Bishop William Murphy, in his last Christmas Mass as leader of Long Island’s 1.5 million Catholics, lamented the “shouting and posturing” that characterize much public debate and personal conversations, and called for “a recovery of civil discourse in our country.”
The bishop’s remarks at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre came after a bitter, divisive election, but Murphy said in an interview after the Mass that “I’m not talking just about politicians. I’m talking about our whole society. We get into a kind of way of thinking and reacting without thinking.”
Pope Francis on Dec. 9 named Bishop John O. Barres, 56, of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, to succeed Murphy as leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Murphy, 76, is retiring after 15 years as bishop. Barres will be installed as bishop at St. Agnes on Jan. 31.
“It was a beautiful day,” Murphy said of delivering his final Christmas Mass. “I was just so very happy. I’m grateful to the Holy Father for giving us such a wonderful new bishop. You’re going to like him very much.”
“He is what I’m not: A great basketball player,” Murphy quipped, alluding to how Barres played on Princeton University’s junior varsity team.
At the beginning of the Mass, Murphy walked down the center aisle of the nearly full cathedral to the sound of parishioners and the choir singing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” moving past the bright red of poinsettias on the altar to the bishop’s chair.
“Today we sing glory to God in the highest because we are the heirs to whom the father sent his son,” Murphy said in his homily.
Later in the message, Murphy decried foul language and “base, even tawdry” interactions that “break down the elements that are needed for us to live in civil peace with respect and mutual understanding.”
“You and I can help change all that,” Murphy said. “We are responsible for encouraging the best in ourselves and in others.”
Parishioner Betty DeLeo, 55, of Rockville Centre, praised the bishop’s remarks.
“We as a community need to work together for peace instead of division,” she said. “After such a tough election, hopefully today all families can gather together at the table and respect each others’ viewpoints — or at least keep them to themselves.”
Two Rockville Centre police vehicles were parked in front of the cathedral Sunday. Federal officials had cautioned that pro-ISIS websites had encouraged attacks on churches this weekend, according to news reports.
Parishioner Tony Cascardi, 89, of Lawrence, said he was undeterred by the threats.
“We saw the security and were happy with it,” Cascardi said.
“If anything was going to happen, the best place to be is in church,” said Christine Kelly Jacoby, 64, of White Plains, who was visiting family on Long Island for Christmas. “God’s on our side one way or another.”