Bishop John Barres became the new leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Tuesday and in his first sermon sounded a call for “new and creative approaches” to ministry, evangelization, interreligious cooperation, family life and mercy, with compassion for refugees and survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
Hundreds of parishioners, priests, nuns and other religious leaders packed St. Agnes Cathedral to witness and celebrate the momentous occasion of Barres’ installation as the fifth bishop of the diocese, the eighth-largest in the nation and home to 1.5 million Catholics on Long Island.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s representative in the United States, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, joined in the official rites of passage for Barres — among them, the reading of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter naming him as bishop of Rockville Centre.
It was a landmark day. The last time a bishop was installed was in September 2001, when Bishop William Murphy was elevated only days before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed the world. Murphy, 76, is retiring.
Barres, 56, laid out an ambitious vision for the diocese in his homily, discussing outreach to Latinos and data-driven planning and stressing again and again the importance of inclusion and involvement by clergy and lay people alike.
He referenced figures such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and the famed American theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles, issued a scathing denunciation of consumerism, and called on the faithful to help reinvigorate the church by inviting lapsed Catholics to Mass.
Barres made a striking apology to Catholics “hurt or disappointed” by the church. “I am so very sorry if you have been hurt or disappointed by the church in any way and we stand here today to support you, to listen to you and to love you,” he said.
He appealed particularly to young people, a hallmark of Barres’ ministry from the time he was a parish priest in Delaware through his most recent position as bishop of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania — where he had served since 2009.
“A word to the children, youth and young adults of the diocese,” he said. “I am ecstatic about your futures in Jesus Christ and the way you, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘shake up the church and the world’ with your enthusiasm and desire to dedicate your lives to Jesus and the mission of the Catholic Church in the world.
“I cannot wait to meet you,” the new bishop said. “I cannot wait to serve you.”
Barres’ official assumption of the post occurred when Pierre read the pope’s letter of appointment. Barres held the letter aloft and walked around the area near the altar and beside the pews, solemnly showing it to the congregants.
Then Pierre and Dolan stood on either side of Barres and led him to the cathedra — the bishop’s official chair and symbol of his authority in the diocese.
When he sat in the cathedra, he officially became bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The audience erupted in applause.
The installation Mass evoked feelings of hope and the dawn of an era among some who were there.
“I thought it was the most beautiful Mass I’ve ever attended, and I feel privileged to have been a part of it,” said Annmarie McLaughlin, 44, a Floral Park resident who teaches writing and research at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. “I thought he gave a fantastic homily.”
Madison Willmott, 17, of East Quogue, who attended the ceremony as a representative of her school, Bishop McGann Mercy High School in Riverhead, said she liked the bishop’s encouraging people “to go out and do stuff for the church and not just go to Mass.”
Among the throng in the packed cathedral were four cardinals, five archbishops, 57 bishops and more than 260 priests, diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said.
Afterward, as people filed out, about two dozen musicians from Holy Redeemer parish in Freeport stood outside and across the street, singing “Hallelujah” as Barres walked out and along a sidewalk to St. Agnes rectory, with the ground covered in snow.
In his homily, the bishop brought a Long Island touch, noting that Fitzgerald’s classic novel, “The Great Gatsby,” was set here. “Fitzgerald’s green light at the end of the Long Island dock symbolizes that the American dream of consumerism is actually a soul-stunting nightmare,” Barres said.
In an apparent reference to the immigration dispute provoked by President Donald Trump’s new policies, Barres expressed solidarity with refugees.
“We celebrate this Mass globally here today at St. Agnes Cathedral on the Altar of the World and every war-torn, hunger-stricken area of it,” he said. “We celebrate it in solidarity and union with our persecuted refugee families and immigrants and the suffering and the crosses they carry.”
He also called for “new approaches to pastoral and strategic planning that are both Spirit-driven and data-driven, and that break through a tired and broken ‘us vs. them’ self-referential mentality and cultivate a mutual support and communion between the mission of the diocese and the mission of every individual parish.”
Barres made a special appeal to the diocese’s priests, some of whom had a rocky relationship with Murphy during his 15-year tenure. Barres said the priests will be a special priority of his.
He quoted from the advice Pope Francis gave to bishops in Mexico in February 2016: “The first face I ask you to guard in your hearts is that of your priests . . .”
Joe Kramer, 68, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the Allentown diocese, was among those who drove more than two hours to attend the service. Kramer, the former principal of Notre Dame High School in Easton, said he made the trip with his wife Sue, 70, out of respect for Barres and all that he has done for Catholic education.
“He was always there for us and I felt like we had to be there for him,” he said. “This diocese is getting a phenomenal individual — full of energy and full of love.”
Darlene Vietri, 58, a parishioner from Bethpage who sang in the diocesan choir during the Mass, said before the service: “We can’t wait for him to be the new bishop. We’re very excited. He’s young, he’s vibrant, he loves children, he looks like he’s full of energy.”
Expressing similar enthusiasm was Teresa DaLuz, 54, of East Northport. Her son, Alessandro DaLuz, was ordained two years ago and currently serves at Holy Redeemer Church in Freeport.
“I think he’s going to be great,” she said. “He’s passionate about the youth, which will be great for our church.”
Brother Gary Cregan, principal of Saint Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, said he was thrilled by Barres’ commitment to Catholic education.
“From what I have read, it appears Bishop Barres sees the tremendous importance of Catholic education,” said Cregan, who was chosen to represent religious orders on Long Island at the Mass. “And like Bishop Murphy, I am thrilled to be working with a bishop who values this great mission of spreading the gospel.”