In late June I had the opportunity to return to Rome for the celebration of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29. It’s a holiday in Rome and a time for the conferral of the pallium on the metropolitan archbishops from all across the world. This year three of them came from the United States, Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. Over the years I have been a very good friend of Archbishop Listecki and I was grateful that I was able to be with him. We taught high school together back in the late 1970s. Back then he was making some new beginnings and I was on my last legs as a teacher at the secondary level. I was one of the co-consecrators when he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in Chicago back in January 2001. He and his family have been good friends [of mine] over the years and twelve years ago he accompanied me to Rome when I received the pallium.
To be honest, as a young priest in Chicago I never noticed that my archbishop wore a pallium. You yourselves may be similarly unfamiliar with this sign of an archbishop’s authority. The pallium is a circular stole made of lamb’s wool. It reminds the man that he is, first of all, a shepherd. The pallium goes around the archbishop’s neck and is worn over his chasuble when he celebrates the Eucharist, usually on Sundays and/or other special occasions. It has a 12-inch strip of material hanging down the front and the back.
When I wear the pallium, I am reminded of my unique ties to the Vicar of Christ in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI. It likewise serves to remind me of my ties to you, the good people whom I am called to serve as a successor of the apostles. I am more mindful of my responsibility to be a bridge between our Holy Father and the people he has entrusted to my pastoral care. Because I had the privilege of studying in Rome as a young man, my affection for the successor of St. Peter is genuine and I hope it is reflected in the way I speak about him and serve you.
This year 38 bishops from around the world received the pallium. As always, when we gather at the Vatican with the Pope, the tremendous diversity and universality of the Catholic Church is clearly reflected in all that we say and do. The pallium ceremony takes place at the papal altar where Mass is celebrated only by the Pope. This particular altar is situated right above the tomb of St. Peter. At the end of the Mass our Holy Father stopped to pray at the tomb of Peter, before leaving in procession with the new archbishops.
When conferring the pallium upon the new archbishops, the Holy Father offers the following exhortation: “May this pallium be a symbol of unity and a sign of your communion with the Apostolic See, a bond of love, and an incentive to courage. On the day of the coming and manifestation of our great God and chief shepherd, Jesus Christ, may you and the flock entrusted to you be clothed with immortality and glory.” This is a good reminder for me of the great affection I have for you and our Holy Father. It also prods me to carry out my duties with courage and a brave heart.
Most Rev. John Vlazny
Archbishop of Portland