October 24th is a very significant and joyful day for the Diocese of Palm Beach. It is the Thirtieth Anniversary of the establishment of this vibrant and still growing Diocese by St. Pope John Paul II. Thirty years ago, with the Diocese of Venice to our west, we came into existence with our territory having been carved from the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of Orlando. We have grown significantly in these thirty years with an increase of population as well as churches to accommodate the population. We continue to comprise five counties in southern Florida made up of the faithful of various ethnic backgrounds from Sebastian to Boca Raton and from Okeechobee to Palm Beach. We continue to grow as the living Body of Christ here in southern Florida.
We are still a very young Diocese compared to the length of years that other dioceses in the United States have been in existence. Placed next to the history of the Church, which extends for almost 2000 years, the length of existence of the Diocese of Palm Beach is miniscule. Nevertheless, as part of the Universal Church, our birth truly goes back to Pentecost itself and we are an integral part of the history and life of the Church.
Of the many blessings of the Diocese of Palm Beach, one of them now is that we were established by a Saint of the Church – Pope John Paul II. Soon, on November 1, we will be celebrating All Saints Day. The celebration of All Saints Day is one in which we remember all the Saints of the Church – those who are officially canonized such as Pope John Paul II as well as all those who are now in the fullness of life with God in heaven. These include many people with whom we have lived such as our parents, spouses, grandparents, children, relatives and acquaintances. They also include those whom we simply passed on the street without any recognition. All Saints Day reminds us of the call to holiness which is made to each and every one of us. Holiness is what life is all about and it is in recognizing this that we find true joy, not only in the life to come, but here and now. As a Diocese, we support each other in that call to holiness.
Holiness means living each and every day in the manner in which God has called us. It means recognizing the presence of God in our lives and in the many different relationships that are part of them. Holiness recognizes that God loves each and every one of us in an intimate manner and wants us to enter into a real relationship with Him. Holiness does not mean that we are free from fault and sin. Quite the contrary is true. Holiness of life recognizes that we are all sinners and that Christ came to call us and to heal us. It is God who is the Lord of life and by depending on Him and His mercy we come to know the fullness of life. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, keeps reminding us of this.
Just five years ago we celebrated our Silver Jubilee as a Diocese. The theme for our celebration was Twenty-five Years – a Eucharistic People. The celebration of the Eucharist transcends all of time as it brings before us the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ and unites us with the entire Church around the world including all the saints in the fullness of God's kingdom. Whatever our ethnic background may be, whatever our economic condition, whatever our age or whatever language we speak, in the Eucharist we truly become one family in Jesus Christ. We rejoice that now for thirty years we have been a Eucharistic people and recognize that it is the Eucharist which will carry us into the many years ahead until the Lord ultimately comes at the end of the age and fully establishes His Kingdom.
On this Thirtieth Anniversary of our Diocese, as we look towards the future, we do so with a great deal of hope. The Church has just completed an Extraordinary Synod on the matter of the family. Family life will continue to be a priority within the Diocese of Palm Beach. The family is the "domestic church" in which the love of God is first experienced. During the coming year much discussion and reflection will continue to flow from the Synod that was just concluded as the Church prepares for another Synod on the Family in October 2015. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will most likely be coming to the United States in September for the World Meeting of Families which is to take place in Philadelphia. As a Diocese of diverse and vibrant families, we will continue to support family life in the Diocese of Palm Beach and to continue our efforts to realize, in the words of our founder, St. Pope John Paul II, "As goes the family so goes society.” We can certainly affirm that as goes the family, so goes the Diocese!
Another priority in the life of the Diocese of Palm Beach for our future will be the encouragement of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. However, in doing this, we realize that the primary vocation to which God calls most men and women is that of the family. It is from the family that vocations to the priesthood and religious life are encouraged. We need to continue to do all we can to instill in our young people the virtues of commitment and sacrifice which are the cornerstones of marriage as well as of the priesthood and religious life. Pope Francis frequently reminds us that we live in a "throwaway culture" and in this culture it is difficult for young people to find true joy in life which comes from such commitment. As we look to the future of the Diocese, we look to providing a culture of vocations which heeds the call of God in life.
Another priority for the future of the life of the Diocese of Palm Beach is Catholic education. Two years ago we developed a Strategic Vision 2020: Charting a Course for Excellence which has outlined specific goals to be attained in our Catholic schools by the year 2020. We will continue to implement this plan which emphasizes that, while our schools are meant to have the highest academic standards, their purpose is to do so in a thoroughly Catholic context in handing on the treasure of the Catholic faith to our young people. We also realize that Catholic schools are but one of the means of handing on our Catholic faith. Our religious education programs for our young people as well as for adults will continue to be a priority in regard to our diocesan family.
As we celebrate this Thirtieth Anniversary and look to the future with renewed hope, we continue to depend upon the Eucharist as that which brings us to the holiness of life to which our Diocese is called. May St. Pope John Paul II continue to intercede for us and our Patroness, Our Lady Queen of the Apostles, continue to lead us to her Son as one family.
Congratulations to all! It is a joy for me to be part of this vibrant and faith filled family!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 10, 2014