It took nearly 16 months, but Bishop Nelson Perez told students at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron that he now has visited every Catholic high school in the Diocese of Cleveland.
“As of today (Feb. 5) with this visit, I’ve been to all 20 high schools,” he said. In addition, he has visited dozens of parishes and elementary schools, Catholic Charities sites and other ministries.
Each high school has something that makes it special, the bishop said, and he always asks students to help him learn what that is when he visits their school.
He walked around the LeBron James Arena, where he was celebrating an all-school Mass for the memorial of St. Agatha, virgin and martyr, and asked students to share what made St. Vincent-St. Mary a special place. They told him it was like family, there are lots of opportunities to become involved, the teachers are special and the school is steeped in tradition. When he asked about some of those traditions, seniors told him they enjoy the walk to Archbishop Hoban High School -- which also is in Akron and is more than three miles away-- when the SVSM Fighting Irish play the Hoban Knights in football.
“I think I’d rather ride in a car,” the bishop quipped.
They also told him they look forward to running the halls before graduation.
The bishop reminded the students that they have an opportunity to develop lasting relationships during their high school years. He pointed out something basketball star LeBron James -- perhaps the school’s most notable alumnus -- said: “Don’t forget where you come from.”
He also reminded them that everything they have is a gift – beginning with their life. “You received 23 chromosomes from mom and 23 from dad. That, plus God’s creative touch, made you. Be grateful for the many gifts you have,” Bishop Perez told the students.
He said Catholic school teachers are a gift. “They are unique. They could be making more money somewhere else but they chose to be here. You should be grateful for them and for your parents. You’ll never know most of the sacrifices your parents make for you. Maybe in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years you’ll know what I mean – you’ll remember and understand it.”
Bishop Perez linked those thoughts with the Gospel, which talks about two people with needs – a synagogue official whose daughter was dying and a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for 12 years. He said each had a dream and the hope that Jesus could help them.
“I can only imagine what that father was going through as he went to Jesus to plead with him to help his daughter,” the bishop said.
And the woman had tried everything to resolve her hemorrhages, but nothing worked. She believed that simply touching the hem of Jesus’ clothing would help her get relief.
“Jesus is their only source of absolute hope,” he said. “And we know what happened – the child was miraculously raised and the woman was cured because they believed. Ask yourself – what is your hope? What is your dream? What is your need? The Gospel invites you to come to the Lord to capture that and make it your own this day.”
After Mass, a group of students presented the bishop with a gift basket of SVSM items. He also greeted students, faculty, staff and alumni who attended the liturgy before enjoying lunch in the cafeteria with a group of students.