ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (CNS) — Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, installed as the bishop of St. Petersburg Jan. 4, urged diocesan Catholics to focus on being missionary disciples.
“Being a missionary disciple and church today often requires that we come out of our comfort zone,” he said during his homily at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle.
“Each time that we exit the doors of the church after Mass, we enter into mission territory,” he added. “We are missionaries and evangelizers to our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, those who have left the practice of the Catholic faith and those with no faith, and finally, those we encounter in our daily lives.”
The 52-year-old bishop who had been the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee since 2012, began his homily by thanking Bishop Robert N. Lynch, who led the diocese since 1996 and submitted his resignation last year when he turned 75.
Bishop Parkes said he has known his predecessor for more than 20 years and described him as someone with “a very kind, caring, and pastoral heart and presence.”
The newly installed bishop also made an immediate reference to his height, noting that when a new bishop arrives, often there are questions about who he is, what he wants to do or what his priorities are. “And in my case, how tall is he?”
To answer the pressing question of the day, he told the congregation that he is 6 feet 8 inches tall. He played basketball when he was younger and he is the tallest bishop in the United States.
He also pointed out that he was a late vocation after working in the banking industry in Tampa. He entered the seminary when he was 29 and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Orlando when he was 35.
He said when he received word of this appointment he accepted it as God’s will and immediately prayed for guidance in his new role.
Bishop Parkes said he hopes to get to know, and listen to, the priests, deacons, religious, and faithful of the diocese. He said much of the work that is already happening in the diocese will continue, including “our care for the poor and marginalized, our defense of human life at all its stages, protecting and promoting religious freedom and the dignity of marriage, Catholic education and formation, and our faithfulness to the teachings of our faith. And sharing the joy of our faith with others — in other words, to be missionary disciples.”
During a news conference in November in St. Petersburg after his appointment was announced, Bishop Parkes asked for prayers that he would be “a good shepherd, a faithful shepherd and a holy shepherd that you all so wholeheartedly deserve.”
When asked the difference between the dioceses of Pensacola-Tallahassee and St. Petersburg, the bishop said the panhandle diocese is larger in area but has a lower population of Catholics than his new diocese.
But while the numbers are different, Bishop Parkes said the needs are similar. “People are searching spiritually,” he said. “They are looking for meaning in their lives. They are looking for hope. That is the role of the bishop and his priests. To help them search. Help them find hope and meaning.”