In Baltimore: Let There Be Light

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is Baltimore’s historic Seven Foot Knoll, the oldest surviving screwpile lighthouse in the United States, and the only one of this type.

A screw-pile lighthouse is one which stands on piles that are screwed into sandy or muddy sea or river bottoms.  The Seven Foot Knoll lighthouse was built in1856, and has been inactive since 1987.  It consists of a round, dark red single-story keeper’s cottage crowned by a black cylindrical lantern and gallery.  The architectural landmark originally stood at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, but it was relocated in 1988 to the Inner Harbor waterfront, where it is now used as a museum and learning center.  It appeared frequently in the 1990s hit television police drama Homicide: Life on the Street.

Here in Baltimore for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall General Assembly, I have a birds-eye view of Seven Foot Knoll from my hotel window.  I’ve come to juxtapose the lighthouse and the Bishops’ Conference in the same word cloud—since the Marriott has been home to the USCCB General Assembly for a number of years.

And just as the lighthouse shines to warn ships if they stray too near the rocks, so does the Church guide its people with the light of Truth.  Here in Baltimore this week, the U.S. bishops will have something to say about many important issues facing the Church and society.

Religious Liberty – Today the newly constituted Religious Liberty Committee has been meeting in closed-door session, and Committee Chair Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport will likely report to the full assembly tomorrow.  The threats to our freedoms from the current Administration have been wide-ranging, from government support for same-sex “marriage” to the HHS contraceptive mandate for health care plans, to the recent denial of support for the Bishops’ highly effective programs to help victims of human trafficking.  President Obama recently criticized the House’s “In God We Trust” vote, suggesting that it was no more important than the discussion of a commemorative coin for baseball and scolding the Congress for its failure to address the “more important” issue of job creation.

Health Care – The bishops will vote this week on whether to make the Task Force on Health Care into a permanent Subcommittee on Health Care Issues, which would report to the Committee on Doctrine.  An odd placement, you think?  Not really, when you consider the thorny issues on which the USCCB has spoken this year:  Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, non-Catholic hospitals in Catholic healthcare systems, for-profit Catholic health care, canonical status of Catholic health care facilities, conscience protections for Catholic health care institutions and Catholic medical professionals, and health care reform.  Under the broad umbrella of health care would fall the familiar issues of abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, transplants, and more.

The bishops will be addressed for the first time by Conference president Archbishop Timothy Dolan, and will also hear the first address by our new Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.  A private, bishops-only reception for the Nuncio, who arrived Saturday from Italy, is planned for Monday evening.

Other issues before the bishops this week have perhaps less razzle-dazzle, but are also important within the life of the Church:

  • Elections – Elections of the USCCB secretary-elect, five chairmen-elect of committees, election of the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, and board members of the Catholic Relief Services.
  • Financial Reports – Discussion and approval of the “Resolution on Diocesan Financial Reporting.” The resolution will call for yearly voluntary financial reporting by a diocesan bishop to the archbishop who heads his ecclesiastical province. The resolution respects the autonomy of the local bishop as he administers the material resources of his diocese, yet provides a vehicle for fraternal cooperation and support among all bishops of the province.
  • New Texts for Blessing of the Oils – Following implementation of the New Roman Missal, changes are being proposed for the Blessing of the Oils for Catechumens, the Sick, and for Consecrating the Chrism.
  • Optional Memorials – New optional memorials are being considered for the calendar of the Church in the United States: the Memorial of Blessed John Paul II (October 22) and the Memorial for Blessed Marianne Cope (January 23). If approved, these two memorials will be observed by the Church throughout the U.S.
  • Priorities and Plans – The bishops will vote on three priority initiatives for 2013-2015.
  • Reports – Formal reports will be submitted by:
    • The Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage
    • Cardinal Daniel DiNardo on the work of Project Rachel, the post-abortion healing ministry
    • Cardinal Donald Wuerl on Anglicanorum coetibus, the Vatican’s response to groups of Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church.
    • Bishop Kevin Farrell on the proposed publication of the Committee on National Collections guidelines

I’ll be here in Baltimore this week, watching the wheels of the Church as they turn. I’ll be talking with bishops and with members of the media, joining in common prayer, listening to the debate on the floor. Watch for my reports as the week goes on.

And please, of course, keep our bishops in your prayers as they seek to preserve, protect and promulgate our Faith.  One way to pray in a special way for the bishops is to join the Rosary for the Bishops Project.

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