ERIE, Pa. (CNS) — Live television coverage of the ordination of Bishop Lawrence T. Persico revealed a humanity that is already endearing him to the northwest Pennsylvania flock he will now shepherd as Erie’s 10th bishop.
The microphone he was wearing picked up private comments he made during the nearly three-hour-long ceremony, which required a considerable amount of choreography as he knelt, stood, sat and prostrated himself on the floor of St. Peter Cathedral in Erie Oct. 1 while the congregation prayed for him.
When Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, principal consecrator, gently turned the crosier in Bishop Persico’s hand so that it faced in the correct direction, Bishop Persico flashed a big grin, leaned toward the archbishop and admitted, “I’m new at this!”
The planned welcome remarks by retired Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, had to be given by the vicar general, Msgr. Robert Smith, because Bishop Trautman was suffering from a severe case of laryngitis.
Reading from the handwritten message, Msgr. Smith said, “Our new bishop comes in Christ’s name, sent by the bishop of Rome to be the bishop of Erie. We welcome him with open arms and open hearts.”
Bishop Trautman, Erie’s bishop from 1990 until his retirement in July, read the last paragraph of the message in a hoarse whisper, thanking his co-workers and urging all to “give your new shepherd the same loyal and faithful assistance you gave to me.”
Quoting St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, he concluded: “And now, brothers and sisters, I must say goodbye — encourage one another, live in harmony and may the God of love and peace be with you.”
The 76-year-old bishop received a warm and enthusiastic standing ovation.
Then it was Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s turn to read the apostolic mandate appointing Erie’s new bishop, who at the time of his appointment in July was the Greensburg Diocese’s vicar general and chancellor. But before reading it, Archbishop Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, made some personal remarks.
The archbishop noted the episcopal ordination was taking place “on the beautiful feast” of St. Therese of Lisieux, known as the “Little Flower,” and was close to the Oct. 11 opening of the Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict XVI.
Referring to the saint, Archbishop Vigano described how “upon prayerful reflection, she came to understand that the church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love.”
“May your faithful episcopal ministry to the people of God and to the community at large in Erie stoke the fire of that love which has enkindled the life of the church down through the ages,” the archbishop told the soon-to-be consecrated bishop.
“Catholics know that the reality of the world is much more than we can see with our eyes,” Archbishop Chaput said in his homily during the ordination rite. “We are surrounded by the angels and saints in the heavenly court where they constantly worship God.”
The ordination rite then continued with the laying on of hands by Archbishop Chaput and co-consecrators Bishop Trautman and Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt of Greensburg. The other 25 bishops present then followed suit, including Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, a seminary classmate of Bishop Persico.
After Archbishop Chaput recited the prayer of ordination and presented Bishop Persico with the Book of Gospels, the ring, the miter and the crosier, or pastoral staff, he was seated in the cathedra to applause from the congregation.
During Communion, the new bishop offered the Eucharist to his family members, then discreetly left the cathedral to take holy Communion to the invited guests watching the ordination by video hookup in an auditorium next door to the over-flow cathedral.
In remarks at the end of the liturgy, Bishop Persico recalled his “first visit to this magnificent cathedral.” He attended the installation Mass for Bishop Trautman in 1990, because he had to drive then-Greensburg Bishop Anthony G. Bosco and the late retired Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg to Erie to attend it.
“What stands out the most in my mind was that from where I was seated I was unable to view the ceremony,” the new bishop said. “I am delighted I had a better view of this ceremony!”
He thanked the many people who have supported him in his life as well as those who at the ceremony.
“Finally, I ask you — the people of this beloved Diocese of Erie — to pray for me that I may be a good shepherd and servant after the heart of Jesus,” Bishop Persico said, “so that together we may be effective in helping to build the kingdom of God here in the diocese.”
Welsh is executive editor of Faith magazine, Erie’s diocesan publication.