My family just got bigger. A call from the Papal Nuncio a few weeks ago confirmed that Pope Francis has sent me to help our family down the block in Buffalo until the Holy See appoints a successor to Bishop Richard Malone, who stepped down on Dec. 4. It is not unusual for a bishop of one diocese to be asked to assist another diocesan family in need since all bishops have a role in fostering the pastoral and temporal well-being of the universal Church.  

With strong ethnic roots, the people of Buffalo are good Catholics — some 700,000 are counted — and, added to our 300,000, that certainly places on my shoulders a tremendous charge and challenge for which I ask your prayers, even if my assignment is only temporary.   

As in Albany, I know I will have a lot of support. Any administrator — my official title is “Apostolic Administrator” — is only as good as his staff and advisors. It’s all about teamwork. ­Buffalo has faced a particularly severe challenge in the number of survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and others, who are suffering and have courageously come forward. Naturally, they are our family, both survivors, abusers and the entire community who are all affected by the wounds caused by such sins and crimes. We must protect and heal the vulnerable and wounded as well as eradicate systems and policies that failed to do so in the past — and with due regard to the rights and reputations which cannot be discarded, even as we always place victims first. 

Only time will tell what I will learn and be impelled to do to respond to the great needs of this suffering community. Already I am hearing from many survivors and concerned clergy and laity about the depth of betrayal and mistrust that has festered for so long. I want to open up doors so that all voices can be heard. 

 To that end, I plan to spend at least a full day each week in Buffalo — using most of my Mondays, which would normally be the day in which I do not schedule office appointments — in order to be personally on hand to be with the people, whom I like to think of as our family down the block. We all have had neighbors whom we know are experiencing trouble in their lives, whether it’s from a fire, an illness, a death or some domestic discord, and neighbors do help, even if it’s just by paying a visit or bringing some food along. And we pray. 

Healing is mostly about relationship, restoring and strengthening bonds of communication and trust so that we are not walking alone. I know it will take time for many people in Buffalo to trust me or any official representative of the Catholic Church, an institution which, in the eyes of many, is seen as deeply corrupt or compromised in the perceived conflict between words and deeds in many ways. The ­jeremiads of the prophets come to mind, who criticized the shepherds of Israel for living off the fat of their sheep. 

While I have seen many encouraging signs of hope emerge in the short week I have been on the scene, notably at a colloquium I attended last Saturday at Canisius College, sponsored by the Movement to Restore Trust (MRT), I am also hearing the angry and hurt cries of many victims who await quick and decisive action that they rightly feel is long overdue. My immediate response to the skeptics and disillusioned is, speak up. I am ready and happy to hear your voice. No one’s voice should be silenced or repressed. And it takes a lot of courage to speak up. This is as true in Buffalo as in ­Albany or in any other diocese. Do not be afraid.  

The rebuilding of trust is a process. It does not happen overnight. It takes both big and baby steps, with regard for due process but without fear of just consequences. And the validation of rightful anger is an essential step that cannot be bypassed by words or promises of consolation and good intentions. The worst situation is for people to be in pain without having a voice. I know there is no justice this side of paradise that is sufficient for those who are abused. But that must not stop us from finding ways to do something. I also know that there may be no peace in the forms of human justice many seek, and which they seek from the same Church that failed them. Yet who but the Church can really walk that walk, to do that justice and reconciliation? 

 We are here for the long haul because we are family. God will give us the blessing and the fortitude to do what must be done — together, united in faith in the presence of Christ living among us and through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, our Mother. The Diocese of Buffalo is dedicated to St. Joseph, after whom it’s Cathedral is named. I pray to St. Joseph to make me a good father — or maybe grandpa — to the folks now entrusted to my pastoral care. That said, I will not withhold my time, love and dedication to you, my family in Albany. A parent loves all his children, even though they may be different and scattered around the globe. 

 Again, I ask for your prayers. I know so many of you constantly pray for me and I am deeply grateful. Believe me when I say I feel them. Every day. And be assured of my prayers and sacrifices for you. In this wonderful season of Advent, the message is that it is God who comes to us. Many people wonder where God is in their lives and whether our prayers are ever answered, let alone heard. Our faith reminds us that it is really God who is seeking us, longing to be with us and in our hearts. He meets us wherever we are on our spiritual journey. The figure of the good shepherd, knocking at our door comes to mind. It is the door to our hearts. But the door has no handle on the outside, because the lock is inside. If we open up the door to our hearts, he will come in. And stay. He will feed us and console us. That is the promise of Advent, but the answer depends on our free will and open heart. Will we let him in?