A huge crowd of nearly 1,000 people filled St. Rita Church in Solon on Nov. 7 as Bishop Nelson Perez celebrated the 10th – and last – of the district Masses that introduced him to the faithful of the Diocese of Cleveland. About a dozen priests from the 13 parishes in the Cuyahoga County Suburban-Southeast District concelebrated the liturgy.
Since his Sept. 5 installation, the bishop has traveled throughout the eight-county diocese meeting with priests in the districts, then celebrating Mass and visiting with parishioners at receptions.
“I am offering this Mass for you,” the bishop told the congregation, “and also in remembrance of those who were killed in Texas and the three people murdered in Cleveland on Sunday.”
The Gospel was the story of a man who hosted a banquet, but the invited guests made excuses and did not attend, so he sent his servants to bring the blind, lame, poor and others to feast in their place.
“This Gospel is a rich banquet; it includes something for everyone,” he said.
The bishop told the congregation that he is a diver and sometimes he and his diving buddies would catch dozens of lobsters – which many people consider a delicacy – during a week.
“We would eat it three times a day and sometimes for a snack. After about three or four days, it was too much of a good thing and you don’t appreciate it. I just wanted a cheeseburger,” he said.
“God sets us a daily banquet of family, friends, nature, culture, art, music and more. What are we grateful for? We are invited to the banquet of God’s word and the Eucharist,” he said.
“We are thankful for our priests who walk with us daily. And we think they should be available to us ‘on demand,’ like television shows,” he quipped. The bishop said we also should be thankful for the deacons and religious sisters who continue to walk with us, to nurture us and teach us.
The question he most often is asked is about his plan for the Church of Cleveland.
“And I toss it back asking, ‘What’s your plan for the bishop of Cleveland?’” he said. “The diocese has been here for 170 years – a few years before I was born,” he said, prompting laughter from the congregation.
“God writes with straight and crooked lines, but he has a plan. God will do what God will do,” Bishop Perez said.
The Church has persevered for 2,000 years, adapting and expanding to fill the needs of the time. He said since Vatican II, the Church has been working “to open the windows and doors,” referencing ongoing work in the area of evangelization.
“The Church exists to proclaim the Gospel, to be powerful and transformative evangelizers,” he said.
Bishop Perez said Pope St. John Paul II showed us how to live and serve intensely, how to grow old and sick with dignity. “He didn’t hide from the world,” he said.
“And Pope Francis reminds us that Church is a place we go from. We are the presence of Christ in this area; our parish communities are the deepest expression of Christ in our communities. He told us that a parish turned inward is a sick parish,” the bishop said.
He recommended reading “Joy of the Gospel” to gain a deeper understanding of Pope Francis’ concept of missionary disciples, a calling he has for each of us. He said the Church must be engaged with the world around it, like yeast, so it rises.
“We are to meet people where they are and accompany them with the truth of the Gospel. That truth is what sets us free,” he said. “There is a plan – the plan of the Spirit – so let’s go live that plan.”
Bishop Perez acknowledged the choir, musicians and bell choir from the combined parishes, as well as those who planned the liturgy and reception. He greeted parishioners and posed for photos at the reception in the St. Rita School gym after Mass.
Parishes in the district are: Holy Angels, Bainbridge; Our Lady of Hope and St. Mary parishes, Bedford; St. Joan of Arc, Chagrin Falls; St. Monica, St. Therese and SS. Peter and Paul parishes, Garfield Heights; Our Lady of Guadalupe, Macedonia; St. Martin of Tours. Maple Heights; St. Barnabas, Northfield; Resurrection of Our Lord and St. Rita parishes, Solon; and SS. Cosmas and Damian, Twinsburg.