“You’d be the envy of most parishes in the country,” Bishop Nelson Perez told the musicians and singers at a Mass he celebrated on Feb. 11 in Fairchild Chapel at historic Oberlin College. “How can I steal you?” he asked, giving a nod to the college’s celebrated conservatory.
The Rev. David Dorsey, multifaith chaplain and director of religious life at the college, said it was the first time he can remember a bishop from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland visiting the college and celebrating Mass. “We’re very excited to welcome him,” Rev. Dorsey said.
About 75 people attended Mass in the small chapel in Bosworth Hall. Oberlin’s Newman Catholic Community coordinated the bishop’s visit, including the Mass and a reception afterwards.
During his homily, the bishop reflected on the readings of the day, which dealt with how lepers were identified and treated. He said leprosy isn’t common today, but he drew a comparison with AIDS.
During Jesus’ time, Bishop Perez said there was no cure for leprosy. Lepers were told to shave their heads, tear their clothes and shout “unclean” as they walked so everyone knew they were afflicted with the disease. They were banished from their families and communities and lived as outcasts outside the city, he explained.
“Imagine if you had AIDS and had to announce ‘I have AIDS’ as you walked around,” the bishop said. “Lepers did it for the good of others and they led isolated lives.”
In the Gospel, a man afflicted with leprosy goes to Jesus because he knows who Jesus is, what he is about and what he can do, Bishop Perez said. “He knows he needs to be made clean and he knows Christ can do that because Christ is God and he (the leper) is not. Christ is God, the source of all healing. The leper told Jesus, ‘If you will it, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus does the forbidden: he touches the leper. He’s healed and sent back to his community.”
The bishop also showed a correlation between people who say they can’t live without “it” — someone or something, but that’s not true, he explained.
“You can’t live without air, water and food,” he said, but we can survive without most other things.
“There’s a song that says ‘I turn to you, O Lord, in time of trouble and you fill me with the joy of salvation.’ That sums it up,” the bishop said.
After Mass, he mingled with students and others in the congregation, posing for photos and enjoying conversation and refreshments.
Oberlin, a private liberal arts college, was founded in 1833 and has an enrollment of about 2,900 students.