An opportunity for healing in Minnesota

In December 2015, Our Sunday Visitor named Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the coadjutor bishop for the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, who had been appointed in June as temporary apostolic administrator for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as one of our 2015 Catholics of the Year for one major reason: because he listened.

In 10 “listening sessions” attended by more than 2,000 faithful in the archdiocese, Archbishop Hebda gave a forum for members of the local Church to air their frustrations and concerns that were rooted in revelations of clergy sexual abuse, criminal charges, bankruptcy and poor management.

Just having the opportunity to be heard, it turns out, goes a long way. The meetings bore great fruit — not the least of which was the desire by the local faithful for Archbishop Hebda’s appointment to the Twin Cities to be more than temporary.

As Maria Wiering, editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the archdiocese, wrote in December: “One meeting attendee put this way: ‘Can’t you just stay?’”

Apparently, Pope Francis agreed. For in an extraordinarily unusual Holy Thursday announcement March 24, the Vatican made public that Archbishop Hebda — known simply as “Bernie” — would be staying in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

A church, so long hurting, entered the Triduum with reason to rejoice. So, it seems, did Archbishop Hebda.

“... It is with joy that I tell you of Pope Francis’ decision to appoint me as the next Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” the archbishop said in a statement. “The pope and the Holy Spirit evidently had different plans for me than I had anticipated, and I am humbled and honored to be named your shepherd.”

In the past nine months, he added, “I have been blessed to witness your deep faith and your commitment to Christ’s Church, His people, and the Eucharist. I consider many of you friends.”

This isn’t to say that the road ahead for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is going to be a primrose path. As Archbishop Hebda said, “there is much work yet to be done to overcome the significant challenges we continue to face. ...”

But a much-needed foundation of stability has been established. In a news conference later that day, the archbishop acknowledged that while the way that he has been doing his job will change — because “after May 13, it’s going to be my responsibility to set a longer course,” he said — the fundamentals that won over the hearts of the people in the local Church won’t.

He plans to “build on the wonderful collaboration” that has taken place during the last nine months, specifically with priest and lay leaders. Such continued open dialogue will be key as he continues to minister to a community that perhaps now will be able to heal.