On March 13 of this year, I was attending a meeting at our diocesan pastoral center when he heard that white smoke had arisen from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican indicating that the cardinal electors had selected a new pope for the Church to succeed Pope Benedict XVI whose surprise resignation as Bishop of Rome had come a few weeks earlier.
A TV had been set up in one of the meeting rooms and we gathered to await the announcement of the new pope. Finally, one of the cardinals came to the balcony above St. Peter's Square and made tne now traditional announcement: Habemus papam! We have a pope! Cheers erupted from the square as the world waited to hear who the choice was. In Latin, the cardinal went on to announce the cardinals had selected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina who had selected the name Francis (a first). We wondered: Who is this man?
From the moment he stepped onto the balcony in a simple white cassock and bowed his head and asked for the prayers of the people, the world fell in love with Pope Francis. He has made an impact not only of those who share his religious faith but many in the world, including atheists. From the beginning of his pontificate, he has shown what it means to be a true servant of the Lord. His humble lifestyle (not living in the papal apartments, paying his own hotel bill where he stayed before the conclave, being driven in a simple automobile, etc.) has resonated with people. His genuine love and concern especially for those in the margins of our society is noteworthy.
Pope Francis does have his critics. No one in any position of leadership in either church or world can escape having critics and Francis is no exception to this. Some of the criticism has come from the more traditional wing of the Roman Catholic Church. I recently read where one in this group felt that the "pope had thrown them under the bus." This is perhaps because he has not slavishly followed all the nuances and rules such as when he went to a prison on Holy Thursday (rather than being in St. Peter's) and washed the feet of the prisoners (including those who were not Catholic and women as well).
To those critics, I would point to some of Jesus' own words to the critics of his day: I say to you, someone greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," you would not have condemned these innocent men (the disciples who plucked grain on the sabbath). For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath. (Matt. 12: 6-8) And again: They (the Pharisees) tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not life a finger to move them....Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You...have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (Matt. 23: 4; 23)
The pope has also shown a very human side by reaching out physically to many people, particularly the children. How many times have we seen him at a general audience stop and take a child, kiss and bless it. For again, we read in Matthew: Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matt. 19:14).
For some time now, we have heard people speak the letters: WWJD. What would Jesus do? I believe we can see in Francis what Jesus would do; reach out with love, compassion and mercy to all he may touch. May the good Lord give Pope Francis many years of health to be able to guide our Church in these difficult times.
I first met Howard Hubbard when we were seminary students in 1958. I look back on these fifty-five years of our friendship which I highly cherish. Howard finished his seminary studies in Rome and returned to the Diocese of Albany (New York) in 1964. His early priesthood saw him serving as a "street priest" in a poorer section of the City of Albany where he worked at Providence House, a storefront ministry. He was also instumental in founding Hope House, a place where treatment could be offered to those suffering the pains of addiction to drugs. He later became involved in personnel work for the diocese and in 1977, Pope Paul VI nominated him as the ninth bishop of Albany after only being a priest for 14 years. At the time, he was the youngest bishop in the United States.
In addition to being my friend, Howard Hubbard has also been my bishop for the past 36+ years. He has accomplished many things during his tenure in this office, most significant among them being his pursuit of social justice and for his efforts to bring together people of varying faith traditions to work for the common good. Several weeks ago, he was honored for his work in ecumenical and interfaith efforts by people from not only the Christian churches, but also those representing the Jewish faith, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. It was one of the most memorable events that I have attended in a long time ane was a tribute to Bishop Hubbard's tiresless efforts at forging good relationships with various religious traditions. He is often referred to by people in those traditions as "our bishop."
In October of this year, a special liturgy was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany honoring the bishop who celebrates fifty years of priesthood this year. Over 1300 were in attendance including a number of bishops from around New York State, Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Edward Egan of New York and a large number of priests and deacons. I had the privilege of serving as deacon of the Eucharist at this Mass. The love and affection that the people of this diocese have for our bishop truly shone as he arrived in the Cathedral to thunderous applause. He has also been feted at various events by various groups throughout the diocese and this part of our state to honor his great work. Having reached his 75th birthday at the end of October, by church practice he submitted his resignation as the bishop of Albany and we await the announcment of his successor sometime in the future. My prayer is that he will continue to enjoy good health and peace during his retirement years.
Over 27% of my life has been involved with a parish in Troy, New York - Sacred Heart Parish. I served as parish organist and choir director there from 1966-86 and in 2012 was asked to serve as the temporary administrator of the parish while the current pastor was on medical leave.
From 1973-2000, the pastor who served the parish was Father James Vaughan. I had the privilege of having him as my "boss" for thirteen years while serving as music director. In Father Vaughan, I saw an example of what a true priest of Jesus Christ should be: a man of deep prayer and love for his people. Many people with whom I have spoken and who know Father Vaughan consider him one of the most - if not the most- revered priest in our diocese.
In the early 1960s I joined a group of young adults known as the Catholic Young Adult League. There were groups in each of the three cities in our Capital District area of New York. Through this group, I met my wife (now of fifty years) and the chaplain of our group was a young priest whose name was Father James Vaughan. I got to know Father Vaughan well at that time and was privileged to be able to serve with him at Sacred Heart Church.
It is often felt that when a pastor retires, he should not remain living at the parish he served less he be seen as intruding on the work of his successor. In the case of Father Vaughan, nothing could be further from the truth. He has remained a resident at Sacred Heart and is seen as a source of wisdom and guidance by his successors. He is much loved by the people of the parish and they are always greeted by him with a big smile. (He also loves the New York Yankees and the New York Giants!)
My prayer for Father Vaughan is that God will continue to grant him good health so that he may be able to remain among the people he loves to serve.
I have blessed by these three men in my life and know that God will keep them always in his heart.