Leaving the Archdiocese of Washington's Pastoral Center on May 21, a colleague commented on the weather of that mild spring day, saying, “It's a perfect day.”
Those words could also describe the Mass of Installation that afternoon for Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who as the new archbishop of Washington symbolically accepted the shepherd's staff handed to him by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who as apostolic nuncio to the United States is Pope Francis's representative to this country.
Applause cascaded throughout the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as Archbishop Gregory appeared in the opening procession with eight cardinals, 50 bishops, 300 priests and 100 deacons, and again after the Mass ended, as Washington's new archbishop processed down the center and then side aisle, offering his first blessings to his new family of faith.
Archbishop Gregory, who accepted the offertory gifts from his two sisters, offered words of thanks to them and to his parents and grandmother whose example shaped his life, and to the priests and bishops who mentored him, and to the faithful witness of the people in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, and the Archdiocese of Atlanta whom he had served as a bishop.
But he opened his homily first with words of “deep gratitude, immeasurable joy and unwavering confidence that the Risen Lord who has guided me in my every voyage will remain beside me as I begin my service to the people of God in the Archdiocese of Washington as a fellow believer, a friend and a pastor.”
Archbishop Gregory said Pope Francis's call for the members of the Catholic Church to “encounter and welcome the poor, the marginalized and the neglected, and to place them at the very heart of Christ's Church,” would be his task as archbishop of Washington, beginning that day.
The congregation of 3,000 people at the installation Mass included a diverse group of laity, religious and clergy representing many different backgrounds and cultures but sharing one faith. Washington's archbishop said he has “already come to admire and respect them as a true family of faith committed to their local Church and to their neighbors,” who share their faith by their words and action with their community and with the world.
“We stand at a defining moment for this local faith community -- our hearts are filled with hope and eagerness,” Archbishop Gregory said, acknowledging the historic legacy of faith in the Archdiocese of Washington, and also the pain experienced by local Catholics this past year as the abuse crisis hit the archdiocese in a personal way, after former cardinal archbishop Theodore McCarrick was stripped of his priesthood for misconduct and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, now Washington's archbishop emeritus, faced criticism in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report for how he had handled some clergy abuse cases years earlier as the bishop of Pittsburgh.
Archbishop Gregory emphasized that “our recent sorrow and shame do not define us; rather, they serve to chasten and strengthen us to face tomorrow with spirits undeterred. Together, we implore the Holy Spirit to fortify us with the grace, perseverance and determination that only Christ Himself is able to provide as a gift of His presence, peace and promise.”
Referencing that day's Gospel reading from Mark, Washington's archbishop noted how the story of Jesus calming the stormy seas while he was in the boat with his disciples offers a metaphor for people of faith today.
“We have been tossed about by an unusually turbulent moment in our own faith journeys recently,” Archbishop Gregory said, noting that at times like these, the faithful, like the disciples in the boat, can grow fearful.
Today's Catholics, like those fishermen from long ago, need to remember that “Jesus is in the boat with us,” the archbishop said.
“He is here. He is here when the seas are calm, and He is here during every moment of uncertainty, anger, fear and shame. He invites us to place our trust in Him -- not in trite and easy answers or programs -- but in Him and Him alone,” he added.
Archbishop Gregory described himself as “a man filled with the faith, hope and joy of knowing Jesus Christ is in this boat. I want to be a welcoming shepherd who laughs with you whenever we can, who cries with you whenever we must, and who honestly confesses his faults and failings before you when I commit them, not when they are revealed.”
The congregation applauded at that remark, and during several other parts of his homily. He concluded with saying that as “we begin a journey together on undeniably choppy seas,” and encouraged the people of the Archdiocese of Washington to remember that Jesus is in the boat with them and “has never left our side” and will help them, and the Church, get safely to the shore.
Archbishop Gregory's motto as a bishop -- “We Are the Lord's” -- reflects that trust in Jesus's abiding presence.
The Mass of Installation included many moving moments, such as when the intercessions were prayed in English, French, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Igbo, Chinese, American Sign Language and Spanish, representing the archdiocese's diverse family of faith.
After Communion, the Archdiocese of Washington Mass Gospel Choir sang the song “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood, and Archbishop Gregory, like his archdiocesan family filling the pews of the basilica, seemed moved by the lyrics praising Jesus: “You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. I lift my hands in total praise to you.”
As the choir completed the song with a rising crescendo of “Amen, Amen,” it offered a poignant reminder of what Archbishop Gregory had underscored in his homily, that as he embarks on a new journey of faith together with his new family in the Archdiocese of Washington, whether the waters are calm or stormy, Jesus is by their side, in the boat with them, always.
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