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Bishop Fisher, U.S. peers meet in Baltimore for annual conference

 Bishop Michael Fisher of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo
Diocese of Buffalo
Bishop Michael Fisher of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo

Buffalo’s Catholic bishop is joining his peers in Baltimore this week for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly. The focal point of the faith will be front and center at the conference, but what won’t be are actions to deny it to certain politicians, as some bishops have sought.

This is the first time in two years that the USCCB is meeting for its General Assembly in person. Last year’s conference was held online due to COVID.

Among the agenda’s most anticipated discussions is rediscovering the sacredness of the Eucharist, especially as faithful Catholics ready to begin a new church year after one that was interrupted by the COVID pandemic.

The Eucharist, the consecration of bread and wine into what the faithful believe becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ, is the centerpiece of the Catholic Mass. During the earliest months of the pandemic, when churches within the Diocese of Buffalo were closed and Masses were offered via online streaming, what was done in place of distributing to attendees was a verbal “Act of Spiritual Communion” in its place.

Bishop Michael Fisher, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, says many faithful missed the ability to receive Communion in person.

“Coming to church means being part of a family, part of a community, engaging one another and being in church in the midst of that which is sacred to us,” he said. “The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Lord, the eating, going up and receiving Communion in our hands, taking the Lord into our hearts. It's something that cannot be done over electronic means.”

While many faithful looked forward to the resumption of in-person Communion, the Catholic Church in Buffalo continues to face the challenge of a steady decline in numbers, of both attendees and priestly ranks. This decline had been in progress before COVID, and even before the outbreak of the clergy sex abuse scandal in 2018.

The latter ultimately led to the resignation and retirement of Bishop Richard Malone. After a year of apostolic supervision by Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, Fisher was appointed the new leader of the Diocese of Buffalo in December 2020 and installed one month later.

Fisher calls this an “exciting” time for the Catholic Church, one with a sense of renewed hope.

“I love the Diocese of Buffalo. It's an incredible place filled with faith. People are very, very proud of their Catholic faith in Western New York,” he said. “I just feel very blessed to be their shepherd and look forward to getting back home after the meeting, and sharing some of the good things that we're hopefully going to accomplish here.”

What won’t happen is something some US bishops called for earlier this year, the denial of Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, including President Joseph Biden.

Abortion is forbidden by church doctrine, but Bishop Fisher, for one, does not support the idea of denying Communion as part of the debate, saying the Eucharist should not be used as a weapon when dealing with politicians. Rather, he suggests, church leaders should confront Catholic elected leaders more privately.

“Part of our charism as bishops is to teach and, and that's everyone. That's not only sort of errant politicians, but also, you know, errant Catholics. We're all in that situation,” he said. “I'm not sure where the discussion is going to go. But I hope it goes certainly into the depths of what the Eucharist means to us as a church but also to us, in our individual call to holiness.”

Business is scheduled to conclude Wednesday, while the conference is scheduled to run through Thursday.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.