Many things on my mind today and the week just ended has been one of the most physically taxing in a long time since the normal Advent and pre-Christmas schedule was interrupted by a trip to Baltimore for a meeting at Catholic Relief Services. So, here goes,
Bishop John Noonan was installed as fifth bishop of Orlando on Thursday at the Shrine Basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe. A congregation in excess of 2,500 warmly welcomed their new shepherd and in his homily, the new shepherd demonstrated the warmth of his love and fondness for his new diocese. The ceremony was quite lovely and lasted less than 105 minutes which is a miracle in itself. Bishop Noonan did a wonderful thing at the end of Mass when in speaking of Advent as the season of hope, he invited all the seminarians present to come forward as witnesses to hope which the faithful should have for their Church. The bishop has spent almost seventeen of his twenty-seven years in the priesthood working in seminary formation at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, as Dean of Men and then for a good number of years as President-Rector. About eighty seminarians came forth to a standing and prolonged ovation from the people at the Shrine and proudly I could identify about twenty-five as being from our diocese.
Last night saw the annual Christmas dinner for our seminarians and their families (about 190 persons), their pastors and priest friends, and myself. Following Mass in the St. James Chapel we proceeded to Archbishop Favalora Hall where we had dinner and bade farewell with great gratitude to Father Leonard Plazewski who has held the position of Vocation Director of this diocese for twelve and a half years. An earlier post here indicated the transition and who his replacements would be in that very important position within the diocese. The seminarians are fond of Father Len and so the leave-taking was not that easy for him or for many but the Church of St. Petersburg owes him a debt of thanks for his hard work over the years recruiting and assisting seminarians through to priesthood. It is always wonderful to see our men and their families in a relaxed atmosphere and to begin to acknowledge the coming of Christmas with their return to their homes.
The Bethany Center is fast becoming my second home as I seem to be spending many nights there lately. Prior to last night, I held the third of my overnights with our priests, this time being the international priests (born and formed in other countries like Poland, India, African nations, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and Central and South America). Our lengthy conversations about their experiences in coming to minister in the United States and in this diocese were both illuminating and helpful to me. They are a great and generous group of men who understand the challenges of language, culture, accent, etc. and who wish nothing more than to be accepted by me, by you, and by their brother priests as no longer a category (e.g. “international priests”) but just as priests of the diocese.
I have had only one angry over-the-top “comment” to a blog entry here which focused on the lack of a “corpus” (figure of Christ) on the large crucifix at Holy Family Catholic Church and made much of the stained glass window of the “Risen Christ” in the rear of the sanctuary. I regret ruining this readers day then and now as I failed to mention that the wood-carved body of Christ did not arrive on time to be installed on the cross and is due in a few weeks and as for the “stained-glass window”, it was in the church since its first dedication and was a sine qua non for the older parishioners in the renovation. When the figure of Jesus arrives and is placed, I will put a picture here in the profound hope that the reader will calm down but I would bet not. He was from Michigan, anyway, not the parish or the diocese.
This evening a number of the staff of our Pastoral Center gathered at Pinellas Hope to prepare, serve and feed the 262 residents on this cold Florida night. Working without a raise for the last two years, this group paid for the food, prepared it, and served it. I lent them my presence and not my culinary expertise of which I have none.
When the new year begins, forty bishops from the East Coast (the Wilmington diocese down to Miami) will gather for their annual retreat from the 3-7 of January at the Bethany Center. Several Cardinals, four archbishops and the rest bishops will spend their first visit to Bethany being led in our prayer and reflection by Bishop Jaime Soto who is the bishop of Sacramento, California. They are all looking forward to coming back to the Diocese of St. Petersburg after having spent a week here this past summer, hoping for warm weather (a coin toss in early January as we locals know), and ready to enjoy our hospitality and the beauty and comfort of Bethany. So I still have some blogs left in me right up to and including the Feast of the Holy Family a week from today but after that – SILENCE until the 7th of January.
That just about empties the file I have in my mind. Enjoy this final week of hope and expectation.