On Feb. 9, 2017, Bishop Edward J. Burns was installed at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Dallas. Since that time he has traveled throughout the Diocese of Dallas, visiting the Catholic faithful at parishes, schools and hospitals and working with community and interfaith leaders on issues that impact Catholics and non-Catholics. He sat down with The Texas Catholic recently to reflect on his first year as the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Dallas.
Bishop, it’s been nearly a year since your installation as the eighth bishop of Dallas. Can you reflect on that day?
I’ve said it a thousand times: that day was just fantastic. It was really, without a doubt, one of the best days of my life. When I think about the joy that I felt that was actually coming from the people it was a blessing in so many ways. I still remember the joy of the Neocatechumenal Way and the people surrounded the cathedral in song and in praise. To have the personal representative of the Holy Father Pope Francis in the person of the apostolic nuncio—what a joy that was. And then with the three cardinals, of course one of whom was my predecessor, it was an honor with all the bishops, priests, seminarians, religious, deacons and of course the lay faithful here in the Diocese of Dallas. I thoroughly enjoyed the day; it was beautiful.
You have traveled throughout the Diocese. What have you learned about this Diocese and the people throughout your travels?
First, one thing I notice is how proud people are to be Catholic. I have said a number of times that I believe my priests have played a significant part in that. The priests of the diocese have been steadfast over the years and even in moments where it hasn’t been easy, they have been strong; they have been faithful; they have been committed and dedicated and I think the faithful have seen that. I cherish the joyfulness that the lay faithful have in this diocese. Their generosity is amazing and I am humbled by all that. I also have to say that I am sparked by the different cultures that we see here in the diocese. Recently, I was with the Vietnamese community celebrating Mass. I’m looking forward to the near future celebrating Mass with the Nigerian community. All of this is exciting to see—it’s a part of the Universal Church right here in the Diocese of Dallas. Then, not only do we have a very urban center of the Metroplex, but also the rural areas of North Texas that add a whole new dimension of living out our church.
Alaska is big, but Texas is big, too. Have you had a chance to travel outside of the Diocese of Dallas?
I am laughing because I recall how the Knights of Columbus grumbled when I told them that my dear people of the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska when they heard that I was being assigned to the Diocese of Dallas, Texas, they said that I was being downsized.
When you moved here from Juneau you had many things on your plate. You also had some priorities when you came here. Tell us how those are going?
It was first and foremost to get out, see the parishes and see the people. I am absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of work that lies ahead in this wonderful diocese. I’m impressed by the amount of people who really make this diocese tick and the workings of this diocese rely on cooperation and collaboration with so many people. It’s fantastic to work side-by-side with the whole host of priests, deacons, religious and lay ecclesial ministers – it’s a joy. I’m definitely humbled, honored and privileged to be the Shepherd of this diocese when I see the faithfulness of the people and their love for Jesus Christ and their devotion to the Blessed Mother and particularly Our Lady of Guadalupe. I’m humbled by all that.
Many times it is a sacrifice for parents to send their children to Catholic schools. Why should parents consider sending their children to Catholic schools?
Well, you’re right, a lot of times to send our children to Catholic schools is a sacrifice and a challenge. But, I truly believe that it’s a sacrifice and a challenge that is worth it because it’s an amazing investment. When we invest in our children, in particular in Catholic education, it provides them with the best. It also provides them with the truth and it prepares them for the future. What we find is that for the most part those who attend Catholic schools they succeed and it’s a joy to see.
The Catholic Church in Dallas and in other parts of the country is the voice for the faithful in their communities. How will you continue to keep the Catholic Church as a leader in the community?
It’s true, the Catholic Church is a voice for the faithful; it’s also a voice of the Gospel message and it’s also a voice for the voiceless. It’s amazing the responsibility that we have to proclaim, to proclaim the dignity of every human life, the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception until natural death; to uphold the dignity of all, the individual and of families. It’s the important part of being a disciple that we proclaim the Gospel message. The Gospel of life is reflected in every human person and for us to proclaim that is what Jesus proclaimed. For us to do that is the fulfillment of who we are and our vocations as baptized Christians to proclaim the Gospel message. It’s a challenge sometimes, but it’s a challenge worth taking because it’s important for us to uphold always our brothers and sisters and especially our brothers and sisters who are marginalized, in need, or defenseless.
Tell us about the March for Life and your experience from that weekend.
Actually, I had joy to participate in the national March for Life in Washington, D.C. and there were a couple hundred thousand people there and a number of our leaders within our country speaking – what a joy to see that. Then I had the opportunity to fly right back in order to participate in the March for Life here in the city of Dallas. It’s wonderful to see that this past year, from what I learned and having been my first March in Dallas that they got a significant number of people. They got between 10,000-11,000 people who participated in that March, so that was wonderful. I was very pleased. It was great having a Mass. The Knights of Columbus are stellar in all that they do to support life and the sacredness of life. It’s great to partner with our brothers and sisters in other Christian communities, you know, for them to step up with the Catholic faith and proclaim the dignity of life. Of course, also those faithful members of the Jewish and Muslim communities who participated. And also, our brothers and sisters who profess no faith—ultimately, they see the dignity of supporting life and being pro-life and that it upholds the public good of society.
Recently, there was a meeting dedicated to youth and young adults; there was the Encuentro meeting and then a meeting with the Pastoral Center employees discussing how to be better disciples. Tell us about the importance of putting all of this together and what is the next step and how do we move together toward helping each other?
Well, I think first and foremost, what we have to do is strengthen everyone’s relationship and form a personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ and in that to bind ourselves close to the celebration of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments and for them to join us in the celebration of Mass; join us in the celebration of the sacrament of penance; join us in celebrating in the sacraments that sustain us through life. So really, I think that while we have a number of people who profess to be Catholic, it is important to get them participating in the faith, too. I think there is still room in our pews for a lot more.
We saw a government shutdown. There is rhetoric out there on immigration and other matters dividing our communities and frightening many people. What does the Catholic Church do?
For the Catholic Church, we have a responsibility to reach out to the members of the immigrant community. We see it in our DNA as Christians that we would welcome the stranger as we would welcome Christ himself. We’re aware that the Holy Family fled. They had to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt for the safety of the Christ child. Someone had to be there to accept the Holy Family. It’s important that we be prepared to welcome the strangers as we would welcome Christ, and in particular for all for us to help support families who are actually seeking a better life. Everyone has a right to a better life and we have a responsibility to help in whatever ways. In particular, we are responsible to keep families strong because once we start to fracture families then we’re going to have a fractured society. It’s important for us to keep families together and it’s important for us to press our legislators in understanding that too. Ultimately, it gets back to the very basic teaching of upholding the dignity of every human person.
What are your priorities for the next year?
In the future, we will have to continue to address the need for more priests; that translates into a need for more seminarians. We have a real priest shortage in this diocese. In my previous diocese, I had nine priests for 10,000 souls. That is one average parish here in the Diocese of Dallas, but it’s like having one pastor and eight parochial vicars. Well that is a fantastic ratio; in fact, it was the best priest-parishioner ratio in the country. Now I come to the Diocese of Dallas and we practically have the worst priest-parishioner ratio in the country. When Bishop Greg Kelly, our beloved auxiliary bishop, was ordained a priest in 1982 there were 200 priests and 185,000 Catholics. Today, we have less than 200 priests and we have 1.3 million Catholics; so there is a need. It’s important for us to provide for the spiritual needs of our parishioners and to be present to them. I think keeping up with that we have to look at churches and see how equipped our churches are to minister to such a wide Catholic community. With that I think strengthening the people in their relationship with Jesus Christ is going to be an ongoing thrust to this Diocese as to bind them close to our Lord.
In your travels you’ve seen the building of faith but also have seen the actual building of infrastructure. Tell us what you have seen there.
I have said a number of times that in my previous diocese we had no roads. There are no roads in or out of Juneau you can’t drive there. You can only get to Juneau by air or by water. And there are a thousand islands. I come to this diocese with no islands and all roads, there’re roads everywhere. One of the things I recognize that they have in common is travel is a challenge. The infrastructure and the growth is amazing. They’re looking at the possibility of a major corporation coming into Dallas that would bring 50,000 jobs. I read that regardless of what corporation comes it seems as though there are 50,000 jobs to come to this area every year. It is amazing how fast it is growing. I also learned that our Diocese has about $75 million worth of construction going on and that has been fairly consistent over the past couple years. We are doing our best to grow, but we do need a lot of people to help us in the growth and to be attentive to the church of the Diocese of Dallas and North Texas to grow with the demographics and the infrastructure.