We have a bishop.
Just after 3 p.m. on Sept. 5, Bishop Nelson Perez was escorted to the cathedra, the official chair of the bishop, in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. That marked the beginning of his tenure as the 11th Bishop of Cleveland.
Prior to that ceremony, hundreds of ecumenical and interfaith, lay associations and organizations, deacons and priests processed along Superior Avenue onto East Ninth Street and into the cathedral. A second procession that included about 50 bishops and archbishops followed the same route into the cathedral until a sudden downpour occurred, causing them to seek shelter in the cathedral vestibule.
Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr served as presider until Bishop Perez was installed. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio, read the letter of appointment from Pope Francis, which then was presented to Bishop Perez, who showed it to Sister Therese Guerin Sullivan, diocesan chancellor, the College of Consultors and others in the cathedral before the bishop was handed his crosier and escorted to the cathedra.
The liturgy continued with the singing of the Gloria, a reading in Spanish and English and the Gospel, followed by the homily.
“God is good all the time and all the time God is good,” said Bishop Perez.
“Throughout the last several weeks, since the announcement of my appointment as the 11th Bishop of Cleveland by Pope Francis, I’ve been asked over and over again: How do you feel? Do you have a plan? What do you hope for?” he said.
Bishop Perez summed up the first question in two words: joy and gratitude. He said that is how he felt when Pope Francis asked him to serve as the Bishop of Cleveland and to share his vision for the Church. He also expressed gratitude to Archbishop Pierre for his support and kindness, as well as his predecessors Bishops emeriti Richard Lennon and Anthony Pilla and Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries. A special thank-you was directed to Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas who did double duty serving as the Apostolic Administrator of Cleveland while also fulfilling his own vocation as Bishop of Toledo. Bishop Perez noted Bishop Thomas’ nine months of travel between Toledo and Cleveland, “making a point to be present for you . . . visiting parishes and celebrating diocesan events, making sure you all knew of the Church’s providential care and love for you.”
Father Don Oleksiak, delegate to the Apostolic Administrator, the priests, deacons, religious and people of the diocese also were acknowledged. “Your care has been truly extraordinary,” Bishop Perez added.
He said he is “joyful and grateful” for all people of the diocese and for their warm and joyful welcome, commitment to their faith and love for the Lord and his Church.
“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, my favorite, good food,” he quipped.
Bishop Perez said sometimes God places people in our lives that help form and guide us and sometimes our plans are second to God’s plan, like when Pope Benedict called him – after he served for 23 years as a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — to become an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York in 2012.
“I have served with great joy for the last five years,” he said, along with Auxiliary Bishops Robert Brennan and Andrzej Zglejszewski. “Let me tell you, they are brothers to me. In fact, many refer to us as the three amigos, locally and nationally.”
To the second question, what’s his plan? Bishop Perez said, “I have to be honest. I have no ‘plan.’ Actually, I thought it would be presumptive for me to come here with a plan of my own. The Church of Cleveland has been around for 170 years, blessed by great bishops, hundreds of wonderful priests and thousands of faith-filled people that today we remember. We are blessed to continue to build upon the foundation they laid for us – a foundation and a history that I am excited to join, and dedicate myself to fostering today. I have been sent here to become a part of you, not the other way around,” he said, adding his only plan “is to work together, collaboratively, with my brother priests, deacons, religious and all of you, the faithful of this great diocese. Together we will continue to engage, to build, to proclaim and to serve.”
He acknowledged the challenges the Church has faced in recent years, including the sex abuse scandal. “In union with my brother bishops from all over this country, I once again ask for forgiveness, ask that we all continue to pray for the victims and continue the work of healing and reconciliation with all the grace and compassion we can offer, and with fullness of heart and mind so that this scourge never happens again.”
For the third question, what’s his hope? Bishop Perez said he hopes we “will be docile and open to the Word of God, to his presence in our midst.” He noted the story about Peter fishing unsuccessfully, but casting his nets once again at the request of Christ. “And we all know what happened next,” he said. “I wonder what that would have looked like on Lake Erie in the middle of January,” he quipped.
“My hope is that like all those who came before us, we too will once again put out into deep water and cast our nets, fully aware that yes, there are challenges, and we know what they are, but we also know that he, Jesus Christ, is in the boat, right by our side, reminding us not to be afraid.”
The new bishop also said he can’t wait to meet young people in the diocese to share their dynamism, the excitement of their lives and hopes for the future. “Know that you have a special place in my heart,” he said.
“Let us go forward in hope. Know that I am dedicated, excited and joyful to serve you with great care and will pray each day for you and your families. I do humbly ask that you pray for me, too. And remember: God is good all the time and all the time God is good,” he said, adding “Cleveland rocks!”
The Mass included music by the Diocesan Children’s Choir, Installation Choir composed of diocesan parish music directors and the Sacred Heart Chapel Spanish Choir, as well as a variety of musicians. Readings were proclaimed in English and Spanish and the Universal Prayer was proclaimed in several languages, including American Sign Language.