Bishop John Barres, the new leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, had a reputation for being a dynamo in his last assignment.
On Sunday, he showed why.
He rose at 4:30 a.m., spent an hour and 15 minutes in prayer, read the morning papers, brushed up two homilies he was to deliver in Spanish, then headed to Brentwood for two Masses. There, he wowed two packed churches of close to 1,000 people each with his command of Spanish and down-to-earth parish priest approach.
After greeting people on another long receiving line after the second Mass, he dashed off to Cathedral College in Douglaston, Queens, for an intramural basketball game between major and minor seminarians, including some studying for Rockville Centre. To cap off the day, he had a dinner with some Catholic couples.
Far from tired, Barres seemed elated by the nonstop action.
His first Spanish Mass in the diocese, at St. Anne’s parish in Brentwood, was “just so beautiful,” Barres told a reporter after the service. “Just the rich diversity, as I said in the homily, North America, Central America and South America, and all the beautiful young people and just the joy in this church around the pastoral leadership of these great priests and deacons. It was just a great inspiration.”
At the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Anne’s, Barres, 56, walked down the center aisle and delivered a 10-minute homily in fluent Spanish without notes. He extolled the virtues of the family, a multicultural society and church, and the centrality of Jesus Christ to living a faith-filled life.
“We can recall the words of Pope Francis: ‘The family transforms the world and history,’ ” Barres said in Spanish.
Later, he said, “When we give our hearts to Jesus, it transforms all of our relations in life . . . and in the family.”
Parishioners said they were struck by the bishop’s friendliness, his versatility in Spanish and his decision to visit one of the largest Latino parishes on Long Island so quickly after his Jan. 31 installation as bishop. In his previous post as diocese bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Barres earned a reputation for being constantly on the move.
“He was fantastic” Sunday, said Viviana Garamy, 59, an early childhood teacher who is a native of Peru and lives in Brentwood.
“He really connected with the people, especially the family,” she said. “It’s incredible he was just installed as bishop and he comes to visit our parish. Just to think he is here, we feel very blessed.”
Another Brentwood parishioner, Melida Betans, 55, an electronics factory worker originally from the Dominican Republic, said, “I was completely amazed” when the bishop started to speak fluent Spanish. “You can understand him completely.”
It was a similar scene at St. Luke’s Church for the 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass.
Right after that Mass and the long receiving line, Barres dashed off to the basketball game. The bishop played junior varsity basketball when he was a student at Princeton University in the late 1970s and early ’80s. On Saturday, he was honored at center court at Madison Square Garden when St. John’s University gave him an honorary jersey during its game against Seton Hall.
Some seminarians said the bishop’s visit was a big boost.
“I think it’s a great show of support for us,” said John Crozier, 23, of Rockville Centre, who is in his second year at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers studying for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. “His presence means a lot to us. He’s a great example of a point guard in college and now as our bishop a point guard in Rockville Centre.”
Barres said the game was a good way to connect with the seminarians. Increasing vocations is a key goal of his.
“It’s just a wonderful time to kind of circulate and talk with the seminarians, get a sense of who they are,” he said.
After the game he met with the seminarians, then headed to the dinner.
The Rev. Joseph Fitzgerald, director of vocations for the diocese, said Barres’ schedule Sunday appears to be the norm for the new bishop.
“It doesn’t stop. He’s 24/7,” Fitzgerald said. “He wants to connect and be with the people of God. As Pope Francis said, he wants to smell like the sheep and he’s coming to do just that.”