In Rhode Island, we are bound by ‘two degrees of connection’ rather than separation


I have received much friendly and sometimes amusing advice from longtime residents of Rhode Island. I frequently hear advice about great restaurants and beautiful parks and beaches. Many have explained their antipathy towards bridges – a factor that was, until recently, a mystery to me.
Others have joked about Rhode Island’s “two degrees of separation,” a riff on the common expression “six degrees of separation.” While the remarks have often been tongue in cheek, I have indeed come to appreciate how interconnected we are in our beautiful little state. On several occasions I have met people at a morning event only to meet their cousins or in-laws at another parish in the afternoon. Given how many people I have met in the last year, the “two degrees” jokes are becoming fairly literal.
However, I would like to suggest a slight change in our perspective on this matter. I wonder if it is more accurate to speak of “two degrees of connection?” You have heard me say more than once in this column how much I appreciate the hospitality, neighborliness and warmth of Rhode Islanders. I also appreciate our compassionate generosity to those in need. It strikes me that Rhode Islanders have an instinctive and concrete sense of connection to one another, and that connection helps ease the challenges and burdens of life. Human communities thrive when people establish and strengthen the bonds of community between them.
This summons to communion is a key element of the life of the Church and a central aspect of the call and mission of pastors. I am so grateful that our pastors and parish priests immerse themselves in that work of fostering connection. Recently, I was honored to participate in a celebration of Bishop McManus’s anniversary of episcopal ordination. It was fascinating to see the joy of the gathered bishops and priests and to experience the boisterous conversation. Providence priests share a strong fraternal bond — one that helps their commitment to their own communities.
I also had the chance to spend an evening of prayer and fellowship with the seminarians at Our Lady of Providence. I am always moved by the generosity of the response of these young men to the call of the Lord. I am filed with hope imagining each of them serving as priests in our parishes and schools.
On Sunday, I celebrated with the pastor and parishioners of Our Lady of Fatima in Cumberland as they concluded their 70th anniversary year. That parish has an amazing level of participation by its parishioners and their deep connections to one another were on full display. Their pastor, Father Fernando Cabral, has worked tirelessly to strengthen their bonds and they love him for it.
I think, too, of Bishop-Elect James Ruggieri and the flourishing of ministries and charities wherever he serves. People frequently tell me of his gifts, but I wonder if his greatest gift is that he inspires people to help one another in so many ways.
On the Tuesday evening of Holy Week, we will celebrate the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral. I have asked Bishop-elect Ruggieri to preach the Mass at which our priests will renew their ordination promises along with our brother deacons. I pray that many of you will join with us in prayer at this very beautiful liturgy blessing the oils for the sick and the catechumens and consecrating the chrism to be used in baptism, confirmation and ordinations. After all, each and every Catholic will know at least one of the priests or deacons — thus we will all enjoy a mere two degrees of blessed connection!