By Sean Gallagher
On Dec. 3, 2012, then-Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin said that he and the faithful of central and southern Indiana were “under an obligation of love” to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He said this in a Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis during which he was installed as the sixth archbishop of Indianapolis.
Four years later to the day, looking back on his time of ministry to and with the Catholics of the Church in central and southern Indiana, he said during another liturgy at the cathedral that “we fell in love then, and we remain that way today.”
This Mass was originally planned as a celebration of Archbishop Tobin being inducted into the College of Cardinals on Nov. 19. But when it was announced on Nov. 7 that Pope Francis had appointed Archbishop Tobin to lead the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., the Dec. 3 liturgy became a bittersweet farewell for him and the 1,000 Catholics from across central and southern Indiana who gathered in the cathedral to worship with him, and offer him their heartfelt prayers as he goes forward to lead the Church in northern New Jersey.
Both Masses four years apart were celebrated on the feast of St. Francis Xavier, the 16th-century Jesuit missionary to Asia who is the principal patron of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
In his closing remarks at the end of the Mass, Cardinal Tobin, his voice filled with emotion, made his own the words of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians to describe his love for the Catholics of central and southern Indiana, and the mission he was given in ministering to and with them.
“‘With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so beloved have you become to us’” (1 Thes 2:8), Cardinal Tobin said.
The love Cardinal Tobin elicited from the faithful who gathered in the cathedral on Dec. 3 was palpable.
“I love this man,” said Benedictine Sister Harriet Woehler, a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. Cardinal Tobin made an impression on her.
“What he’s done in these four years is unbelievable for me,” Sister Harriet said. “He reminds me of the Holy Father — what he’s done for the world, and what this guy has done for our archdiocese.”
For his part, Cardinal Tobin expressed amazement in his homily at seeing all that Catholics across central and southern Indiana have done over the past four years to witness effectively to the Gospel.
“I have been privileged to see witnesses across the 39 counties of this archdiocese, people who quietly bear witness, give testimony to Jesus Christ in prisons, in hospitals, on college campuses, in [religion] classes, in our Catholic grade and high schools,” he said. “I’ve seen the witnesses of this archdiocese in the food kitchens, in the shelters, the outreach of Catholic Charities and the welcoming of refugees and strangers.
“I’ve seen the witness, and I think it’s no accident that for the four years that I’ve presided over Easter Vigils here in the archdiocese, we’ve welcomed 1,000 or more new Catholics, men and women who saw the action of the disciples of Jesus and came to believe.”
During the prayer, he stood in front of the cathedral’s altar with his eyes closed in prayer while a group of people representing the congregation stood around him and placed their hands on him.
One of those people was his mother, 93-year-old Marie Tobin, who was joined at the liturgy by 10 of her 13 children.
“To be with my son when he offers Mass is the epitome of my life, the high point forever,” Tobin said. “But to be surrounded by all this love for four years—I am just so grateful. I would like to be a Hoosier myself.”
At the end of his homily during the farewell Mass, Cardinal Tobin recalled the story of a group of Anglican religious brothers in the Solomon Islands, who died for their faith in 2000 during peacemaking efforts in the island nation divided by ethnic strife.
In reflecting on the deaths of the fellow members of the community, one member of it said, “We know where we stand [and] who we belong to.”
Cardinal Tobin used these words to draw out the deeper meaning of the call for him, the faithful of central and southern Indiana, and the broader Church to be witnesses to the Gospel in word and deed.
“Beyond all the history of confusion and betrayal that surrounds a lot of the Church’s history, beyond the power games that we still can play in the churches, beyond the terrible scandals that have lacerated the body of Christ,” he said, “this one rocklike conviction remains, the conviction that drove the writing of every word of the New Testament.
“It has nothing to do with conspiracies, opinion polls or the agenda of the powerful. It has everything to do with how the powerless, praying, risking their lives for the sake of Christ and his peace, are the ones who understand the word of God. They are witnesses.
“And to accept that is not to sign up to the agenda of some sort of troubled, fussy human society of worried prelates and squabbling factions. It is not to enroll in a fraternity or sorority and begin paying dues. To be a witness in the Church and for the world is to choose to belong to the life-giver, Jesus Christ. To him be glory, now and forever.”
He then said, “Let the Church say,” and the congregation responded with a resounding, “Amen!”
This article originally appeared in The Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.