May is a busy time for you with graduations and confirmations, but do those ceremonies allow you to interact and celebrate with the young people and their families?
Yes. These are opportunities to honor graduates and their accomplishments in high school and college and celebrate with them as they prepare for the next part of their journey in life. The last part of the second semester of the school year is a busy time for confirmations, so as bishops we get to see hundreds and hundreds of young people as we call down the Holy Spirit upon them. We also have many award ceremonies for Catholic youth. We can’t forget the reality that whenever we excel and reach some kind of accomplishment, our success is enabled because of God’s gifts to us and our willingness to use those gifts to the best of our ability.
How important is it for you to be with families in a relaxed setting when you greet them after these ceremonies?
These are very enjoyable events that give me the opportunity to be a part of their individual families. I relish the opportunity to meet family members and speak with them. I get to hear various stories about the graduates or those who are being confirmed. It’s a reminder to me that the health and the togetherness of the family dictate the health of our society and the health of the church.
What kind of stories do you hear from parents about their children?
Certainly, when I meet with families after confirmation, sometimes the newly confirmed will walk off and I’ll be alone with their parents. They often relate to me the very powerful character traits of their child – things like their thoughtfulness to others or their faith experience. I was at a confirmation recently and was talking to one of the altar servers. He mentioned to me that after he had gotten to high school, he had stopped serving because he felt out of place. But then he told me he was glad that his parish had invited him to continue serving at Mass, and he wanted to come back because he felt this was an important part of his faith. Those are the kinds of experiences that prompt me to tell people all the time that we often underestimate the strength and vigor of the young church and the young adult church. Our young people are such great witnesses to the church and society. These are not empty words on my part. When I see the young adult church at awards ceremonies for the CYO and at confirmations and graduations, I really do think that the young church, in the present, is alive and well. They are very powerful witnesses.
I hear from their teachers and youth ministers how some of them are not afraid to stand up for their faith, even if it means people will not understand them or dislike them. These young people truly embody the charity of Christ. They often go out to the person who is left on the sidelines and who otherwise would not have a friend. These are young people who believe the teachings of Christ have made a difference in their lives, and they go to Mass on Sunday and try to influence others – sometimes even their parents – to join them. These are the kind of true stories that should help us pause and realize that the young adult church of today not only has something to offer but also has the potential of being good teachers to us as adults.
On another matter, how concerned are you about state budget cuts that might affect several Catholic Charities’ programs?
First of all, we’re very grateful to the state Legislature and to the governor for the Scholarships for Excellence program and for the educational reform package they have put in place. This will help education in general and have a very specific and positive influence on Catholic education. At the same time, we also acknowledge the challenging financial times that the Legislature finds itself in as it tries to balance the budget. We will continue to be in dialogue with the Legislature and the governor to remind them that if the proposed House budget cuts pass, the Medicaid rate would be reduced between 4 to 10 percent, and that would translate into a decrease in funding to Catholic Charities of about $1.2 million. Some of the programs that would be affected deal with developmentally handicapped children and our frail elderly. Our PACE program offers 158 frail seniors a place to come every day for emotional, physical, spiritual and medical assistance. We have other programs that would be in jeopardy such as mental health services for the chronically mentally ill and those that provide for the poor and the vulnerable who do not have any other options. So while we are sympathetic to the challenges of the Legislature, people should know that the budget cuts could affect many agencies, including those of the church. That would mean we would be able to provide fewer services for those who are in need. We hope and pray that those who are making these decisions know these realities. Pray for them and pray for us as we face these challenges.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.