Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

As chairman of the task force preparing for the celebration of the Diocese of Richmond’s bicentennial in 2020, Father Tony Marques is getting to know the people whose faith and work built the diocese. As a result of what he’s discovered about them through his research, he holds them in high esteem.

“I feel comforted by those who have gone before us, and whom I’ve gotten to know better in the course of doing historical research,” he said. “I also feel strengthened by them.”

What Father Marques, who is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Richmond, has come to appreciate is the breadth of a 200-year history.

“A lot has happened. You see how deep the roots of the diocese are and have a sense that the diocese has come through a lot of adversity in that time — the expansive terrain, rural areas, having enough priests have always been a challenge,” he said, adding the “challenges we face today are the same ones that were there from the beginning.”

Among the events and challenges he listed as having affected the diocese were the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Second Vatican Council.

“That’s all part of our story and shapes who we are,” he said. “I have an appreciation for that.”

Focus on Eucharist

Father Marques said that another area he hopes people will respect and embrace is the diocese’s diversity.

“We need to understand that our Church is so diverse in its history, in how much has happened,” he said. “We’re diverse as different ethnic groups have been part of our diocesan history.” 

He likened the diocese to a family.

“Every family has its challenges, it has its achievements which are shared and celebrated, and it has its burdens and difficulties. We’re all connected,” he said.

While the task force is composed mainly of people who work in the Pastoral Center, Father Marques said that as planning continues, there will be opportunities for individuals to provide input and to participate in various events, especially the Eucharistic Congress, which he termed “the centerpiece for evangelization.”

“This large, diocesan-wide gathering will be an opportunity to better understand and appreciate the Eucharist — the source of Church’s commitment that binds us together and which is also the source of the Church’s mission,” he said, referencing the bicentennial’s emphasis on communion and mission.

The Eucharistic Congress, to be held at the Richmond Convention Center, Nov. 6 and 7, 2020, will include Mass, opportunities to receive the sacrament of penance, and daily eucharistic processions in downtown Richmond “in order to give public witness to our faith and how important Eucharist is to us,” Father Marques said.

The rest of the congress will include presentations in English and Spanish for adults, young people and children.

“Each of us, in our own way, will have an opportunity to appreciate and understand the Eucharist,” he said.

‘Proud to be Catholics’

Asked what impact he hoped the bicentennial would have upon the faithful, Father Marques noted several things.

“I would like for them to say that they are proud to be Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond, and have a greater understanding of what that means — that they are part of a diocese that has a long and venerable history that’s been through a lot, that we’re part of something much greater than even our little Sunday parish experience,” he said.

Father Marques said the faithful need to know that the diocese is more than a jurisdiction and administrative unit.

“It is an experience of the Church because we are connected to one another. We’re connected to God and Church through the bishop, who is our shepherd; that’s the significance to that diocesan element,” he said. “Parishes are connected to the diocese through the bishop.”

During the bicentennial, Father Marques said, Catholics have “a unique contribution to make in the history of the Diocese of Richmond.” 

“This is a chance to broaden and deepen our understanding of what the Church is and to appreciate that and be very proud of that,” he said. “We are part of this great development (in the diocese); we are writing the next chapter of its history.”

Editor’s note: Further information about the Diocese of Richmond bicentennial and events planned for 2020 can be found on the diocesan website, www.richmonddiocese.org.

Opportunity to design logo, compose hymn

By the start of Advent, Sunday, Dec. 1, the Diocese of Richmond will launch a competition for the design of the bicentennial logo and composition of the bicentennial hymn. Details will be available on the diocesan website www.richmonddiocese.org.

The logo will, according to Father Tony Marques, chairman of the bicentennial task force, “succinctly and vividly express the significance of the bicentennial” as noted in the Scripture passage around which the commemoration is centered: “Shine like stars in the world, as you hold fast to the word of life” (Phil 2:15-16).

“That verse illuminates two aspects of the Church — community and mission in the Eucharist,” he said. “We express that vividly as it provides an immediate sense of what this event is about.”

Noting that the Church has “always been a patroness of the arts,” Father Marques said the logo competition will be an opportunity for artists to showcase their talents.

“This is part of the tradition we’re building on — expressing our 200 years of history in a vivid, visual way,” he said.

To assist artists and composers with their work, Father Marques said the diocese will provide them with background material from which to work, including the history of the diocese, the diocesan coat of arms, Scripture, and information about the diocesan patron, St. Vincent de Paul. 

 – Brian T. Olszewski