The 24 Lorain County District parishes came together on Sept. 18 for a Mass and reception with newly installed Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez. Sacred Heart Chapel Parish in Lorain hosted the districtwide event, which was attended by hundreds of people representing the parishes.
Father William Thaden, Sacred Heart pastor, welcomed all to the liturgy.
“We are thrilled to have the bishop here,” he said. “We are people of many nationalities and languages,” he added, making a few remarks in Spanish. Father Thaden began his ministry at Sacred Heart Chapel in 1999 after serving at the diocesan mission in El Salvador. Sacred Heart, which was founded in 1952, has about 1,600 families.
“He speaks Spanish pretty well,” the bishop said.
“I have a 45-minute homily prepared, but some people had a problem with that, so I cut it to 40 minutes,” he quipped, drawing a laugh from the congregation.
Bishop Perez used the Gospel, the story of a centurion with an ill slave who felt unworthy to ask Jesus for help, as the basis for his homily.
“His job was to enforce an oppressive government,” the bishop said, adding the centurion was an unlikely person for Jesus to respond to. “Why did Jesus pick him? He had a loving heart. He cared about his slave and wanted him to be whole. Each of us comes from the heart of God who loves and respects each of us. That’s a message you should take back to your parish communities,” he said.
“In Christ, there is power, a source of miracles. The centurion had heard about Jesus, but felt unworthy to approach him, so he worked through someone,” Bishop Perez said.
He looked downward and told the congregation that if you always look down, “if you navel gaze, you can’t see anyone else. And while the centurion did this, it wasn’t enough to keep him from sending someone to engage Jesus. He had a heart filled with faith and conviction and we need that today. The centurion teaches us to have a caring heart for those in our households. If you navel gaze a little, you need to get over it,” he said.
“The 24 parishes in this district are 24 powerhouses of grace. Imagine what you can do in your neighborhoods,” the bishop said.
“Two months ago, Nelson and Cleveland had nothing to do with each other. Then the nuncio called and asked if I’d ever been to Cleveland. I said I’d never even been to Ohio,” he said. “And now, here I am – 19 years to retirement. Not that I’m counting, but it’s actually 18 years and . . . ,” he said, drawing another laugh from the congregation.
Bishop Perez said he has no plan for his time in Cleveland. “It would be presumptuous if I did,” he added, recalling what he preached in the homily at his installation Mass. He said he was sent here to be a part of the diocese, not the other way around.
He said the Church is “on mission, on the way. Church is not simply a place that we go to. Actually, Church is a place we go from.” The bishop said the word Mass comes from a Latin word that means sending. “We’ve been sent to be missionary disciples.” Pope Francis said a Church closed on itself is a sick Church. Those are his words. Imagine if the disciples had never left the Upper Room. And they’re weren’t anything special – one betrayed him, one denied him and the others ran for the hills. Who stood at the foot of the cross? The women,” he said.
“If the disciples hadn’t come back, you’d be free tonight. There’d be no Mass,” he said, drawing another laugh.
“We do our part and the Lord does his. He wants us to be joyful,” Bishop Perez said.
“Life is complex, with good and bad days, but there is joy rooted in the reality that we’ve had an encounter with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. So we come together as a Church, but only for a little while and then we are sent to be light and salt,” he said.
After Mass, there was a reception where the congregation had a chance to socialize, greet the bishop and pose for photos.
Parishes in the Lorain County District are: Holy Spirit and St. Joseph parishes in Avon Lake; Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sacred Heart Chapel, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. Mary and St. Peter parishes in Lorain; St. Thomas the Apostle, Sheffield Lake; St. Teresa of Avila, Sheffield; St. Joseph, Amherst; Holy Trinity and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception parishes, Avon; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Columbia Station; St. Agnes, St. Jude and St. Mary parishes in Elyria; St. Vincent de Paul, Elyria Township; Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Grafton; St. Julie Billiart and St. Peter parishes in North Ridgeville; Sacred Heart Parish, Oberlin; Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in South Amherst and St. Patrick Parish in Wellington.