Editor’s note: The following is the prepared text from Archbishop-elect Paul Etienne’s Oct. 4 address at the Anchorage Archdiocese Pastoral Center during a press conference introducing him as Pope Francis’ choice to become the next archbishop of Anchorage. He will be formally installed on Nov. 9 in Anchorage. He comes from the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he has served as bishop for past seven years.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, really means it when he says that he wants bishops to travel to the peripheries to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s love to strangers. Pope Francis during his three and a half years as the Bishop of Rome is an example for us of the joy of the Gospel, and he is renewing the joy of many disciples in service of the church and of the poor and marginalized. With today’s appointment, he is sending me among you, in the name of Jesus Christ, as your new archbishop, to be your servant and shepherd. I humbly accept this commission, with great gratitude to Pope Francis.
You cannot possibly imagine my surprise when on Saturday evening, Sept. 24, I receive a call from a priest serving at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington that Pope Francis has appointed me to be the fourth archbishop of Anchorage. Truthfully I did not say “yes” but asked for a day to digest, pray and discern what my best response might be to this unexpected turn in my life in the church.
He reminded me: “Peter has already chosen you.” I told him, “I understand, Father, but I want my ‘yes’ to come with all the freedom this heart can muster.” He graciously gave me the night to pray, which is all I could do, because I sure did not sleep!
I am at heart a product of a very small river town in Indiana, Tell City, and of a family of faith-filled parents and siblings which has produced two married children, one religious sister and three priests. We were and are close and my assignment to Wyoming as bishop of Cheyenne seven years ago was itself a tremendous challenge to me personally. Then and now I ended up saying that if it is God’s will for me to serve far away from my roots, then I should indeed say “yes.”
Now I shall deeply miss what was my home for the last seven years, the priests, deacons, religious and people of the state of Wyoming. I have driven its roads, breathed its air, admired its rugged beauty and embraced its wonderful, faith-filled people. I wish to express my deep gratitude to the church of Cheyenne, because they have loved me and formed me into the shepherd who stands before you today.
Last Saturday when I caught my breath I thanked God for the years with the people of God in Wyoming, then turned my mind and prayers and thoughts to this great land, this beautiful church, which will soon be my home. So I look forward to getting to know you, from Dutch Harbor in the west to Valdez in the east, and from Seward in the south to Talkeetna in the north, I promise you that it is my desire to discern, discuss and accompany you on our faith journeys.
There are large shoes to fill as a successor to Archbishop Schwietz and I wish to thank him for his warm welcome since our first conversation to this moment. I am happy that he will remain in our midst and I look forward to and will value his close collaboration and friendship in the days ahead.
So, what can you expect of me? I will give you my all. I love the Lord. I love being a priest. I love the church and the vision of the church’s full potential which is being charted by Pope Francis. Please be patient and pray with and for me as I come to know you, and know that from this moment I will be your humble servant who loves you with the heart of the Gentle Shepherd.