioceses under the archbishop’s jurisdiction to attend the event.

Archbishop-elect Thompson, whose installation in Indianapolis will be held July 28, has the unique privilege of being imposed with the pallium at the same Mass as his installation, which he said will be “a great symbol.”

Archbishop Etienne was installed as archbishop of Anchorage Nov. 9, 2016, so he’s had a few months to begin settling in. “The people in Alaska count winters, so I’ve been in Anchorage one winter now,” he laughed.

Though the weather is cold, the people there are warm, he said, noting that they have all been grateful he accepted the appointment, since it isn’t easy to live in Alaska.

“It’s a very diverse Church,” he explained, but the people have been wonderful, “helping me to understand their ways and to embrace that new territory and all the people that are a part of it.”

Both Archbishop Etienne and Archbishop-elect Thompson said that learning about their new appointments came as quite a surprise.

“It’s a shock anytime you get one of those phone calls,” Archbishop Etienne said.

Moving to Anchorage was not something he expected, but “after a prayerful night, it became clear that if this is where Mother Church has asked me to go and where the Lord is leading, I promised him years ago I would follow. So Alaska’s my home now.”

Archbishop-elect Thompson, who only received his appointment June 3, said the last few weeks had been “a whirlwind,” especially having to plan so quickly for a trip to Rome.

When he received the phone call, he had just returned home from saying an ordination Mass for new priests in the Diocese of Evansville, Indiana, his previous post. In his homily that day, he said he had preached about missionary discipleship and how one cannot be comfortable or complacent in an assignment, but must be prepared to go out to the people, since it’s the Lord who calls us and sends us.

“So when I got this phone call, I got off the phone and thought, ‘Who was I preaching to this morning?’”

In Newark, Cardinal Tobin said there are so many people to serve that his work can be “daunting” at times, though it’s also “wonderful.”

He said, “I would say it certainly gets me on my knees, to pray for wisdom and light, and to pray for the people and all their needs.”