In Scandal's Wake, Guam's Interim Archbishop Works to Heal Fractured Church
By Haidee V Eugenio
November 12, 2017
|Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes is photographed durng an interview at the archdiocesan chancery on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.|
A year since stepping into a fractured community of faith, Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes continues to work on bringing people back to church pews with stronger faith than they had before.
There’s still brokenness but everything can be overcome, he said.
“I think we’ve begun,” Byrnes said about fixing that brokenness of the soul, given the betrayal of trust by spiritual leaders, based on more than 140 clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed against priests and others associated with the Catholic Church.
With his groups of advisers and people he has met along the way, Byrnes is leading efforts to rebuild trust in the church. He says hope and healing ultimately comes from one’s faith in God.
All these critical missions aside, Byrnes, 59, lives a simple life.
One can see him walking in his sandals in the parking lot of Pay-Less Supermarket at the Agana Shopping Center after grocery shopping. Or having lunch in the food court of the Micronesia Mall in Dededo with other clergy members. Or having his hair cut just like anyone else.
“I hope that people will remember that I am approachable,” he said. “In places like Detroit, I could go incognito. I really can’t here.”
He does not drive a fancy car. He usually does not have an entourage. He offered the chancery and the archbishop’s residence to be among those that can be sold to help compensate victims of clergy sex abuses.
Given that he has lived most of his life in Detroit, where freezing temperatures are common some months, living on the tropical island of Guam means a lot of adjustments.
His day starts between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., with prayers.
“I try to take a Holy Hour each morning,” he said.
|Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes is photographed outside the Archdiocesan Offices and Chancery on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Photo: Rick Cruz/PDN)|
Depending on the day of the week, he’s either visiting schools, saying Mass, convening meetings with his Presbyteral Council, his College of Consultors and the Archdiocesan Finance Council, or meeting with individuals and groups.
Byrnes has a deep theological and scholarly background, including a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Arts degree with a concentration in Scripture. The heart of his ministry: going back to the basics.
“There’s got to be authenticity to reality of one’s Christianity. We can’t just talk about it. It needs to be manifested in a manner of life. The heart needs to be touched,” he said. “It’s all about developing friendship with Jesus...You can’t get more basic than that.”
He gives special talks at educational and church conferences. Just recently, he made a presentation about the Scripture at a professional development day for school teachers.
There are also days when a big chunk of his time is spent on correspondence — replying to emails mostly. He has harnessed the power of social media with his "Gospel to Go" series on YouTube, so that the church can reach a much wider audience.
Every Sunday at 9:30 a.m., he officiates the Mass at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatna. He also gets to visit the Department of Youth Affairs facility in Mangilao and join the young people there in prayers and spiritual talks. There are other Masses he gets invited to do.
Many of his Saturday evenings are spent at village fiestas. Despite the amount of food that can be served, Byrnes said he’s keeping his waistline and health in check.
“I always manage what I eat by exercising,” he said. He swims a couple of days a week, walks, and plays golf.
Since he moved to Guam, Byrnes said he’s been visited by his brother and sister-in-law, as well as priests he’s known from Detroit and other places. He was auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit before Pope Francis appointed him on Oct. 31, 2016 as Guam coadjutor archbishop.
As coadjutor archbishop, he has full rights to succeed Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron should Apuron resign, retire or be removed. Apuron, Guam’s archbishop for more than 30 years, is undergoing a Vatican canonical trial and is among those named in clergy sex abuse lawsuits.
Byrnes recognizes that the circumstances around his appointment were unusual.
“I hope we can lead the church in Guam to kind of recover its mission and also even just to figure out what that specific mission is,” he said. “We’re here at a particular place and a particular moment in time and I think we’re struggling to say, what are we here for, why do we exist here? And I would hope that we could figure that out. I don’t think that’s insurmountable.”