In the summer of 2005, I led a small group of youth and adults to Cologne, Germany for World Youth Day. If you’ve never been to a World Youth Day gathering, I recommend you try and go at least once in your life. WYD is a two week-long experience of celebrating our Catholic faith, getting involved in service, experiencing a more diverse Church than you ever knew existed, praying, singing, and, oh yeah, hanging with the pope! Sort of. You’re in the same city with the pope. That’s still kind of awesome, right?! Anyway, World Youth Day, with a regular attendance of one to two million souls, does a nice job of underscoring why the word universal (the actual definition of the word, Catholic) is such an accurate word to describe our Church. Writing as someone who lives in a smaller community, where Catholicism is often not the dominant faith tradition, I have a deep appreciation for opportunities like World Youth Day, which can help remind us that our Church is much bigger and much more unified than most of us could possibly even begin to comprehend. And yet, if I had to name my favorite experience from our trip to World Youth Day in 2005, it would have nothing to do with amazing catechetical sessions, spirit-filled Masses, or the diversity of the pilgrims. No, my favorite moment of that event involved only four youth, three adults, and two bishops.
One night while we were in Cologne, we got to hang out with our own Bishop John R. Gaydos, of the Diocese of Jefferson City, MO. We met him in the lobby of his hotel, where he graciously posed for a few group pictures. Our photographer that night was none other than George Lucas! Ok, settle down, Star Wars geeks. It was a different George Lucas. Actually, our photographer was Bishop George Lucas, then the bishop of Springfield, IL. Bishop Lucas is now Archbishop Lucas of the Omaha, NE Archdiocese. After the photo-op, Bishop Gaydos went back to his room, changed into regular clothes, and joined us as we looked for a place to eat. Once settled in at the restaurant, our little group delighted in having the full attention of the bishop who, incidentally, ordered for all of us in German! Once we were finished eating and visiting, we left the restaurant with the intention of finding ice cream for dessert, but ended up striking out. At that point, we decided to call it a night and let the bishop get back to his hotel.
That night was so special. It’s the kind of experience I’ll bet most Catholics don’t get with their bishop.
I share this with you because, as of today, now-Bishop Emeritus Gaydos will no longer be shepherding our local flock. At a 2pm Mass today, Bishop-elect W. Shawn McKnight will become the fourth bishop of our diocese. I am excited about our future with Bishop McKnight, but I will miss Bishop Emeritus Gaydos. He was always kind and gracious to me and to my family. From my vantage point, he was relatively easy to work with and I know he cared very deeply for us, his mid-Missouri flock. I had the honor of visiting with him on dozens of occasions as well as leading music for many Masses at which he presided. I will never forget, though, that one time he used civilian clothing, a little German, and his own time to show my teens how much the Church loves them.
Thanks for everything, Bishop Gaydos. Now, get some rest!