Friday, June 12, 2009
More on our new Archbishop
Archbishop Aymond thrilled to head his native Archdiocese of New Orleans
Friday June 12th 2009
Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, the first New Orleans native named to head the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its 216-year history, said June 12 he was humbled by Pope Benedict XVI’s appointment...
By Peter Finney Jr.NEW ORLEANS – Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, the first New Orleans native named to head the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its 216-year history, said June 12 he was humbled by Pope Benedict XVI’s appointment and pledged to listen and minister to those who have been affected by the restructuring of the local church in the four years since Hurricane Katrina.Archbishop Aymond, 59, who has been Bishop of Austin, Texas, since 2000 and who previously served for 19 years as professor and then rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, succeeds Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes as the 14th Archbishop of New Orleans.Archbishop Hughes turned 75 on Dec. 2, 2007, and served for 18 months past the age limit established in canon law for bishops to submit their resignation to the pope. Archbishop Aymond will be formally installed as archbishop at an Aug. 20 Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, and Archbishop Hughes will act as administrator of the archdiocese until then.Archbishop Aymond said he would examine the pastoral plan necessitated by Hurricane Katrina and promised to meet with people who have been hurt by the closings of churches and schools. The archdiocese promulgated the final phase of its post-Katrina pastoral plan in April 2008, reducing the number of parishes from 142 to 108, citing a shortage of active priests, declining population and uninsured damage to churches, schools and other institutions.“I would be more than willing to reach out in a spirit of reconciliation to those who have been hurt, for whatever reasons, in the church,” Archbishop Aymond said.He said the “reorganization” of the archdiocese “was given a great deal of thought and prayer, and obviously I am not here to second guess my predecessor and the work that his staff did.”“But I certainly want to be a shepherd who would be willing to meet with people and talk to them and walk with them in a time of hurt … to make sure that the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of New Orleans is reaching out in all areas to care for the people,” Archbishop Aymond said.Also present for the news conference was former Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, the still spry 96-year-old who served as the 11th archbishop from 1965-89 and ordained Archbishop Aymond to the priesthood in 1975.“I did a great job!” Archbishop Hannan said with a laugh.“As you always do,” Archbishop Aymond replied.Archbishop Francis B. Schulte, who served as the 12th Archbishop of New Orleans from 1989-2002, was out of town. New Orleans holds a rare distinction of having four living archbishops.Knowing the New Orleans Archdiocese as well as he does should benefit him in his ministry, Archbishop Aymond said, although in some cases it might prove to be a mixed blessing.“There’s an old saying by Jesus that a prophet is acceptable except in his own country,” Archbishop Aymond said, “so I would hope that the prophet would be acceptable in his own native land. One of the fears is that I have been away for nine years, and so I want to reconnect with people and with the unique and wonderful culture that exists here – very Catholic and very spiritual. I want to make sure I take the time to do that.”Archbishop Hughes, who will remain in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and devote much of his time to spiritual direction and retreat work, said he was thrilled that Archbishop Aymond has the distinction of coming home to work with the people he knows best.“You are no stranger to us all,” Archbishop Hughes said.He applauded Archbishop Aymond for overseeing tremendous growth in the Austin Diocese over the last nine years, including an increase in the number of parishes and schools. He called the Austin campus ministry program a “a model for outreach to young adults of college age.”Archbishop Hughes also asked forgiveness of any parishioners hurt by the pastoral decisions he had to make in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.“The difficult decisions that I have been called upon to make have been made after careful consultation and prayerful discernment,” he said. “Inevitably, there will be those who differ with me. … God grant the understanding and the healing that will enable us to be the vibrant, evangelizing and eucharistic church he calls us to be.”Archbishop Aymond said he would travel to Rome June 29 to receive the pallium, symbolic of the authority of a metropolitan archbishop, from Pope Benedict XVI.“Even as I returned to New Orleans for vacations and to visit family and friends, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be back here as archbishop and doing ministry as the shepherd of this church,” Archbishop Aymond said. “But I accept that responsibility knowing that I will depend on God and God’s help. … I promise to stay close to the Lord in order that I can fulfill my episcopal ministry faithfully.“Certainly, like anyone else taking on new responsibilities, I have questions and fears, but I will place those in the hands of the Lord. God will walk with me and God will walk in front of me, showing me the way.”