This is a very special week for the faithful of the Archdiocese of Washington. This coming Tuesday, July 22, is exactly 75 years to the day that the Archdiocese of Washington was founded.

Pope Pius XII, in a papal bull dated July 22, 1939, decreed that the city of Washington, D.C. be "adorned with the splendor of an archiepiscopal throne." Thus, he established the Archdiocese of Washington. The decree was officially announced on Oct. 12 of that year.

At the time of its founding, it was made an archdiocese of equal rank with Baltimore, with both under the direction of Archbishop Michael Curley.

In decreeing that the new archdiocese be erected, Pope Pius XII noted that Washington, D.C., is an "especially distinguished" city. "To this new See we grant all the rights, privileges and prerogatives which other archiepiscopal sees possess and enjoy," the pope wrote on that July 22 exactly 75 years ago.

He also noted that the Archdiocese of Washington was being created during the same year as the "150th anniversary of the establishment of Washington as the capital of the United States and of the foundation of the episcopal See of Baltimore."

By the way, while we may only officially be 75 years old and established 150 years after the capital, the Catholic faith in what is now this archdiocese dates back to way before this nation's founding. Catholicism was brought to Maryland in 1634 when Jesuit Father Andrew White celebrated the first Mass held in the original 13 colonies on the shores of St. Clement's Island.

At first, when it was designated in 1939, the archdiocese included only the city of Washington. St. Matthew's on Rhode Island Avenue was named as our cathedral church.

In 1947, the archdiocese was completely separated from Baltimore and expanded to include five surrounding Maryland counties: St. Mary's, Charles, Calvert, Prince George's and Montgomery.

Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle was installed as the first resident archbishop in 1948, being named a cardinal in 1967 and retiring in 1973. He was followed by Cardinal William Baum, Cardinal James Hickey, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and our current archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Seventy-five years is not very long when you consider that we have enjoyed more than 2,000 years of Christianity. But, this is a milestone justly worthy of celebration. At the dawn of the Third Christian Millennium then-Pope, now Saint, John Paul II said such milestone events are worth marking because "measurements of time are imbued with the presence of God and with His saving activity."

The future saint also said that marking such anniversaries "is aimed at an increased sensitivity to all that the Spirit is saying to the Church."

Indeed, "the presence of God and His saving activity" is quite evident within this local Church. Look what has happened in this past three-quarters of a century. Today, the Archdiocese of Washington is home to more 620,000 Catholics, who worship and learn in 139 parishes and 96 Catholic schools.

The Archdiocese of Washington has often been called a "mosaic of faith." The "tiles" in this mosaic are Catholic people of every race from every part of the globe. In addition to large and dynamic black and Hispanic Catholic communities, the archdiocese includes people of nearly every nationality.

Mass is offered in almost two dozen languages other than English in churches throughout the archdiocese. The faithful of the Archdiocese of Washington can attend Masses offered in Spanish, Arabic and Syriac; Chinese; Croatian; Ethiopian; French; German; Greek; Haitian; Igbo (Nigerian); Italian; Korean; Latin; Lithuanian; Polish; Portuguese; Old Slovanic; Slovenian; Tagalog (Filipino); Ukrainian; and Vietnamese.

This archdiocese is truly catholic - that's with a little "c" meaning "universal." For those Catholics who celebrate our faith in a rite different from the Latin Rite, they can find Divine Liturgies and other sacraments in this archdiocese following the Ge'ez (Ethiopian); Maronite (Lebanese); Melkite (Greek); Ruthenian (Eastern European Byzantine); Syro-Malankara (Indian); and Ukrainian rites.

When he established our archdiocese in 1939, Pope Pius XII decreed that "We place upon it the same obligations and burdens which are placed upon others (dioceses)." That means, we must follow the mandate of Christ Himself when He called on His followers to "Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation" Mark (16:14).

Our 69 Catholic elementary schools and our two archdiocesan high schools and 18 other independent Catholic high schools educate more than 27,000 students. Additionally, more than 25,000 students are taught in parish religious education programs. Each year more than 1,100 people are received into the Church through the RCIA program. The Archdiocese of Washington also sponsors two seminaries, and is home to three Catholic universities.

Our service agencies - such as Catholic Charities, the Birthing and Care Program, Victory Housing, and many others - serve more than 116,000 people who are in need medical or dental help, counseling, shelter, post-abortion assistance, legal aid, affordable housing and many other kinds of assistance.

We have much to be proud of as we celebrate our 75th anniversary, and we still have much work to do. Cardinal Wuerl has chosen "Manifesting the Kingdom" as the theme of this yearlong celebration. He said the theme is a reflection of "our ongoing legacy as witnesses of the risen Christ called to reflect and build His kingdom here on earth."

Our cardinal has wisely called us to look both backward and forward during this time. He recently concluded a Synod that was convened to not only examine the good works completed in the Archdiocese of Washington over the past of the past 75 years, but to chart a course for the future of the local Church.

And, just within the past month, Cardinal Wuerl not only celebrated Masses in St. Clements Island and St. Mary's City - the birthplace of the Catholic Church in the original 13 colonies and thus symbols of our religious freedom - but he also celebrated a Mass in Washington expressly to pray for the protection and guarantee of religious freedom for future generations.

In his blog about the 75th anniversary - our diamond jubilee - Cardinal Wuerl noted that "Like a diamond, we shine the light of our faith and the light of Christ's love as we live and share our faith by carrying out the call of the New Evangelization."

He also said that this anniversary is "our moment" in which we not only "honor our Archdiocese of Washington's historic legacy by making history of our own as we manifest God's kingdom in today's world."

Indeed, this is our moment: to look back, to plan ahead and to always give thanks to our good God whom we know, love and serve through our local Church here in the Archdiocese of Washington. [email protected]