CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Most of you know that I was a priest of the Archdiocese of Miami prior to coming to the Diocese of St. Petersburg as bishop. Today I returned to my priestly roots and joined the Church of Miami in welcoming their new Archbishop, Thomas Wenski, formerly a priest of Miami, auxiliary bishop there as well, and for the last seven years Bishop of Orlando, our neighbor just across the Polk county line. The installation of one already a bishop is a fairly simple and straightforward Mass with the official installation taking place right at the beginning, prior to singing the “Gloria.” The representative of the Holy Father, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who is Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, after offering a few words of congratulations and welcome to Archbishop Wenski and of gratitude and farewell to the retiring Archbishop Favalora, then read the “Apostolic Bull” (an English translation of the Latin original) from Pope Benedict appointing the new archbishop. Archbishop Favalora, who began the Mass sitting in the cathedra or chair of the bishop, steps down and with the Nuncio leads the new Archbishop to his place on the same cathedra just vacated. From that point forward Archbishop Wenski presides as principle celebrant and delivers the homily.
I have already written that it was a bittersweet moment for me as I have throughout my fourteen years as a bishop been grateful to Archbishop Favalora for many kindnesses. He ordained me to the episcopacy at St. Jude’s Cathedral on January 26, 1996 (I was his first bishop ordination), he presided over many meetings we have in the state, and more recently he drove over to visit me during my second week in Intensive Care following my second surgery last August and faithfully called me almost every week during my long recovery. After five years here as bishop in St. Petersburg, upon going to Miami he never lost his interest in and concern for this diocese, its priests, deacons, religious and faithful. He came to ordain Father John Lipscomb when I was too weak to do so last December, celebrated our fortieth anniversary with us as a diocese and often asked me about certain priests and people he missed. Now I will miss him. And it all happens in an instant in the context of Eucharist. My moment is coming and I thought about that a lot today, having passed sixty-nine years last Thursday. Retired bishops, archbishops and cardinals need to recall the words of John the Baptist when Jesus appeared on the shore of the Jordan River, “as He grows greater, so I must grow less.” Archbishop Favalora was genuinely relieved to be retiring but not enough thanks has been given to him for his nearly fifty years of priesthood, nearly twenty-five years as a bishop, five years as our shepherd here, and leader of the Church of Florida. It had to be tough to turn over the reins of office but it happens to all of us and is what I call the “genius of Roman Catholic ordained ministry” which means everyone gets a chance occasionally to have someone else as leader. No bishop can make everyone happy, and I hope we do not try, but all God’s people in their lifetime will have an opportunity to experience different styles of leadership in the Church.
Thank you, Archbishop Favalora, for your time as our Metropolitan Archbishop and welcome Archbishop Wenski, home to Miami, and to the role of our provincial leader. There is a little moniker, borrowed from the Easter Gospel, which summarizes what happens the day after an episcopal ordination or installation and it is this: “they rolled the stone before the tomb and all withdrew.” Now the really tough work begins for every bishop after their ordination/installation and they deserve the prayers of the faithful said at every Eucharist and beginning today in Miami, “we pray for Benedict our Pope, Thomas our bishop, his assistant bishops and all the clergy.”
Update: CatholicTV has the broadcast of the Installation Mass available to view on demand.