Nearly 300 people gathered at Windows on the River Feb. 10 to hear Bishop Edward Malesic address the First Friday Club of Cleveland during the 62nd annual Bishop’s Address. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, last year’s address was delivered on the Zoom platform.
“This is our first gathering with the bishop in two years,” Bill Prebel, First Friday Club president, told the group, which included students from area high schools, club members, diocesan employees, members of religious orders and other guests.
Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries, the club’s longtime spiritual moderator, received the first Heart of a Servant Award, which is named in his honor.
Bishop Malesic’s presentation focused on three major topics: the Synod on Synodality, the upcoming Eucharistic Congress and an update on the Keeping the Faith initiative to strengthen Catholic schools in the Diocese of Cleveland. (Watch video below)
He reminded the group that the past two years have been very challenging and painful. “Together, we continue to pray for all those who have died due to the pandemic and those still in need of recovery. Way too many of them,” he said. The bishop also credited the Catholic schools, students and teachers for their perseverance, remaining open when others were closed and returning to in-person education earlier that most schools, “because of their dedication, discipline and perseverance.”
Regarding the Synod on Synodality, the bishop said it is about “listening and walking together a pilgrim people.”
The worldwide listening effort began last year at the behest of Pope Francis. “We walk as a Church together. Because we are in the same boat, it is best that we row in the same direction – together,” the bishop said.
As a Church on journey, he said question arise including how to walk together better, how to evangelize the world with the fire of faith, how to improve our engagement with people on the peripheries and how to row the boat in the same direction. The two-year synod, which will culminate with a meeting of bishops in 2023 in Rome, will help answer those questions, Bishop Malesic said.
According to the pope, the purpose of the synodal process -- “which involves the totality of the baptized” -- is not to gather personal opinions, but to “listen to the Holy Spirit.” This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s renewal promised by the Second Vatican Council, “is both a gift and a task,” the bishop said. “By walking together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to discern ways to help her live in communion, to achieve participation and to open herself to mission.”
The bishop urged all to participate in listening sessions to gather information or to participate in an individual session, available online through the diocesan synod web page. Diocesan information will be compiled into a national report, which will be presented in Rome. It seems likely the pope will issue a document on the subject of Being Church better, he added.
The diocesan synodal process will conclude in June with a daylong gathering of about 500 people representing the diverse populations of the diocese to review what has been heard around the eight-county diocese and to discuss how to move forward together a the Church in Northeast Ohio.
Regarding the focus on the Eucharist, the bishop said a 2019 Pew Research Study revealed that less than one-third of self-identified Catholics expressed a belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, which shocked United States bishops and many others.
Since the beginning of our faith, Bishop Malesic said the Church taught that at the Last Supper, “when Jesus said to his apostles, ‘This is my body’ and ‘This is my blood,’ he meant it.” Unfortunately, a majority of Catholics does not believe what the Catechsim of the Catholic Church says: “the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore, the whole of Christ, is truly, really and substantially contained.”
“We either need to teach more clearly or be more persuasive about what we believe. Perhaps we must do both,” the bishop said, which is why the U.S. bishops launched a major movement to rekindle that knowledge, understanding and love of the Eucharist.
“My ministry, and the role of every bishop, is to teach clearly and authentically what the Church teaches, including how the sacrament of the Eucharist is administered, prayed, understood, reverenced and how the faithful are transformed by this sacrament. We must also teach in a way that changes hearts and minds and not only informs,” he added.
A vote last June by U.S. bishops authorized the drafting of a teaching document on the Eucharist intended to focus on the importance of nurturing an ever-deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives.
There will be a Eucharistic revival in the diocese, the bishop said, in order to continue to focus attention on the Eucharist. It will culminate with a National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Finally, Keeping the Faith, an initiative led by a task force to lead the diocese through a process of reviewing Catholic education and developing a proposal to help strengthen it, continues. Once the group completes its work, it will present a strategic plan to the bishop. With additional consultation, he will review the plan and begin to implement it in the 2022-2023 school year. Although focused on elementary schools, the bishop said he hopes the plan will serve as a model that can be used to strengthen the Catholic high school system in the diocese and guide parish schools of religion, youth ministry and adult faith formation programs.
“We have a unique opportunity to set a course for the next five to 10 years and really work to stabilize Catholic elementary schools and help balance the resources in a more equitable manner, focusing on the needs of our children that only a Catholic education can provide, even for those who are not of the Catholic faith,” Bishop Malesic said. “We have an opportunity here to be bold and creative, and to help reshape the system to become vibrant communities of faith that seek to educate and form these young people in the tradition and ways of the Catholic Church.”
He said we cannot simply keep doing things the same way and expect better results for the children, parents and parishes. “We also must communicate why Catholic schools make a difference,” he added.
The bishop also reflected on the virtue of gratitude, which he said, “Is baked into everything we do and everything we are.” He quoted Scripture that tells us “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” If we believe this, the bishop said, “Then hope flows and gratefulness abounds, even during the taxing times in which we live.”
He reminded the gathering that the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, means thanksgiving and the Mass itself is the ultimate prayer of thanksgiving.
“To be grateful is the beginning of a life filled with joy. It is that joy that we often see in the poorest of the poor. May we have the same attitude that allows us to see everything we have as a gift from God – and be thankful with joy for our many blessings,”
Click here for more information on the First Friday Club of Cleveland.