When word got out that the Diocese of Camden was about to be formed in December 1937, the news was met with skepticism in some quarters.
According to “Building God’s Kingdom,” a history written by the late Msgr. Charles J. Giglio, forming a new diocese out of the six southern counties in New Jersey was questioned for reasons ranging from the lack of Catholic population, priests and money (it was, after all, during the Great Depression).
At that time, South Jersey was largely rural. There were an estimated 100,000 baptized Catholics in the diocese; today, the number is four or five times more. Obviously, nearly 75 years later, we have gone far by faith.
We will soon begin a year-long celebration of our 75th anniversary. Looking back, we can see the challenges faced by our first bishop, Bartholomew J. Eustace, were different than what we face today. He supervised much of the building process, the development of infrastructure of churches, schools and social agencies we now enjoy. There is good reason to celebrate those achievements and the life of our diocesan community over 75 years.
Yet, as we celebrate this anniversary year, I am hoping we focus on our present and future, as well as our past. We owe a debt to our mothers and fathers in faith to continue their legacy in South Jersey. I urge greater reflection upon the Vatican II vision of our diocesan church as the People of God. Our challenge is to embrace the priorities of the diocese in our time: the development of priestly and religious vocations; lay ministry; outreach to youth and young adults; prayerful liturgy and compassionate outreach to the needy.
This is a lofty vision, for sure. In many ways, it is particularly challenging, as it relies far less on the building up of physical structures but on the renewal of our interior spiritual lives. Yet we know, by celebrating our history, how much has been accomplished despite great odds. We pray to be up to the challenge of our time as those who began our diocese were 75 years ago.
We are planning a wide array of events to mark this year-long anniversary, beginning next month and concluding in December 2012, thanks in large part to the leadership of Father Robert Hughes, diocesan chancellor.
Among the events (this is just a partial listing): a special celebration for Hispanic Catholics; Advent Days of Penance; liturgies for Catholic schools, consecrated life, the sick, and the Rite of Election; Lenten Days of Penance; a diocesan youth conference; a multicultural event for Pentecost, perhaps in a large outdoor stadium venue; and pilgrimages to the National Basilica in Washington D.C., Lourdes, and the Holy Land. As the year progresses, more details on anniversary events can be obtained through the Catholic Star Herald and the diocesan website at www.camdendiocese.org.
Some of these events we normally do anytime, but in the upcoming year we will add a dimension, marking them as part of our 75th anniversary celebration. Others, such as the pilgrimages and the proposed Pentecost event, are intended as uniquely suited to the anniversary. Parishes and deaneries will be encouraged to celebrate their own 75th anniversary events as well. Creativity in this regard is much appreciated. If you have any ideas for special 75th anniversary events, please contact Father Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org