Universal Church taps into diocesan talent pool to assist her mission

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By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

FALL RIVER, Mass. — When a man hears a call from God to serve Him as a priest, and he answers that call, he never knows what roads lie ahead.

The Good Lord, in His infinite wisdom, utilizes the talents and passions of each individual whom He calls, to expand the Church begun by His Son Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.

Many priests who look back on 40, 50, 60 or more years serving the Lord will often express the road was not what they expected. Yet, in the same breath, will say they wouldn’t change a thing.

There’s no question God has utilized the holy men of the Fall River Diocese since its inception in 1904.

Fall River priests have been called to serve the Church elsewhere as missionaries, military chaplains, on Vatican boards and committees, or have gone on to become bishops and cardinals in other areas of the Church.

More recently, Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk was called to serve as the director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, and Father David Pignato was asked to help prepare tomorrow’s priests as a professor of Theology at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton.

Beginning next week, the latest diocesan priest to be called to serve the Universal Church begins his assignment on the world stage. Father Roger J. Landry, pastor of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River, a dynamic teacher, retreat leader, preacher and writer, will begin a four-year commitment to assist with the Church’s work at the United Nations in New York City.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the papal nuncio to the Vatican’s Permanent Observer Mission at the United Nations requested permission from Fall River Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., to release Father Landry to assist at the multi-national organization.

Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor, “Our diocese has been blessed with many talented and generous priests. We are grateful to God for giving us such great gifts. As they have been gifts to us, we are glad to be able to share those gifts with the Universal Church. We are proud of them and wish them God’s blessings as they contribute to the mission of our Catholic Church in our country and in the world.”

In a December letter to his parishioners, Father Landry wrote, “Bishop Edgar da Cunha shocked me with the news that, essentially, the Lord through His Church was asking me to move. He informed me that Archbishop Auza had spoken to him requesting that I be released temporarily from service in the Fall River Diocese to come to assist with the Church’s work in New York at the U.N.”

In an interview with The Anchor, a publication he guided as executive editor from July 2005 until June 2012, and with which he is still a columnist, Father Landry said, “When the bishop asked to speak with me in early December on short notice I thought that a change might be coming, but I never anticipated being asked to go to the United Nations. The general work that I’ll be doing has been ably getting done by the staff at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations for decades, but Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the papal nuncio, is reorganizing the responsibilities in the office and so there’s a chance I may be asked to cover a larger range of issues.

“I will be representing the Holy See at the United Nations in various deliberations. The U.N. has six main committees and Archbishop Auza has asked me to work on the second and third committees, which are focused on a wide variety of issues from the defense of the unborn, to the needs of the family, human rights, development, population control, economics, international finance and trade, poverty eradication, globalization, the environment, women’s issues, the protection of children, the treatment of refugees, racism, aging, people with disabilities, crime prevention, criminal justice, international drug control and various other items.” He quickly added, “I think I’m going to be busy!”

Father Landry was ordained a priest of the Fall River Diocese on June 26, 1999 at St. Mary’s Cathedral by then-Fall River Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap.

During his nearly 14 years as a Fall River priest, Father Landry served as a parochial vicar at SS. Peter and Paul Parish at Holy Cross Church and Espirito Santo parishes in Fall River; as parochial administrator at St. Anthony’s Parish in New Bedford; and as pastor of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

Father Landry told The Anchor, “I will miss so many of the daily exercises of priestly Spiritual paternity: bringing Christ to people hungering for Him at daily and Sunday Mass, forming people with the Gospel in homilies, adult education courses and other means, seeing the wonders God does in the Confessional, sharing the joys of Baptisms and Weddings and the faith-filled grieving of funerals. Even though I will still be celebrating Mass every day, giving some Spiritual direction, preaching some weekend retreats and doing some teaching and writing, I will miss the responsibility before God that every pastor has for those entrusted to them and the specific graces He always gives to fulfill those responsibilities. I will also miss the easier contact with so many people within the diocese: my brother priests in the diocese, many of the parishioners who have been my right hands, the members of the Team of Our Lady for which I’m a chaplain, the young people whose vocations I’ve worked long to promote, the various families whose homes have become real Bethanies for me.” 

On the other hand, he is excited about his new assignment and the challenges and rewards it has to offer: “I’m looking forward to the work and the way that it will draw together four different phases of my life: my study, my experience in politics in Washington, D.C., my languages, and my priestly pastoral work focused on serving people with ideas. When I was a college student, I was told, ‘God needs your brain.’ I’ve always taken study seriously because I know that ideas have consequences and I’m happy that every day I’m going to be challenged to use the fruits of that study to serve the Church. I’m happy to have a chance, in the various negotiations in which I’ll be asked to participate, to use for the Church the political training I received. Although most of the work at the U.N. is in English, I’m happy that there will be a chance to use the hard work I’ve done in trying to maintain various languages for many of the important, informal conversations that take place where goalposts can be moved. And I look forward to the challenge of trying to ‘preach the Gospel to all nations,’ especially in a context that I anticipate I may encounter the ‘hardened soil by the wayside’ that Jesus indicates in His parable of the Sower and the Seed.” 

Father Landry realizes he is one of many skilled priests whom the Church has called upon to serve her in other capacities: “I’m honored to be a member of a diocesan presbyterate full of talented priests who are able to serve God, His Church and His people in a number of ways to try to help Christ’s Kingdom take a greater root in individuals, in our communities and in society at large. 

“I’m proud that the bishops of Fall River have given the priests of our diocese a formation that has prepared us to serve the Church for a time teaching in seminaries, advancing the Church’s light in bioethical darkness, working in the Vatican, serving the Holy See and in other ways. I’m also very impressed by the generosity, faith and love for the Church of the bishops of our diocese; it’s certainly not easy, at a time when there’s a pressing need for priests in diocesan parishes, for a bishop to respond positively to a request to let one of his priests go for a time to a specialized form of pastoral work.”

Having an already full schedule of being a pastor, leading retreats, preaching, teaching and writing, Father Landry realizes that his responsibilities will somewhat shift in his new position. “While Archbishop Auza has generously allowed me to keep a few of the commitments that were already on my calendar, that work will be dramatically curtailed because my work at the U.N. will require my presence Monday through Friday,” he said. “But Archbishop Auza and Bishop da Cunha have encouraged me to take advantage of the weekends to preach retreats for lay people, speak at weekend conferences, and the like, something I could do very rarely because a pastor could only be away from his parish four weekends a year. So I anticipate that work will grow.”

The plan also includes continuing to write his “Putting Into the Deep,” Anchor column, citing support from the bishop and Anchor executive editor Father Richard D. Wilson.

Father Landry also hopes friends and peers will continue to remain in contact with him. “I’m happy that I’m not being transferred to Antarctica and that my cell phone and main email addresses will still work! I anticipate many friends will get in touch when they’re coming to Manhattan and I would hope to be able to connect with some when I drive to visit my parents in Lowell every eight to 10 weeks.”

Concluding his Anchor interview, Father Landry asked for the prayers and support of the people he passionately served for the last 14 years. “I would like to ask Anchor readers to pray for the work of the Holy See’s vital mission at the United Nations to try to serve as a leaven for international negotiations about the common good and especially for the fruits of Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.N. this September. I’m excited that one of the major tasks I’ll have this year is assisting Archbishop Auza in preparing for that important visit.”

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