Right now I’m getting ready to go to Rome. There I will receive my Metropolitan Archbishop’s pallium from the hands of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in a ceremony to be held at St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul Apostles.

This is a moment of special grace for me.

I am traveling to Rome with nearly 300 pilgrims from our archdiocese, as well as with my sisters and other family members and friends. I will carry your intentions with me as we spend a week on pilgrimage, praying at the ancient holy sites of our Catholic faith.

The archbishop’s pallium is a rich symbol of our one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. It is a stole made of white wool. Since the early centuries, the pope has conferred the pallium on archbishops from major cities, known as “metropolises.”

The Church prepares for this event with great care. Every gesture is beautiful and filled with symbolism.  The preparations begin each Jan. 21, the Feast of St. Agnes. Agnes is a 3rd-century martyr whose name means “lamb.” She is a symbol of the innocent flock of God that the Good Shepherd, Christ has come to save. So on her feast, the pope blesses the lambs that will provide the wool for each pallium.

The pope will later bless each pallium personally before the palliums are placed beside the tomb of St. Peter. This gesture symbolizes the unity of those who will wear the pallium with the first pope and bishop of Rome.

Blessed John Paul II started the custom of bestowing palliums annually on the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul for metropolitan archbishops appointed during the previous year. Bestowing palliums on their solemnity is a beautiful expression of the Church’s apostolic nature. It is a beautiful sign of the bishop’s identity as a successor of the apostles in communion with the pope, the successor of St. Peter.

And by gathering archbishops from around the world, this celebration reminds us that the Church is “catholic” or universal — one family of God drawn from every nation under heaven.

An estimated 40 or more archbishops from 30 countries will join me in receiving their palliums. Three of my brothers from the United States will be there — the new archbishops of Seattle and Oklahoma City, as well as my successor in San Antonio.

I ask your prayers for all of us and for the mission of the Church.

Please pray also for the intentions of our Holy Father. In God’s Providence, Pope Benedict will be marking the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination that day. And it is a special grace for me to be receiving the pallium from his hand that day.

The pallium that St. Peter’s successor will place upon my shoulder symbolizes the love of Christ, our Good Shepherd. It is a sign of how in his mercy he carries the lost sheep back to the Father on his shoulders.

I am humbled and amazed by the responsibility that has been entrusted to me as your archbishop. Our Lord calls his archbishops to be his shepherds. To be the living image of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. To feed the flock of Christ with the Word of God and the Bread of Life. He calls his shepherds to be his voice and hands in the world — seeking out the lost and gathering all our brothers and sisters back into the fold of his Church.

“Thus the pallium becomes the symbol of our love for Christ the Good Shepherd and of our loving together with him,” Pope Benedict has said. “It becomes the symbol of the vocation to love people as he does, together with him — those who are seeking, those who have questions, those who are sure of themselves and the humble, the simple and the great.”

Let us pray for one another this week. Let us ask the patroness of this great archdiocese, Our Lady of the Angels, to give us all the courage, strength and wisdom to continue to strive for holiness. And let us all strive, as his apostles did, to proclaim the Gospel and to live it faithfully and joyfully.