Bridgeport bishop says lifelong ‘path of beauty’ began with his parents

Vatican City, Oct 14, 2018 / 11:52 am (CNA).- “Other than faith,” Bishop Frank Caggiano reminisced, “the gifts of how I was raised and who I was raised by are the greatest gifts I have ever received in my life.”

“The most inspiring people in my life were my two parents, without a doubt,” Caggiano added. “Without a doubt.”

Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is a delegate to the 2018 Synod of Bishops, discussing young people, the faith, and vocational discernment. He told CNA that his own youth was shaped by the lessons of his parents.

“My father was a longshoreman. My father unloaded ships. My father had a third grade education. He did not speak English very well. And yet at a time when in the docks of Brooklyn it was common to steal, my father never came home with a blessed thing.”

“The two things my father spoke about always were integrity and respect,” the bishop said.

“A warrior, a courageous witness, ‘you got to stand by your guns, even if it costs you your life’- That was my father.”

While he praised his father, Caggiano, 59, minced no words about his mother: “My mother was a saint…Simple as that.”

He told CNA that while both parents taught him lessons he continues to carry, he brought especially his mother’s inspiration to Rome this month, where his short synod speech emphasized beauty.

“All of this animation in my mind about beauty began with my mother,” he said.

Beauty “was the engagement of the heart in faith. It was the piety. It was the gentility. It was– the house itself– you knew the seasons of the Church’s year in my house. It was the ritual. It was the traditions that we had. In my mind, all of that is wrapped up in beauty. The conveyance of meaning apart from that written word– that’s beauty. And that was my mom.”

During his synod speech, Caggiano said bishops “must unlock the power of beauty, which touches and captures the heart, precisely by utilizing the many opportunities now afforded by digital communication and social media to accompany young people to experience beauty in service of the Gospel.”

He told CNA that beauty is an important way to evangelize contemporary young people who “wonder whether or not they are lovable or loved.”

“When you encounter beauty it reflects back who you are,” he said. “Beauty is the encounter with the insight that you are beautiful.”

“The most beautiful image of the Lord is the Lord crucified, because he looks back and says ‘in my physical ugliness and my suffering—that is what you are worth.’ That’s what we’re missing.”

Caggiano said that beauty– in liturgy, art, music, poetry, and in new forms and mediums offered by digital technology– captures hearts.

“Try to imagine the first time you fell in love. The two immediate responses to falling in love are ‘I want to know about this person,’ and ‘I want to spend time with this person.’” he said.

“If we can have the moment of being captivated by Christ,” he said, “and then encounter the path of goodness and the path of truth- then you begin a lifelong journey.”

The bishop said that the ongoing Vatican synod cannot by itself prescribe the best ways to evangelize young people through beauty. His hope is that the synod will encourage dioceses and episcopal conferences to experiment with ways to evangelize with beauty.

The Diocese of Bridgeport, which Caggiano has led since 2013, has focused on finding ways to reach young people through “the power of image” on social media, along with an online catechetical institute that aims to marry intellectual formation with images and video, and by offering pilgrimages for young people.

“Pilgrimages for young adults are a powerful way to engage with beauty,” the bishop told CNA. He said that the diocese has received grants allowing young people to go to the Holy Land and on other pilgrimages even if they are unable to pay for the trip.

Caggiano said that donors support those trips because they see the fruit. He shared the story of a young woman who accompanied him to the Holy Land, and despite beginning the trip uncertain about faith, began going to Mass daily, and had a powerful conversion to deeper faith.

“Pilgrimage is an act of beauty.”

Beauty, Caggiano said, must also characterize Catholic liturgy. He said that after a diocesan synod three years ago, a small commission begin revising sacramental norms and liturgical policies in the diocese, with careful attention to the importance of beauty. A new policy document is set to be released later this year.

“It will cause a great stir,” he said, because it will call attention to ways in which greater reverence is needed in the diocese.

He told CNA that “how we conduct ourselves at the liturgy can reveal” something about what priests and other ministers believe about the importance of worship.

To foster a greater spirit of reverence among priests, Caggiano is planning to launch next month the “Confraternity of St. John Vianney,” an association of priests, including himself, who will commit to celebrating Mass daily, regular public and private participation in adoration of the Eucharist, and regular sacramental confession.”

He said plans for the group are still developing, and that he hopes it will grow “organically.”

“We are going to sit before the Lord and let him be our teacher.”

“There is a natural stance that flows from a spirituality that is embedded in the belief in the real presence,” he said, adding that he aims to help priests develop deeper Eucharistic spiritualities.

Caggiano said the synod of bishops has helped him to develop other pastoral ideas he has been considering. His goal, he said, is to help young people to better know Jesus Christ.

“An encounter with the person of Jesus Christ can be truth, beauty, or goodness.”

“It’s the middle path, the way of beauty, that I think is the most interesting. It’s the glue between the two. So what’s going to capture a young person’s imagination? That’s the question in my mind.”

“The path of beauty,” he concluded, “can be a path of awakening.”

 

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