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July 15, 2018
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July 21, 2018

Symbol of authority in the call to serve

Q: Archbishop J, what is a pallium?

The pallium is a woolen vestment conferred by the pope on an archbishop. It signifies his authority as the Metropolitan Archbishop of a province of dioceses. It consists of a narrow circular band placed round the shoulders with a short lapel hanging from the front and the back (Oxford Dictionary).

The pallium has six black crosses on it and the ends are finished with black silk to convey the hooves of the sheep. It is now custom to adorn the pallium with three ornamental pins or nails. These are the three nails that pierced the hands and feet of Christ. Like all of the ceremonial dress that the Church uses it has deep significance and points beyond itself towards the mystery that is Christ himself.

Pope Benedict XVI (24 April 2005) says: “The symbolism of the pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life.”

A sheep is symbolically placed on the archbishop’s shoulders each time he presides at a Mass in his province. This is to remind him of Christ the Good Shepherd who carried his sheep on his shoulders.

The archbishop is asked to carry his sheep especially the most vulnerable. It is also a reminder of Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter as leader of the Church: “Feed my sheep”.  Authority in the Church is an instrument of unity and humble service. The pallium as a symbol of authority is a call to serve.

The Universal Church is divided into continents, conferences of bishops, provinces of dioceses, dioceses, parishes and communities. Each distinction is vital to the Church. Each is a manifestation of the whole Church in that geographical space. The Archdiocese of Port of Spain is a province. We have five dioceses in the province: Paramaribo-Suriname,  Georgetown-Guyana, Willemstad-Curaçao, Bridgetown–Barbados and Port of Spain–Trinidad and Tobago.

The journey

The pallium has a long journey in many parts. First, on January 21, feast of St Agnes, the Holy Father blesses two lambs raised by the Trappist monks outside Rome. Next these lambs are sheared and the wool used by the Benedictine nuns at the Monastery of St Cecilia in Rome to make the pallium.

Then the pallia to be given in a specific year are placed overnight on the tomb of St Peter. On the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, June 29, the pallia are taken from the tomb to the Mass where the pope presides.

At that Mass the Holy Father blesses the pallia and distributes them to the newly appointed archbishops who receive, and bring it back to their archdioceses. In the archdiocese the archbishop hands it over to the nuncio who confers it on him in a public ceremony in the cathedral.

History changed

In recent history, I will be the first archbishop to receive the pallium this way. Archbishops Gilbert and Harris had the pallium conferred on them in Rome at the hands of the Holy Father in the same Mass where they were blessed and handed over.

St John Paul II, early in his pontificate, changed the ancient ceremony because he wanted to celebrate the universality of the Church. He asked all newly appointed archbishops to make the journey to Rome to receive the pallium directly from him. He wanted to stress the direct link between the office of the pope and that of an archbishop.

Pope Francis in 2015, reverted to the ancient practice of blessing and handing the pallium in Rome and then imposing the pallium in a local ceremony with wide participation of the local Church and metropolitan province.

Pope Francis wanted to stress the vital importance of the communion within the local Church, between the bishops and priests of the province with the archbishop as the focal point of that communion between the local Church and Rome.

This is expressed in a release on Zenit when Pope Francis changed the instructions:

“The meaning of this change is to place more emphasis on the relationship of the Metropolitan Archbishops— the newly nominated—with their local Church, thus also giving more faithful the possibility to be present in this very significant event for them, and particularly also for the Suffragan Bishops of the Dioceses, who in this way can participate in the moment of the imposition” (ZENIT).


For the first time, since Archbishop Pantin, the priests and people of the archdiocese, and the Province of Port of Spain, can participate in this ceremony. It is a small thing, but it holds a mighty significance that is at the heart of the mystery of the Church which is a sacrament of unity.

The formula used by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the nuncio to the United States, in conferring the pallium speaks volumes: “We confer on you the pallium, taken from the tomb of Peter to wear within the limits of your ecclesiastical province. May this pallium be a symbol of unity and a sign of your communion with the Apostolic See, a bond of love and an incentive to courage. On the day of the coming and manifestation of our great God and chief shepherd, Jesus Christ, may you and the flock entrusted to you be clothed in immortality and glory. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.

The prayer used for the blessing of the pallium by Pope Francis speaks to its significance: O God, eternal Shepherd of souls, whom by the name of sheep you entrusted through Jesus Christ your Son to be governed by the Blessed Apostle Peter and His successors according to the model of the Good Shepherd: through our ministry, pour out the grace of your blessing upon these pallia which you have chosen as a symbol of the office of pastoral care.

Graciously accept our humble petitions, and through the merits and prayers of the Apostles grant that those who by your gift will wear this vestment will understand that they are shepherds of your flock and express by their actions the meaning of this name.

May they take up the yoke of the Gospel placed on their shoulders, and may they find it so light and easy that, as they guide others by their example and fidelity in the way of your commandments, they may merit a place in your eternal pasture. Through Christ our Lord.


Key Message: Authority in the Church is given for service and building unity and communion.

Action step: Reflect on the authority you have and that you exercise; is it in the service of power or of communion? Reflect on the ways that you build up or tear down, build union or create division.

Scripture Reading: Mt 16:13–20; Jn 21:15–19