Hundreds of people filled St. Basil the Great Church in Brecksville the evening of Sept. 11 to welcome Bishop Nelson Perez to the Diocese of Cleveland.
The bishop has 10 meetings on his calendar in every corner of the diocese at which he will celebrate Mass and meet the priests and parishioners. The Cuyahoga Southwest District, which encompasses 18 parishes, hosted the first event at St. Basil’s. Tickets, which were sent in advance to parishes and which were distributed at the pastor’s behest, were required for admission to the Mass because of limited seating in the church.
“I feel joyful and peaceful to be with you here tonight,” Bishop Perez told the congregation. “I had meetings all day today at the chancery and couldn’t wait to get out, to come here and meet you. This is what a bishop does. We come from different places to be nourished by the Church.”
Father Larry Jurcak, pastor of St. John Bosco Parish in Parma Heights, and presbyteral convener for the district, offered the bishop best wishes from the 18 parishes in the Southwest area. “We can’t wait to begin to meet you as we begin the 11th chapter in the history of our diocese,” he added.
Bishop Perez acknowledged the differences of everyone, but noted that “we all have one thing in common: we’re all Church. And you’re the Church in this little area of the diocese,” he added.
He said life has its ups and downs, with things happening daily including joys, successes and failures. “We never know what we’re going to get,” he said, “but there is another level, the grace of God – what God is doing in our lives.”
Using the analogy of a pregnant woman, he discussed some of the challenges she might meet, including morning sickness, moodiness and becoming bigger and bigger as the baby grows. After the baby’s birth, when asked how it was, she replied, “Beautiful.”
“A life was formed,” he said. “And that’s how God works in us, through us and sometimes despite us.”
Five years ago, the bishop said he was pastor of a parish in Philadelphia. After the announcement of his appointment as a bishop, he said parish staffers received several calls from people asking about him. “They were doing reconnaissance,” he quipped.
Connecting his message to the Gospel, Bishop Perez talked about how Jesus looked beyond the withered hand of the man in the temple and touched his heart, even as those without good intentions watched him.
“God works through us, in us and sometimes in spite of us,” he reminded the congregation. “Your churches, parishes are the most immediate expression of Church. You should be missionaries in your parish communities so we can be a Church on a mission, like the pope said. But that takes initiative. You need to be involved in the life of the world around you so that you are like yeast and make things rise.”
Meeting people where they are doesn’t mean you must abandon who you are, Bishop Perez said. “Meet them with the truth of the Gospel and embrace them with it. It’s hard to be a missionary disciple, but we should take the initiative to be fruitful and joyful because with Jesus, life becomes richer and life has meaning. A missionary disciple knows that Jesus walks with him, breathes with him and works with him,” he said.
“The pope is calling us to fall in love with the Church again,” he added.
During a reception after Mass, Bishop Perez greeted a large crowd, spoke individually to people and posed for many photos.
Parishes in the Southwest Suburban District are: St. Basil the Great, Brecksville; Assumption, Broadview Heights; Mary Queen of the Apostles, Brook Park; St. Ambrose and St. Colette, Brunswick; St. Michael, Independence; St. Bartholomew, Middleburg Heights; St. Albert the Great, North Royalton; Holy Family, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bridget of Kildare, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Columbkille, St. Francis de Sales and St. Matthias, Parma; St. John Bosco, Parma Heights; and St. John Neumann and St. Joseph, Strongsville.
There are nine more meetings scheduled through early November so he can celebrate Mass and visit with priests and the faithful in the other diocesan districts.