Nelson J. Perez, the first-ever Latino auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, was ordained Wednesday in a three-hour bilingual Mass rich in centuries-old church ritual.
As cardinals and archbishops from around the Northeast and Latino parishioners watched, Bishop William Murphy gave Perez, 51, a ring, a miter and a crosier. Murphy then ordained the Cuban-American, who will assist him in the nation's fifth-largest diocese.
Also ordained as an auxiliary bishop was Robert J. Brennan, who was already serving as vicar general, the No. 2 position in the diocese, and who, like Perez, speaks Spanish.
"I know that you wouldn't want me to express everything that I feel in my heart today, for we would be here for at least another three hours," Perez told a packed St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, eliciting laughter. "But I could sum it all up in one word -- gratitude."
Brennan, 50, said, "Permit me to begin with a request . . . I ask you to pray that I might respond to this new call of the Lord -- humbly, generously, and joyfully."
Like Perez, he also delivered some remarks in Spanish, saying that learning Spanish "opened a new world" to him.
The event attracted some of the top Catholic Church hierarchy in the region, including from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where Perez most recently served.
Among them were Cardinal Edward Egan, former archbishop of New York; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, and his predecessor, Cardinal Justin Rigali; Joseph F. Martino, former bishop of the Diocese of Scranton; and Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican's representative in the United States.
Vigano read the two June 8 letters from Pope Benedict XVI elevating Perez and Brennan to auxiliary bishops, prompting more applause.
Toward the end of the Mass and ceremony, Egan joked to the crowd that Perez, who was born in Miami but grew up in the Cuban enclave of West New York, N.J., is "really a New Yawkah," employing a thick New York accent.
Perez's elevation was greeted joyfully by Latinos who attended the invitation-only service. Latinos make up at least 25 percent of Catholics in the diocese.
Natividad Diaz, 43, of Bellmore, said many Latino immigrants often do not feel welcomed on Long Island, and that it often feels like there are two separate Catholic churches -- one for Latinos and the other for native-born Americans.
She said she hopes Perez will help change that. "I think he is going to be the bridge," the Dominican immigrant said. Her husband, Carlos Diaz, 37, a native of El Salvador, said he was elated by Perez's appointment.
"We gave thanks to God they gave us a bishop from our culture," he said. "That's a good sign from God that He wants to join both cultures together."