By Patrick Murphy
FORT WAYNE — Two milestones were commemorated Friday in Fort Wayne when Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades made his annual pastoral visit to Bishop Dwenger High School. Two students, Jilian Christlieb and Richard Levine, were welcomed into the church through baptism and confirmation, while the bishop celebrated his seventh year as the ordinary of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
“This is a day of joy for the Dwenger community and the whole church, as two young people become Christians today, receiving the great blessing from God of becoming His children, becoming a brother and sister of Jesus in His Body, the holy, Catholic Church,” the bishop said in his homily during Mass in the gym.
“Centuries before the coming of Christ as man, the prophet Ezekiel announced that God would sprinkle clean water upon the people to cleanse them from their impurities, from sin, and that God would give them a new heart and place a new spirit within them. This is what happens at baptism. It purifies one from all sins and it also makes the person a new creature, an adopted child of God, a member of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. Richard and Jilian, this is the great gift you receive today.
“Baptism is the seal of eternal life and confirmation is the seal of the Holy Spirit, the indelible sign that consecrates you to the Lord,” he told the young people. “Of course, all of us are called to keep the seal until the end of our lives by remaining faithful to the promises and demands of our baptism, to keep the faith by living the Gospel of Jesus.”
While the sacraments involve grace and God’s blessing, Bishop Rhoades continued, and they are the first steps on the path to holiness, they do not confer perfection.
“Sometimes we might stumble on the path, but the important thing is to that we get up and keep walking. That’s why we should be thankful for the sacrament of reconciliation in which God gives us the grace of forgiveness, so we can get up after we fall.”
It was indeed a special day, according to sponsors of the young Christians who were received into the Catholic Church. “She’s happy and very proud,” said Kathy Pedro, Christlieb’s confirmation sponsor. Her dad, Joseph Christlieb, said she made the choice to become a Catholic “on her own, and we fully support her decision.”
Levine’s sponsor, Colton Buescher, who is also a classmate, said receiving the sacraments had already made a big change in his friend’s life. “This is the first day of the rest of his life,” Buescher noted, “and it’s with Christ.” Levine’s mother, Melinda Stuller, said, “I’m excited he is committing his life to God.”
Many of the school’s 1,000-plus students were gathered in the bleachers to enjoy the bishop’s appearance. Prior to the Mass, one of them, Jada Smith, said she was anxious to see the bishop later in the day as he visited classrooms — something he relishes. “It’s cool that he supports our school,” the sophomore said.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades complimented the choir and said he seldom, if ever, passes up a chance to visit students. “Hopefully we both learn something in the exchange,” he said. “I know I do.”
At the end of Mass, Principal Jason Schiffli introduced two gift presentations to Bishop Rhoades on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of his installation as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. He introduced Laura LaMaster, the school’s faculty advisor for Catholic Relief Services activities, who gave the bishop a check from the collection at the liturgy that the community donated for CRS’ work in the Holy Land. Bishop Rhoades was scheduled to leave to visit the Holy Land the following day.
Schiffli then introduced Student Council leaders who presented the bishop with a check for $2,500, for the Diocesan Seminarian Education Fund. The Student Council raised the money through various school activities.
Finally, the bishop was presented an envelope with dozens of prayer petitions for him to place in a crevice in the Western Wall, the only remaining part of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was very touched by the generous gifts and promised to remember the Bishop Dwenger community in his Masses and prayers in the Holy Land. The Bishop shared about his upcoming trip to Palestine and Gaza and the work of CRS there: He spoke of the challenges of young people in that region and expressed his desire to share with them the spiritual and material solidarity of the young people at Bishop Dwenger with their plight.
Father Robert Garrow, Dwenger chaplain, then expressed personal and warm words of gratitude to the bishop for his seven years of episcopal service in the diocese. Finally, Bishop Rhoades again congratulated Christieb and Levine on their reception of the sacraments of initiation, which he described as “his greatest joy that day.”