Catholic Bishop Richard J. Malone and Episcopal Bishop R. William Franklin joined together on Feb. 21 to dialogue with each other and the public about issues important to both dioceses. Billed as "Conversation with Two Bishops: A Discover Sunday Event," the gathering served as part of an ongoing partnership between the two bishops that began with the release of a December 2014 joint pastoral letter.
In this letter and a follow up letter released last June, the bishops have asked that minorities and the needy do not get excluded from the growing prosperity in the city of Buffalo and surrounding areas.
The event was part of the Episcopal Church's Discover Sunday program, a once-a-month public meeting for fellowship.
Bishop Malone welcomed over 85 to St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo. He introduced Bishop Franklin by pointing out that the Catholic and Episcopal cathedrals, which stand a short distance from each other, were both built in the 1850s, a time of great religious growth.
Dennis Black, one of two moderators said this would be a conversation, not a debate, which seemed to relieve those who have had their fill of hot air from presidential hopefuls.
The first question was directed at Bishop Malone. What led to their first joint pastoral letter and what they hoped the impact would be?
"We were in a conversation one day about all the good things that are going on now in this great Buffalo area," Bishop Malone replied. "Then our conversations turned to the reality that not everyone in Buffalo is caught up in hope because of all this economic development. There are so many folks who, because of their situation right now, do not feel really they will be embraced by this moment of hope as we go forward. Will they be able to have jobs in these new industries and new technological things that will be opening up in the years ahead? That's the brief version of how we decided to work together to start to raise some questions about this and led to our first pastoral letter. That letter, the first one, really was the celebration of new hope in Buffalo after so many years when people were bereft of hope."
He recalled meeting a woman in the store shortly after his arrival here three and a half years ago. This woman thanked him for coming to the diocese, but added, "I don't know why anybody would come to Buffalo."
"That was a very depressing moment," the bishop said.
"That's really how we got into writing the pastoral letters, as a way for both of us to speak to both of our diocesan communities of faith, and to let them know that we were going to be walking the journey together - the journey of faith and the journey of mission, commitment, and we'd like to engage as many people in our dioceses as we could," he said.
What should our hopes and dreams be for Western New York?
"One of the things that Bishop Franklin and I hoped to, not accomplish - we don't want to get arrogant about it, but hope to stimulate more consciousness about how our faith communities must always be faced outward," Bishop Malone said. "There is a tendency in communities of faith, not just Catholic or Episcopal but all religious communities, to sometimes turn inward. I know we do that in the Catholic Church a lot. And only focus on internal issues, as important as they are. Our thought was ourselves first, then approaching our people, to remember our promulgation is to build the community in light of the coming of God's reign, God's kingdom on earth, so that working together slowly but surely each of us may contribute to making this world in Buffalo and Western New York gradually a bit more like God's kingdom, a kingdom of justice and peace and love."
Bishop Franklin said their work should be based in hope and Scripture. He wants to see the city as an "engine of hope" fueled by economic revival, environmental recovery, tourism based on architectural heritage, hope for children through education, and wants Buffalo welcome newcomers, making the city an attractive place for people to live.
Former WIVB-TV reporter and newly named director of Communications for the Catholic Diocese, George Richert, served as a second moderator, asking, "How do you see your previous lives and experiences preparing you for your roles as bishops?"
"I went into the seminary many, many years ago because I felt a call to serve the Lord as a parish priest," Bishop Malone said. "It was the diocesan priesthood that really attracted me because I really wanted to be in that kind of work in the midst of God's people. I was a parish priest for two years, then the Church does interesting things with us all, so I ended up in the work of Catholic education. I was a professor at the seminary in Boston for a while, then diocesan administration. I never know why, as a priest in Boston, I was in administration until I became a bishop. The plan was working. Looking back I can see, to some extent, the way God has been working in my life."
When looking back he can see how his ministries, successes and failures prepared him serving in Buffalo.
Bishop Franklin, a native of Brookhaven, Miss., spent 17 years teaching at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn. He said being in a cold place prepared him for Buffalo. Taught at Roman Catholic university, also worked in Rome for five years as associate priest at St. Paul's Within the Walls. So, he has a history of working with Catholics.
Perhaps the most important question to the audience was, how can individual members of the Church live out the call?
"The thing I hope the most for my Catholic folks is that all of us will respond to the Lord's constant grace, the gift of His grace for renewed and deeper faith, a faith that leads us to growth in holiness," Bishop Malone said. "One of the great themes of the Second Vatican Council was that every single Christian is called to grow in holiness, to grow in friendship with the Lord, friendship that is transformative. It is always my prayer, my hope and my commitment that as we work together, as our Church parishes and schools, whatever the institutions are that it's helping people, first and foremost to encounter Jesus on a daily basis in a real, up close and personal way because that encounter is transformative."
"If we can help the people in the pews to be as engaged as they are able to be in a number of Church activities and outreaches beyond Sunday worship. It's a wonderful thing."
Bishop Franklin agreed that inviting people into the church is the first important step.
Studies show involvement in religious activities does not come in the order of "believing, belonging, behaving," as once believed, but that the attraction starts with belonging, thinking they are wanted and needed, which changes behavior, then belief in faith.
The hourlong event closed with questions from the audience, which comprised of clergy, lay and religious from the Catholic Diocese, members of the Episcopal Diocese, and members of other local churches. The questions served more as requests for churches to be more welcoming to the disabled, Muslims and a rebuilding of the traditional family.
A reception followed at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral.