I can still remember well, not long after completing my J.C.L. at the gregorian in Rome in June of 2000, attending the mass at st. Peter's Square when the Holy Father gave each recently named Archbishop his pallium. Each year on this day, June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, newly named archbishops from around the world gather in heat of the Roman summer to receive the one vestments that distinguishes a bishop from and archbishop.
The modern western Catholic pallium is a simple three-fingers wide band of wool that is worn around the neck with a short piece that hangs down in back and front. Last night they would have been placed at the tomb of Peter under the basilica. They are worn by the archbishops as a sign of unity with the Church the Supreme Pontiff, the Pope. The wool recalls the image of the good shepherd carrying the lost sheep home on his shoulders.
For those who find the structure of the church confusing We start by recalling that God wills the salvation of all, and the command at the end of Matthew's gospel to go and teach all nations. That mission is then shared with smaller groups of the faithful with a particular title for the leader
The universal church has as it's leader the supreme pontiff, the pope.
The world is then divided into provinces, each with an Archbishop. Provinces are made up of two or more dioceses, each with a bishop.
Each diocese is is then divided into parishes, each with a pastor.
For every person on earth their is some person who is their pastor, someone who is their bishop or Archbishop. A person living near me would be said to live in St. Patrick's parish, in the Diocese of Richmond, in the Province of Baltimore. A Pastor or Bishop is charged with the pastoral care of every person living within their parish, even the non-Catholics.
The American Model in which each person chooses their parish family by shopping around and then registering with the one that best suits their taste has no basis in our law or theology. And the idea that a pastor and his parish is only responsible to care for those who are properly registered and contribute ignores our call to evangelization of those who have yet to receive and accept the good news and our mission to retrieve the lost sheep.
Today's mass reminds us of the call to reach out to the ends of the earth with all the means at our disposal and bring all peoples into the one flock of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. As i have told the people of my two parishes, we can sit back and rest when every person living within the bounds of our parish is in some way an active member of that parish, until then we have work to do.
As the archbishops today have that piece of wool placed around their neck, I would ask you to pray for them and for all of us who are called to shepherd, to pastor, our small portion of the people of God, the Church.