Q&A Bishop Clarence Silva

“I think it will be a good opportunity for us to realize that we are part of a larger Church, a larger world”

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By Kerry Weber

A Catholic Digest Papal Visit Exclusive

When many Americans think of Honolulu, Hawaii, visions of warm beaches and tall palm trees often come to mind. But for Bishop Clarence Silva the popular vacation destination is a thriving diocese filled not just with tourists, but with a community of active Catholics, many of whom will board planes bound for New York City or Washington, D.C. in order to attend the upcoming papal Masses. Bishop Silva recently took the time to speak with Catholic Digest about his diocese and his hopes for the papal visit to the U.S.

CD: Why do you feel the Holy Father has chosen to come to the U.S. at this time?

SILVA: I think mostly to visit the United Nations. I think this is a very critical time in the world, with terrorism, and with a lot of ethnic cleansing going on in Africa, and tribal warfare in other parts of the world, so I think that his main objective is to come to address the United Nations, to try to put some perspective on living in the truth and the values that we all hold as human beings.

CD: Do you think he’ll speak specifically on the role of the U.S. Church today and, perhaps, the role of the U.S. in general?

SILVA: I think he will, and I do think we have a role that others don’t have because of the power of influence that we have in the world. I think it would be a question of trying to enflesh the values of the Gospel and translate them into language that is not necessarily religious but that can be understood by all human beings of whatever religion, if any. I also think he will also put an emphasis on the importance of religion and God in the quest for human values. That’s something that he probably will emphasize with the other church leaders that he meets with.

CD: It’s expected that there will be thousands of people at the papal events in Washington and New York, but there also will be thousands more who won’t be able to attend, including, I imagine, people from far-away dioceses such as yours. Do you have any suggestions for how these people might be a part of the papal visit even if they can’t be present?

SILVA: Well, I am sure that these events will be televised for many of them. I think we’re going to have to talk about how we’re going to present the pope’s speeches and his thoughts to the people of our diocese. Unfortunately, the secular press doesn’t always get that message that the pope wants to convey. They usually pick up on some little tidbit they’re interested in using. So, we’ll have to strategize about how to make sure that what the Holy Father says is conveyed to people and not just what the press thinks he said or would like him to have said.

CD: Honolulu is often thought of as a simply a kind of vacation destination, but I imagine there are many Catholics who live there year-round. How would you describe the atmosphere of the Catholic Church in Hawaii?

SILVA: It’s a very active church. About a quarter of the population is Catholic and about another quarter is Christian. I think the Church is fairly well appreciated. The Church is engaged in spirituality in many ways, trying to deepen the spirituality in people. That is, of course, where we need to be — proclaiming the risen Christ and his presence among us. But also I think the Church is engaged in a lot of social ministry. Catholic Charities is very active, very well respected in our wider community. Our office of social ministries works with the parishes and has helped them develop outreach ministries to the homeless and regarding life issues, and so on. It’s a very active church.

CD: Will you be sending members of your diocese to New York or to Washington, D.C. for any of the events?

SILVA: I will be going and we have offered tickets to the Papal masses. And I think we have about 30 or 40 takers for each Mass in Washington and in New York. People who will be going on their own to visit those cities, but they will be there at that time. They want to go to these Masses so we will have a representation.

CD: What are you most looking forward to about the visit from the Holy Father?

SILVA: I think it will be a good opportunity for us to realize that we are part of a larger Church, a larger world, and we have an obligation not just to the people in the United States — which of course is a huge obligation in itself, to our own spiritual renewal and renewal and transforming world — but we also have an obligation toward the world in general. And I think the Holy Father, of course, is the symbol sacrament of that if you will — that we are one people, we are one family throughout the world.

CD: There will be a lot of excitement surrounding the Holy Father’s visit while he is here in the U.S. Do you think that the effects of his visit will make a lasting spiritual impression on the people who see him?

SILVA: I am hoping so. I hope that it is not simply a question of polemics and drawing lines between Catholic beliefs and what is opposed to Catholic beliefs. It could very easily become that, especially with the election year upon us, but I hope that it will be a real opportunity for spiritual renewal that takes our spirits out of our church buildings and tries to look at how we can transform the world for Christ.

CD: Have you been to any U.S. papal visits in the past?

SILVA: I went to John Paul’s visit to Monterey, California.

CD: And do you think that Pope Benedict’s approach to the visit will be different from or similar to that of John Paul II?

SILVA: In some ways it will be similar. He’s a very different man from John Paul II. All of us are different, and so I think his emphasis will be different. I find Benedict’s homilies to be rather more down to earth and practical, so I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say. CD

Kerry Weber

Kerry Weber is an assistant editor for America magazine, a national Catholic weekly. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York and earned her B.A. from Providence College. Prior to enrolling at Columbia, Kerry was an associate editor for Catholic Digest. She also has worked as a staff reporter for The Greenwich Post and The Catholic Observer and as a producer and reporter for Real to Reel a television news magazine. After graduation, she volunteered for one year as a full-time special-education teacher in St. Michaels, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation. Her interests include running, reading, social justice issues, hiking, the Boston Red Sox, quilting, road trips, sheep, Nuts4Nuts, good concerts, tea, pie, and the work of Flannery O’Connor and Nick Hornby.