Guam Archbishop concelebrates special mass with Pope; media coverage touches on Guam church turmoil

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The pallium was given to the 31 new archbishops the Pope has appointed around the world over the past year, including Guam Archbishop Michael Byrnes. CNS photo

Guam Archbishop Michael Byrnes was part of a special Mass with the Pope at the Vatican which celebrated the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the Catholic liturgical event that recognizes the martyrdom of the two apostles and the foundation of the Roman church.

A centerpiece of the Mass was the pope’s blessing of a liturgical vestment for each of the new archbishops, a long piece of woolen cloth called a pallium that signifies their role as shepherds and their ties to each other and the pope.

The pallium was given to the 31 new archbishops the Pope has appointed around the world over the past year, including Guam Archbishop Michael Byrnes.

Covering the event, various Catholic media touched upon not only the special mass but also the Church’s troubles on Guam.

The National Catholic Reporter reported that at a reception on June 28, Archbishop Byrnes tied his reception of the pallium to the archbishop’s duty to take his people upon his shoulders and that on Guam more than 230 people have come forward with allegations of abuse by members of the clergy.

“It’s a heavy burden to carry,” National Catholic Reporter quoted Byrnes as saying. “And yet, at the same time … Jesus says, ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Because Jesus is doing most of the work — all of the work, I simply have to cooperate. There is plenty more that needs to grow and flourish among our people. And for that … I look to the good shepherd, the one who is pulling the weight, the one who is leading people through his grace and the power of his Holy Spirit.”

The Catholic News Service also referred to the turmoil on Guam surrounding sexual abuse allegations against the previous archbishop and concerns about his administration of the archdiocese.

CNS quoted Byrnes as saying that the pallium he received is a sign not only of his obedience to the pope, but also “my obedience, of a sort, to the people of Guam and the obligation to respond to and assist them.”

When Catholic News Service asked if there is a particular group in the archdiocese that he carries as lambs on his shoulders, Byrnes immediately responded, “the victim-survivors are in my daily prayer” and “those are the people I carry most in my heart.”

Receiving the pallium, he said, “is a boost to me. It illustrates a change in our diocese,” symbolically sealing a new start for the archdiocese.

Celebrated each year on June 29 during the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the pallium Mass is a centuries-old papal tradition. It signifies a new archbishop’s unity with the pope and his role as a shepherd to his flock.

A pallium is a three-inch-wide band worn around the neck and shoulders, with a 14-inch strip hanging down the front and back that is conferred to newly named archbishops. Made of wool, it signifies the sheep the archbishop symbolically carries, as Christ the Good Shepherd did.

Historically, the pallium has been conferred upon archbishops directly by the pope. However, in 2015, Pope Francis changed that custom, allowing newly appointed archbishops to receive the pallium itself during a special Mass in their home archdioceses.

Although Archbishop Byrnes attended the Mass with the Pope in the blessing of the palliums, the actual vesting of the pallium to Archbishop Byrnes will take place at a later date on Guam by the pope’s representative, Most Rev. Novatus Rugambawa, D.D., the Apostolic Delegate to the countries of the Pacific.

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