Archbishop Hebda credits Eternal City for historical perspective

| May 12, 2016 | 0 Comments
Archbishop Bernard Hebda celebrates his appointment to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis March 24 with archdiocesan priests and staff over coffee and biscotti at Cossetta’s Pasticceria in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda celebrates his appointment to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis March 24 with archdiocesan priests and staff over coffee and biscotti at Cossetta’s Pasticceria in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Young Father Bernard Hebda wasn’t too excited about leaving a university chaplaincy to work in Rome, but, nonetheless, he quickly found great satisfaction in the canon law responsibilities that moved him overseas in 1996 — and not just because he loves a morning espresso or pasta for dinner.

In addition to a mentally stimulating job, he found tasks to keep him pastorally grounded while living in the Eternal City from 1996 to 2009, and those 13 years — plus the four he spent as a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College — have broadened his view of the Church.

The newly installed archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis had been ordained for eight years, had held a number of positions in his home Diocese of Pittsburgh and loved his assignment as campus minister at Slippery Rock State University in Pennsylvania when the request came from his bishop that he take a position on the staff of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

He had earned a law degree from Columbia University and worked as an attorney in Pittsburgh before entering the seminary, and also earned a canon law degree as a priest, so he was obviously qualified for the post.

However, “I wasn’t interested in the least,” he said, “because it was an office job, not something that was directly pastoral.”

His attitude changed, he admitted, when he got to Rome and found the work engaging.

“What the council did is help the pope with any type of legislation,” the archbishop said. “So, if he was going to be issuing a law, we were going to be helping him draft that, for example, or make sure it was consistent with other laws. We would be the group that would consider how it might be received in different parts of the world.”

The council also helped episcopal conferences from around the world, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with proposals for policies that would need to have the approval of the Holy See, he said, such as whether there should be a term limit on how long a priest could serve as pastor of a parish or how marriage preparation would be done.

“It was actually a very interesting experience . . . seeing how the Church from different parts of the world was responding to the challenges they faced,” he said.

The small group also essentially served as the in-house law office for the Holy See’s various offices, Archbishop Hebda said, so he got a sense of what was going on throughout the Vatican.

The archbishop, who through promotion became the No. 3 person on the staff as the undersecretary, said he was privileged to assist the U.S. bishops as they were trying to formulate a legal approach for norms that would be standard across the country for dealing with the painful experience of clergy sexual abuse.

He was able to explain the U.S. civil legal system to his superiors at the Vatican, and, meanwhile, speak with those who were preparing those norms in the United States about the Church’s understanding and the importance of consistency throughout the world.

“That was several years worth of work . . . that has had an impact in the lives of individual Catholics,” Archbishop Hebda said.

An opportunity to do more than office work in Rome came from the Pontifical North American College, the national seminary of the United States located just a short walk from St. Peter’s Basilica. It was where he had lived and received formation while studying at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

NAC officials invited him to be one of their adjunct spiritual formation directors, work he had done in Pittsburgh.

“That was really inspiring,” Archbishop Hebda said. “It was just a time when the college started to boom, to grow. It was really an encouraging environment, an affirming environment from my own priesthood.”

Along with prompting him to be serious about his own spiritual life, he valued that the experience brought him into contact with people from different backgrounds.

“One of the things that they shared in common was the sense that the Lord was asking them to be a priest,” the archbishop said. “I think that gave me a pretty good sense for the Church in different parts of the United States, including Minnesota.”

The Missionaries of Charity in Rome also enabled him to use his priestly ministry outside of the Vatican office as a confessor for the sisters.

“Mother Teresa had the wonderful insight that it would be good for all of her sisters to share a common language,” Archbishop Hebda said, “so even though they came from all over the world, she insisted that they speak to one another in English, and that they have Mass in English, and that they would go to confession in English, so they were always looking for English-speaking priests.”

“Just their joy, their commitment to doing the humble work in the Church, their perseverance, all of those things really inspired me,” the archbishop said, “and I hope that I take a little bit of that with me. I really was delighted to learn that the sisters are here in the archdiocese.”

Taken together, his years in Rome helped to shape his understanding of the universal nature of the Church, he said, a value he brings to his ministry in Minnesota.

“The universality is really important, especially as we see the multicultural dimensions of our community here,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Just being attentive to the experience of the immigrant, for example, or the experience of how the faith is lived might not be the same in different parts of the world, so you have to be a little bit broader in your understanding in that way.”

Living close to the rich history preserved in Rome gave him a sense of the challenges the Church has faced in the course of 2,000 years.

“It does, I think, help me to have a longer view,” he said. “Even as we face some of the challenges here, [that longer view helps] to recognize that there have been other periods of history that have been even more challenging than what we’re experiencing.”

Among those current challenges is the interpretation and implementation of the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965. Periods of adjustments were required after ecumenical councils throughout Church history, he noted.

“In the course of our listening sessions [last fall in the archdiocese], we heard Vatican II cited so often,” he said. “But when you have the broader view of history, you realize that’s not something new to the Second Vatican Council. There was that period of adjustment after the First Vatican Council and after the Council of Trent.

“So,” he added, “having that sense that somehow or another, all these things work out, and as long as we stay focused on Jesus and God’s love, we persevere in trying to discern that the Lord is going to bless what the Lord is doing.”

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Category: Welcome Archbishop Hebda