The Catholic Courier interviewed Bishop Salvatore R. Matano Nov. 21 at the Pastoral Center after it was announced that he would be the ninth Bishop of Rochester. This is an edited transcript of that interview, which was conducted by Catholic Courier Staff Writer Amy Kotlarz and General Manager/Editor Karen Franz
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Catholic Courier: We’ve talked to a bunch of people from Burlington and from Providence, and so many of them told us how present you have been to the people of Burlington. I was wondering first of all how do you do it all? How do you do it without burning out? What types of things do you do to unwind? Do you read? Do you cook? Do you listen to music? Anything like that?
Bishop Matano: I would say quite honestly -- I will be a priest 42 years on Dec. 17 -- because of the time I went to the seminary in the '60s, I have followed all the different transitions of the church through all the different decades. They have been very challenging years. They have been years that have raised expectations. They have been years where there have been intense dialogues. Every type of human emotion has been present within the life of the church.
But having experienced those over 42 years, I would have to say I have always been very happy as a priest. When I was made a bishop, I recognized that as the church asking me to intensify my priestly life by being a shepherd to a diocese, and I have enjoyed that in the midst of all the challenges that we have faced in Vermont on any number of levels.
I welcome the opportunity to be with the faithful people for the celebration of Mass, celebration of the sacraments, special events in the life of a parish. I see those as wonderful opportunities, particular in this day and age which refers to the New Evangelization. What better way to evangelize than to be with the people when they are celebrating important events in the life of a parish and the lives of their children -- for example at confirmation. And you are able within the context of Mass within the Eucharist to also fulfill your role as the first teacher of the diocese. So I would say that that has been what has motivated me to be as present to the people as possible.
But you remember bishops are blessed with wonderful staffs. I have had a wonderful staff that has assisted me, both lay staff and members of the clergy who have been a great support and a great encouragement, too. Every bishop is not alone in his work. He is accompanied by -- I’m sure here Bishop Clark and those who went before him have been accompanied by wonderful staff like yourself -- so that is a great compliment for the work that we do and the mission that we are about.
Catholic Courier: The Year of Faith (is) wrapping up this weekend. What were some Year of Faith activities that were very effective in Burlington, and what do you think the Year of Faith brought to Burlington?
Bishop Matano: In Burlington as probably throughout the whole world, it helped us to understand faith isn’t an abstract term. It’s not a nebulous concept, but rather faith is real because faith is attached to the very person of Jesus Christ. The year of faith is about recognizing, nurturing and intensifying our relationship with the Lord, especially in our communion with him at Mass in the Eucharist.
So in our diocese we have emphasized the need to be present at Mass each week -- that the Eucharist is the source and summit of all we do in our lives as Catholics, in our lives as Christians, and it motivates our apostolates. It motivates our outreach to the poor. It’s what sustains our charitable works, so that we don’t reach a certain height or enthusiasm for a moment or a defined period of time. It becomes a lifelong way of living, but that needs sustenance and that’s the relationship with Our Lord.
So we have emphasized communion with him and the importance of Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation -- confession -- an all too forgotten sacrament, where we have the opportunity to be forgiven through the ministry of the priesthood for our faults, our failings and our sins. Recognizing again in our relationship with Jesus, how merciful he is. The world can become spiteful, vindictive, revengeful. Raise hands in violence, Jesus raises hands in blessing and Benediction. This coming Advent as an outgrowth of the Year of Faith, in all our churches on Wednesday evenings, priests will be present to hear confession, so a renewal of the sacrament of reconciliation.
And then thinking St. Paul tells us, "How can we love what we do not know?" in this case, "How can we love the one that we do not know?" and so educational classes on the adult level. Father Barron's work Catholicism has been used throughout our parishes to help people understand the gift of faith and how that faith unfolds in the life of the church. Also, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Many of our parishes have now had eucharistic adoration. Again all of these are tied to the person of Jesus Christ. The sacramental life of the church, all the sacraments, can be described by that word: relationship. They are all encounters with the Living Christ. And in our parishes, some have had programs of visitation to visit the different people within their particular parish, even those who have not been going to Mass, to be able to invite them back, and have them again present with us at each celebration of the Eucharist on the weekend.
Catholic Courier: Have you seen results from the Year of Faith? Have you seen an upswing in attendance? Are more people making use of the sacrament?
Bishop Matano: Any number of places that I have visited, there has been an awareness of the Year of Faith and not only an awareness, I would say over the last several years, a deepening appreciation for what we do at Mass. I think the Roman Missal third edition, the new missal that we are now using, has been well-received throughout the diocese and has really been a wonderful precursor to the Year of Faith, focusing our attention upon how solemn and awesome is that encounter we have with the Lord and that we bring to this celebration the very best that we have.
We concentrate at that moment upon who we are as God’s children, bringing to the Lord all our concerns, but at the same time coming not only to receive from him but to give to him the gift of our presence, as he has given us his real presence in Holy Communion, we come to give him our presence. I think these themes have become more prominent in the lives of our people.
Sometimes numbers may not always be what we want them to be, but sometimes we forget all too often that faithful Catholic who has been a part of the church’s life from their young years, and now they are in their senior years. We can’t take these people for granted either. We do have to at times help them to even nurture their faith. Because all of us along our journey of faith can have high points, low points, middle points.
Even for those who are very faithful to the church it was like it was a yearlong retreat, for all of us to come together and meditate on who we are before the Lord, and how do we thank him for all that he has done for us in that great sacrificial act of Golgotha?
Catholic Courier: Can we jump back to talk a little bit about your family. There’s great excitement in the community because you are the first Italian bishop after eight Irish bishops. Some people were very curious about your Italian roots? And I was just wondering -- I heard that maybe your grandparents were originally from Italy?
Bishop Matano: My mother’s parents were born in the United States. My father’s parents were born in Italy, and they came to the United States between 1920 -- right around that time -- and they made their home in Providence.
Catholic Courier: Your father’s parents -- what part of Italy are they from?
Bishop Matano: We have family that were from the Abruzzi region, from Reggio Calabria, (and from) near Caserta.
Catholic Courier: Would (your maternal ancestors from Italy) have been your great-great-grandparents on your mother’s side? Or are they Italian?
Bishop Matano: My great-grandparents on my mother’s side. And pretty much the same region.
Like many people of that time who came to this country, they only came with two suitcases. One suitcase was a great love for their family and the other suitcase was a great love for their faith. It’s amazing the magnificent churches that were built by those who came to this country with little or nothing and how much they sacrificed to build up these churches which were and are a concrete manifestation of how they loved God and how within the parishes schools grew up because they were so concerned that their children have an education that they themselves did not have. For them the greatest supports were faith and family.
But that’s also very true, I’m sure, of all the ancestors of the eight Irish bishops that have preceded me. That has always been a country of great faith as well, and in the United States we have also benefitted from priests who have come from Ireland.
Catholic Courier: Can you talk about your parents’ faith and how they lived that out in your family and what that taught you?
Bishop Matano: Let’s just say it was absolutely unthinkable that you would ever miss Mass. That just didn’t happen. If you feigned a sickness and started to give a little cough or something to excuse yourself, you can be sure you were not leaving that house that day, so the thought never crossed our minds.
We’ve talked about snow here. I remember walking to church in the snow because we only had one car. Usually it was a used car. I don’t ever recall my father getting a new car. Maybe later in life, but it was usually pretty much a used car, and we would walk to Mass if we couldn’t drive. There were no such things as cancellations for Mass. My parents, during Lent, we began the day by going to daily Mass. And then my parents went off to their work, and I went off to school. Prayer was very much an important part of our lives.
They sacrificed so that I would have a Catholic education. Remember my dad was a barber in the '60s. Now you probably don’t remember the '60s, but the hair was quite long. Being a barber in those days was quite a challenge. Nonetheless, Dad, together with Mom, were able to continue to help us, to help me and my sister to have a very good education.
Catholic Courier: Did your mom stay at home with you two?
Bishop Matano: My mom, when we were growing up, stayed at home, and then later she went on to work.
Catholic Courier: What did she do?
Bishop Matano: She was a bookkeeper. Bookkeeper, secretary, office manager. Now they have many fancy titles. She just did everything in the office. It was a tool company.
Catholic Courier: At what point did you realize or start discerning a religious vocation in your life?
Bishop Matano: I began to think about it maybe in the ninth or tenth grade of high school.
Catholic Courier: Was there anyone along the way who helped to guide your journey of faith?
Bishop Matano: Certainly my parents were very supportive. I have an aunt, now deceased within the last year, who was a religious Sister of Mercy. The parish priests were wonderful people, one of whom is still living. Father – Msgr now -- Iacovacci, Nicholas Iacovacci. -- a very musical name. He was a young priest in our parish. In fact, on the day of my installation Jan. 3, he will be 88 years old, and I would not be surprised if I see him here. He was wonderful.
The parish priests were great supports, and I lived in a parish that was primarily of an Italian ethnic background but which had many vocations to the priesthood. So it was not uncommon for us every spring, May or June, to have men from the parish ordained and to have their first Masses celebrated in our parish. And that was a big event, not just for the family, but for the whole parish. In fact, I was the thurifer in 1963 for a priest, Father Alfred Lonardo, who was a graduate of St. Bernard’s in Rochester and from my home parish of St. Ann’s.
Catholic Courier: Was that St. Ann’s directly in Providence?
Bishop Matano: Right in Providence. The North End, as it is called, but Providence.
Catholic Courier: What was Providence like at that time?
Bishop Matano: Very much made up of family communities. Very much a neighborhood parish. I’m not sure here what the neighborhoods are like -- obviously I’m very new to the area -- but we also had what we called tenement houses. Those are multilevel homes with families living on different floors, so some were three-deckers, some were six: three and three on each side. So for the first 10 years of growing up, I lived in a tenement house, and then we moved to our own home.
Catholic Courier: Going forward a little bit. You did two stints at the nunciature. Can you talk about what you did there?
Bishop Matano: The Apostolic nuncio -- the Apostolic Nunciature -- relates to all the Catholic dioceses and Catholic institutions throughout the United States, so you assist him in his relationships with these ecclesial bodies, and you can have any number of assignments there. It’s very intense work, as you can imagine, because you are dealing with the whole country, but I can tell you, it was in those years at the Apostolic Nunciature that I met some of the most dedicated priests I have known. I would never refer to them as people who were seeking careers. It was a very demanding position, and they worked extremely long days.
And perhaps, and I say this not wanting to any way diminish the wonderful people who have crossed my life, but perhaps the finest bishop that I have met was Archbishop Montalvo, who is -- now returned to the Lord -- the nuncio who ordained me to the episcopacy on April 19, 2005. He was an outstanding gentleman, extremely kind, very considerate, a beautiful example of a shepherd in an office. It’s kind of hard to think of a bishop being a shepherd when he is so immersed in administration, but that would tell you the quality and dignity of the person who could transform that work into a true apostolate and be such an outstanding example for all of us of what it means to be a representative of Jesus.
Catholic Courier: We’ve talked about vocations and we’ve talked about the role of the shepherd. In the Diocese of Rochester, vocations have been on the upswing in the past few years, but still we have more priests retiring than we have being ordained. I’m just wondering what would you do to address that problem?
Bishop Matano: Well as you can imagine, in the Diocese of Burlington we’ve had that very same concern. So I believe what has to be done, and it seems to be present here by the number of seminarians that we are blessed to have in formation is that the whole community has to nurture vocations, and every priest has to be a vocation director.
You asked about growing up who inspired me. Well, the biggest influence upon me were the parish priests and then supported by my own family, and I think families have to recognize how necessary and how essential the priesthood is to the life of the church and encourage their sons to consider a religious vocation, if that be God’s will.
Often when I would be asked, "Bishop we need a priest in our parish, we just had -- our pastor has had a change. Whom will you be sending?" And I always say, "I will do the best I can to make good provision for your parish. But may I respectfully ask you a question? When was the last time your parish sent me a seminarian? What is the parish doing to cultivate seminarians?" We don’t fall from the sky. Priests are very much people who have come from families that supported that vocation.
But we are also seeing a wonderful new phenomenon in the life of the church today of young people with very varied backgrounds who are on college campuses that have a very strong Catholic presence seeking information about being a priest. Some of the finest vocations we have in the Diocese of Burlington have come to us from among students at the University of Vermont through the Catholic Center.
The Catholic Center is a very vibrant Catholic presence on a very diversified secular campus. The daily Mass is celebrated there. There’s adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Opportunities every day for confession. They have regular seminars, Bible studies, any number of programs to enrich the faith. I would go to the Catholic Center at UVM maybe five to seven times a year. I would complete my Ash Wednesday ceremonies with the evening Mass at the Catholic Center, and the number of young people was very encouraging. But from that ambient we have been blessed with wonderful vocations to the priesthood.
I’m thinking now of another young man who went to Middlebury College and because of an active Newman Center, he is now in his third year of theology. And each of these young men has been supported by a priest. At the Catholic Center, here’s the chaplain, Father White, who is accompanying me, was at the University of Vermont as chaplain for three years and did an extraordinary job with vocations. We priests -- and I still consider myself very much a priest -- we priests need to rejoice in our priesthood not in a haughty, arrogant sense, but truly be happy in our vocation and proud of the work that the priest does in uniting people to Christ and see it as a vocation that is a privilege to serve the Lord and want to share that vocation with others.
Candidates for the priesthood recognize happy priests. They also recognize those that may be less enthusiastic. Enthusiastic, happy priests create vocations with the Lord, who is the first one who calls us to the priesthood. It’s like a Catholic school or any school. When does the enrollment thrive? Well, we always do marketing; everybody does marketing today. But who are the best ambassadors for the school? The students. When other students see students who really love the school they are attending, they want to go to that school. When that school is successful, they want to go to that school. So, I would say in this diocese, with the upswing, God bless the diocese. I expect I have very happy priests; very enthusiastic priests. And I will work with them to keep that spirit. And to be able to work together to invite other young men to take our places into the future.
Catholic Courier: In your (introductory) press conference, you invited people to come home, and you called on them to come to the church. I’m just wondering why have people left, and what can we do as a whole community to reach out to all the scattered sheep?
Bishop Matano: Well, there are any number of reasons why a person may have stopped practicing their faith by weekly attendance at Mass. Usually commentators will identify a serious crisis as being the problem. But sometimes it’s as simple as a very fast-paced world with many activities, and among those activities it can happen this weekend we haven’t made time for Mass. And maybe it happens the next weekend. And before you realize it, a certain pattern or routine has set in.
Now there also may be more serious issues. But the challenge to bring people back is not just in the 21st century. Jesus had the same challenge. If we read the Gospels, I’m sure you are familiar with the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. The first time we read about that passage it says there were 5.000 present (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44). Now that must have been a very climactic moment in the life of our Lord and one would think, following that great miracle, countless numbers would follow him. Yet on the second recording of that miracle (Matthew 15:32-39, Mark 8:1-9), when it took place a second time, it says in the Scripture there were 4,000. A loss of 20 percent.
How did that happen? Well Jesus in his teaching began to go from feeding their human needs to now speaking about himself as the bread of life. Himself as the Eucharist. And issuing them the challenge to believe that he was going to give us his own flesh and blood in the Eucharist. Scripture has that very penetrating line: "And they found him too much to take." Sometimes maybe in general throughout the whole church over the last several years, maybe we haven’t been the best catechists in getting across the reality of the Eucharist.
So that maybe people today find it too much to take because we haven’t taught adequately. Now I’m not talking here when I say catechists about the wonderful, wonderful volunteers who over the years have taught in religious-education classes. I’m talking about bishops, pastors. We are the ones who are first charged with catechesis. It is my responsibility as the bishop to take seriously the mandate that I have to teach and to ensure that throughout the diocese we are handing on the truths of the faith in their full beauty and giving the full explanation so that people really do come to realize what a treasure faith is.
And again going back to the Eucharist, if you really, really believe that bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, how can you refuse his invitation to come and to be present? The words of Jesus about the Eucharist: "Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." Those are not the words of any bishop or any pope. Those are the words of our Lord. "And come to me all you who labor and find life burdensome."
So that if you really believe in that extraordinary transcendent moment of union, maybe if the homily isn’t as exciting as you hoped it would be, or the music isn’t as elevating as you would have liked it, you could look beyond those elements and see the heart of what is taking place, and I think catechesis in this area is absolutely essential. But there could have been other people who have had very sad experiences. But in dialogue, in conversation, maybe we can help these people to find their way back.
Catholic Courier: In one of your letters to the Vermont Catholic community, you listed eight priorities that you hoped to achieve by the end of your term, or throughout your term, and you went on to check them all off. Which of those are most gratifying to you in terms of the challenges you surmounted, and what would you characterize as the dominant themes of your tenure?
Bishop Matano: Well, again the dominant theme has been to help the people understand the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives, as I mentioned earlier, the importance of Mass. And that flowing from that to do everything possible to ensure that the faithful have Mass available to them.
So we have merged parishes together to maximize the resources of these parishes which by themselves could not sustain themselves. But it has also created a cooperative spirit among the faithful to realize we are really one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. And that by contributing as one community of faith from several communities, we are really strengthening ourselves and strengthening a community of the church in our locality.
To help with the presence of priests in these places, we have been blessed with new religious orders coming to our diocese. The Fathers of the Divine Vocation, referred to as the Vocationist Fathers, are now in two areas of our diocese, in the northern part of the state and the southern part of the state. We also now have the Heralds of Good News who are in several of our parishes. The Franciscans have now come to Vermont in the Rutland area to be a part of our diocesan family. So these priests have come to enrich the presbyterate and to ensure that the sacramental life of our people will continue.
We have initiated a program of certification for catechists so that those who are so generous with their time in transmitting the faith to our young people have the tools necessary to teach, that they have the proper formation. Teachers in schools throughout the country are always updating themselves, preparing themselves for the classes or the particular discipline in which they teach. So, too, with those who transmit the faith, it’s necessary that they update themselves, that they come to a full and more complete understanding of the faith, so this program of accreditation has been very helpful.
Also in the area of vocations, I think we are more conscious now in the diocese, I hope, of the need, as I said earlier, for all of us to encourage vocations, beginning with the bishop and his priests, and then the whole community of faith. I have been blessed with wonderful, talented laypeople in the reorganization of the diocese. I can say to a person, in each of the departments that help with our parishes, we have wonderful laywomen, laymen, who are a true support to me and who work in a very cooperative, collaborative manner to assure that all the different needs of the parishes and the different areas of parochial life can be met.
I’m very pleased with the reorganization of Vermont Catholic Charities, where we have outstanding counselors who understand what the church teaches and are able to incorporate the message of the Gospel in their outreach to people who come to them in any number of circumstances. We have been able to increase the help that we give to those who come seeking assistance for reasons known to them and to those who meet with them to help them address different situations.
So these are just some of the areas that I would mention. I also have tried to reinvigorate in our Catholic schools a sense of the importance of their Catholic identity: that our Catholic schools are not private schools which become havens to avoid our brothers and sisters who may be different from us, because those are the ones we also want in our schools. That they are truly Catholic in fulfilling the mission of Jesus to spread the Gospel, so every class should have that Catholic spirit, that mission spirit.
I even, when I visited the schools and visited some of the math classes, would tell them, "Do you see how beautifully math reflects theology or the study of religion? Numbers are infinite. They have no beginning, no end. That’s like our Lord. He’s infinite. Always was. Always is. Look at a triangle. It can be an isosceles triangle, but a triangle. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Each corner equal. Each person equal in majesty but one God."
All the classes in English literature, or music or science. Some of the greatest scientists were priests. Some of those most dedicated to teaching the faith were deeply involved in the sciences. We look at music. You have a magnificent organ in the cathedral. Well, look at some of the greatest pieces of music are the Mass put to music. Whether it’s Vivaldi or Verdi, or any of my other countrymen, like Perosi and Puccini. But everything: literature, art, science, so much of it has been influenced by religion and that should be the beauty of a Catholic school to be able to have that identity in every area of its academic life.
But also we must remember our wonderful children in religious-education programs, and that same identity has to be present in religious-education classes. We just don’t come together to talk about God. We come to learn about God so we can love God. Instruction is very important in that area. That’s why I referred earlier to that program of catechetical accreditation.
Catholic Courier: A lot of local coverage (about your appointment) touched on the sex-abuse scandal, but not much was reported on the fact that you chose to be present at the trials, which to our knowledge, is not something many other bishops have chosen to do. Why did you choose to do it and how did the experience affect you and the broader community?
Bishop Matano: Well, I felt it was my responsibility. It was ultimately my duty to bring these very sad circumstances to a resolution, and I did not think it at all fair to place that burden on someone else. I felt it was necessary for me by my presence to show that all my faults and failures that I was seeking a resolution, but unfortunately it brought us to a legal forum, but nonetheless it remained my responsibility.
It was a very, very sad and difficult experience for everyone, certainly for the victims, but for the entire diocesan family, and for the families of the victims. And in that context, that became very clear, and I felt I could not absent myself from that situation, that I had to be engaged fully in it. I don’t judge others who have made different choices. They could have made choices for any number of reasons that were very good reasons, but in my particular situation I just felt that it was necessary.
Catholic Courier: What effect did that have on you and how was it perceived by (others)?
Bishop Matano: I’ll never really be the same after as I was before. It’s something that I carry with me every day. It’s a memory that will never leave me. It’s certainly etched in my mind. It’s a sadness that doesn’t go away. You can be engaged in any number of activities in the course of a day: you can be celebrating Mass, you can be writing a letter, you can be giving a homily, and it can cross your mind and bring back the reality of those days. It’s an impression that just doesn’t leave.
You certainly try to work through it. You try to understand that the Lord carries all of us in these circumstances. You allow yourself in faith to go forward and still be a sign of hope to people, and certainly it was a humbling experience which makes you always a better person. Humility is really the foundation for success in the ministerial life. Humility is reminding ourselves that everything is with the Lord, for the Lord and through the Lord.
Catholic Courier: Did it give you any greater insight into perceptions of victims?
Bishop Matano: Yes, there are still victims that I, well, up to this point, continue to meet with in Vermont or that I have still a connection with, and those have been positive experiences because now it becomes an opportunity to reintegrate them into the life of the church and it becomes more a spiritual opportunity and removes the burdensome legalities that surrounded the courtroom experiences.
Catholic Courier: During the press conference you set a rather high bar not just to bring back everyday Catholics who for one reason or another stopped going to Mass, but also victims of sexual abuse. How would you go about that? What are your expectations of being able to do that?
Bishop Matano: Certainly I think we have to have continuous outreach to them. I hope they will maybe come to church and try once again to reassert themselves, insert themselves into the life of the church. In the end, it’s every person’s individual decision, and because it is each person’s individual decision they have to progress according to the manner that they feel is best for them. Certainly they can have memories that are very difficult for them to overcome and enter the church, but I have not hesitated to speak with victims who have called me and asked to speak with me.
I’m sure in the parishes here there are priests, all the priests I think would be very willing to speak to these people in helping them to become part of the life of the church again. As I said, the bishop can’t do it alone. I rely on the good offices we have here. I’m sure here there’s a very good office in place for outreach to victims and through that office, through our different parishes, to reintegrate. Sometimes, you know, a person can feel because "I have been in this situation, they talk about welcoming me but maybe they really won’t welcome me," and that’s not the case at all. I think it’s come and see. You are welcome.
Catholic Courier: For a city of its size, Rochester has a high rate of homicides and child poverty. Additionally, the state Legislature has been under tremendous pressure from pro-abortion groups to pass what the Catholic conference has termed an expansion to late-term abortion. I was just wondering what local Catholics can do to support the church in cultivating a respect for life?
Bishop Matano: Well, I was quite edified to learn you have six buses going to Washington for the right-to-life Mass, and I think only one year I have missed, but every other year that I have been in Burlington I have gone to the vigil Mass at the Basilica at the Verizon Center, called the Mass with Youth, and then joined up with people for all or part of the March (for Life), just depending on my schedule, and I certainly hope to do that this year. I was quite edified to think that there was that number.
I have received wonderful letters from the faithful of the diocese here telling me of the pro-life efforts and about their journey to Washington, even asking if here at some point we can have a pro-life Mass at the cathedral for the pilgrims going on to Washington, so I think the faithful here are attuned to this. That’s quite a contribution of time, particularly since I think the March this year is mid-week, so that’s quite a contribution of time and energy and finances on the part of these people. The momentum that I would like to keep going by my own presence as I say in Washington to support them.