CLEVELAND (CNS) — Expressing hope and optimism for his new mission, Bishop Nelson J. Perez told a packed St. John the Evangelist Cathedral during his installation Mass that he didn’t arrive with a preconceived plan of action but that he wanted to learn from the faithful of Northeast Ohio.
“I have been sent here to become a part of you, not the other way around,” he said during the Sept. 5 liturgy.
“Do not make the mistake about making this about me because it is not … 50 years from now, I will be just a picture on the wall,” he said, eliciting laughs.
“If there is a plan, I promise you all I came here to work together collaboratively … to engage, to build, to proclaim and to serve. That is the plan. I promise to do all I can to help this part of the Body of Christ flourish here in Northeast Ohio,” he said.
Bishop Perez, the son of Cuban immigrants who served as an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, for five years beginning in 2012, explained that he wanted to help carry out Pope Francis’ vision for the Catholic Church: that the faithful accompany and meet people where they are with joy in living as missionary disciples.
He spoke of joy and gratitude for the opportunity to serve in a diocese with a rich ethnic diversity. He also thanked the diocese for “your warm and joyful welcome, your commitment to your faith, your love for the Lord and his church.”
Such diversity was reflected throughout the liturgy as Scripture readings and music alternated between English and Spanish. Prayers of the faithful were offered in multiple languages.
“Like my own family, many of you and your families came to this country looking for a better life, a more just life, where freedom, human dignity, human rights and life itself is respected. You come from many countries, each with the beauty of your language and culture and, of course, your great food,” Bishop Perez said.
“I am looking forward to getting to know you, walk with you in the midst of your joys and challenges, and above all, to learn and grow with you.”
Bishop Perez offered a brief greeting in Spanish, saying he knows the dreams, joys and challenges Hispanics face in their lives. He said the Hispanic community could “count on my love, my support and my presence among you” in the future, especially as the U.S. church prepares for the fifth Encuentro in Dallas next September.
The bishop also acknowledged that the church continues to respond to the challenges and pain stemming from the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
“In union with my brother bishops from all over this country,” he said, “I once again ask forgiveness, ask that we all continue to pray for victims, and continue the work of healing and reconciliation, with all the grace and compassion we can offer, and with fullness of heart. We have to do all we can so this scourge never happens again.”
The bishop opened his homily by inviting the congregation in a chant and response: “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.” After a tepid response, he repeated the invitation, saying he thought more enthusiasm was in order. The congregation responded, boosting its volume several notches.
He also invited attendees to a moment of prayer and a Hail Mary for the people in Texas and Louisiana recovering from Hurricane Harvey. The storm lingered for days along the northwest Gulf Coast at the end of August, inundating communities with up to 52 inches of rain that caused massive flooding that forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and claimed at least 63 lives.
The bishop concluded his homily with the two words he said he has heard repeatedly from well-wishers in text messages, emails, letters and phone calls since his appointment July 11: “Cleveland rocks!” More laughs and applause followed.
The ceremony began with a 30-minute procession of priests, deacons and lay leaders from throughout the diocese as well as ecumenical and interfaith leaders. Among the priests attending were several of Bishop Perez’s classmates at St. Charles Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who were ordained with him in 1989.
About 50 archbishops and bishops from Roman Catholic and Eastern rite Catholic churches attended. The group included retired Bishop Richard G. Lennon and retired Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, predecessors to Bishop Perez, and several Hispanic bishops from across the country.
At the beginning of the liturgy, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati, head of the province in which the Cleveland DIocese is a part, welcomed Bishop Perez, saying he and other Ohio bishops looked forward to working with him.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, read from Pope Francis’ letter of appointment. He noted that Bishop Perez’s installation was taking place on the feast of St. Teresa of Kolkata and reminded those in attendance that the only requirement in life is to love others.
He said that St. Teresa often said that she may not have been able to speak the same language as the people to whom she ministered, but that she could offer a smile as a sign of trust and compassion.
“We have confidence you will carry her smile in your path as we stress and hope you serve the clergy and faithful being entrusted in your pastoral care,” Archbishop Pierre said.
The nuncio accompanied Bishop Perez as he walked through the cathedral showing the papal document to diocesan leaders and the congregation, as church tradition holds. He then led newly installed bishop to the cathedra signifying his position as the spiritual leader of the diocese.