Allentown To Levittown – In "Varsity" Call-Up, Barres Gets Long Island

First, they steal Nelson... now this?

Continuing Long Island's raid on the Southeastern Pennsylvania talent-pool (well, what's left of it), at Roman Noon this Friday the Pope named John Barres, the 56 year-old bishop of Allentown since 2009, to the helm of the 1.5 million-member fold based at Rockville Centre in Nassau County – the nation's first, and still largest, all-suburban local church, and one of the US' 10 largest dioceses all-around.

The Ivy-bred son of converts – baptized by Fulton Sheen and a student of basketball under Princeton's legendary Pete Carrill – Barres succeeds Bishop William Murphy, whose retirement was granted 19 months after the Boston-born iconoclast reached the canonical age of 75.

The Installation is set for Tuesday, 31 January in St Agnes Cathedral, whose John McGann-era whitewash was recently undone in part by a $4 million renovation.

Catholic New York's second "shoulder replacement" in as many months – following November's watershed move on the 1.3 million-member Newark archdiocese that saw "His Grace" yield to His Eminence – at least this time, the arrival of the Pope's pick isn't an occasion of shock and awe. While Barres has topped the lists for practically the entire duration of the Island's long wait, even more than has usually been the case, nothing in the current process can be taken as a "lock" until the Final Nod arrives, all the more given a considerable revision of the Stateside files reportedly taken up by Archbishop Christophe Pierre upon his arrival last summer as Nuncio to Washington.

Given said state of things, it's fairly impressive to see the early front-runner emerge as Rome's choice – all the more in a very sizable, strategically important post which would garner more than ample interest behind the scenes. If anything, then, the choice of a figure who easily evokes comparison to Murphy – albeit in a more "digitized," less contentious form – signals a firm vote of confidence in a tenure which has provided a remarkable sense of stability amid no shortage of epochal storms... just the first of which came all of six days after the now-retiring prelate was installed, when the 9/11 attacks took a shattering blow to the life of the diocese.

Developing – more to come.


Habemus +Adam – With Pope's Birdland Picks, Alegria Para Todos

BALTIMORE – Good morning from the Premier See… and at long last, How. Sweet. It. Is.
Two years of fevered local expectation finally reached their close at Roman Noon this Monday, as the Pope appointed Monsignors Adam Parker, the 44 year-old archdiocesan Vicar-General and Moderator of the Curia, and Mark Brennan, 68, a priest of Washington serving until now as pastor of St Martin of Tours parish in suburban Gaithersburg, as auxiliary bishops of this mother-church of the United States.

The star protege of Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, then second-in-command to Archbishop William Lori since 2013, with his appointment Bishop-elect Parker becomes the nation’s youngest Latin-church hierarch by some three years – and, in the real milestone moment, the first to be born in the 1970s – while Bishop-elect Brennan’s importing across metropolitan lines signifies the rapid growth of Hispanics in the 550,000-member Baltimore fold, which until now has never required the specific provision of a Spanish-speaking prelate. (The appointees – Brennan, left and Parker at right – are seen flanking Lori ahead of this morning's announcement in the Gibbons Room of 408 N. Charles.)

The dual ordination is scheduled for Thursday, 19 January, in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Given the sizable followings both the Pope’s picks have come to garner, though, it simply bears asking: is there any way to heat Camden Yards? (Indeed, that sound you hear right now is the worldwide Adam Parker Fan Club in a Black Friday-style frenzy to book flights.)

While the spike in Latinos has made for sudden booms in several city parishes, today’s picks come at a moment which finds even more of John Carroll’s church facing the other end of the scale. As final proposals are submitted over the coming weeks, the first half of 2017 will bring Lori’s decisions on a years-long parish planning process that’s expected to yield a substantive amount of realignment to the existing map, albeit with several kinds of church-grouping models likely to be employed. Together with that shift, after several years of attempting two regional vicariates to cover the massive turf – which stretches from the Chesapeake to the Free State’s western mountainland – the arrival of twin auxiliaries will see a return to the prior practice of three vicariates.

In tandem with this morning’s appointments, the Pope granted the retirement of Bishop Denis Madden 21 months after he turned 75. The lone active auxiliary in Ravens’ Country since 2013 (when Bishop Mitch Rozanski was transferred to Springfield, Mass.), the eminent ex-Benedictine – a figure regarded in some quarters as a living saint – is expected to remain heavily involved both with his cherished ecumenical and interfaith work, as well as keeping a significant role in the urban ministries of the archdiocese. In other words, Denis is still Denis – and, indeed, not even the Pope can change that.

On a historic note, today’s nods represent the first dual appointment of Baltimore auxiliaries since 1984 – a cycle which involved another pioneering “ethnic” choice, as the Josephite John Ricard (then also based in Washington) was named the Premier See’s first African-American bishop.

Back to today, Cathedral Street has called a 10.30am presser to introduce the bishops-elect; come then, it’ll be livestreamed right here. (SVILUPPO: Full presser video.) In the meantime, as the news has – to the surprise of no one – already sparked several instances of locals bursting into tears on hearing it, this scribe needs to get the mops before explaining why....

Seriously, Hons, did you really think we would miss this? More soon.


Out of the Ordinary – In "Giant" Florida Move, Panhandle's Parkes to St Pete

(Updated 11am ET with installation date/presser video.)

If we've got any Gator fans in the greater Tampa area here, so it seems, no less than Rome's taken to rubbing in Saturday night... while the Florida State crowd down there can just keep chopping away.

At Roman Noon, less than 36 hours after a fourth straight FSU win at the annual in-house faceoff, the Pope transferred the church's Chief Nole, 52 year-old Bishop Gregory Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee (above), to the Sunshine State's second-largest market as the fifth bishop of St Petersburg, succeeding Bishop Bob Lynch, the venerable USCCB titan of three decades who reached the retirement age of 75 in late May after 20 years at the helm of the 475,000-member church.

A spiritual son of the state's metropolitan, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Parkes' return down I-75 after four years in the Panhandle doesn't merely place him closer to his family in Orlando, but represents a significant change of scene and elevation of profile – at least, as much as a figure stacking out at 6-foot-8 could become even more prominent. As the scope of it goes, try this on for size: while Catholics comprise a single-digit percentage of the population (some 70,000 souls) on the pick's prior turf, that proportion's closer to a quarter in St Pete's five counties, where no shortage of mega-parishes have opened and flourished over Lynch's tenure as the fold's numbers nearly doubled. (In addition, the last two years' ordination classes of five new priests each have represented the diocese's largest crops in the last quarter-century.)

At the same time, the move indeed presents a study in contrasts: a quintessential son of the "John Paul II generation" of priests – a NAC product and Gregorian-trained canonist – coming to succeed one of the Stateside bench's most formidable and influential progressives, whose clashes with the church's right flank (even into recent weeks) have more than occasionally borne all the intensity of SEC rivalry at its finest.

That said, while some of us simply refer to Parkes as "The Giant," how he's a thoroughly sweet and gentle one bears underscoring... and given the almost uniquely beloved standing his predecessor enjoys among his priests and people, suffice it to say, the Lynch legacy is so massive that....

Well, complete the sentence.

While a springtime transition has long been forecast for the post, its announcement before the New Year comes as a surprise, albeit one that might be due in part to recent events. Having fallen ill earlier this month during a visit to Alaska for the installation of his first protege, Paul Etienne, as archbishop of Anchorage, Lynch was hospitalized there for over a week – forcing his absence from the USCCB Plenary – and cleared to head home just before Thanksgiving, yet with the understanding that his recovery still had a ways to go. (To date, the cause of the health scare has not been publicly disclosed, but there is some history to recall; Lynch endured a bruising battle with cancer for two years at the beginning of this decade.)

Per long-standing plans he shared nearly a year ago, the onetime General Secretary of the national bench intends to leave the diocese for a year on the evening of his successor's installation to allow the new prelate a fresh start, and likewise to fold The Mother of All Episcopal Blogs, which has consistently provided the most candid public reflections of any American prelate since its inception in 2008.

A 10.30am presser has been called, possibly to take place in St Jude's Cathedral (above), which was rededicated in 2013 following a $9 million expansion and complete overhaul.

As Parkes' installation date remains to be announced, per the norms of the canons, it must take place within two months of this morning's appointment.

SVILUPPO (11am): Held not at the Cathedral, but the Chancery, the press conference saw a clearly exuberant Parkes introduced by an emotional-as-ever Lynch, whose voice cracked as the retiring prelate spoke of his "joy to pray this morning for Gregory, our bishop."

More of a generational handoff than most given the 23-year spread in age between predecessor and successor, both bishops remarked that the appointment represents a sort of homecoming for the Pope's pick: as a rising banking executive in his early 30s, Parkes lived in Tampa and discerned his vocation at the city's Christ the King parish, one of the largest communities in the diocese he now inherits.

In an unusually quick transition, Parkes announced that his Installation will take place on Wednesday, 4 January – a date picked due to its confluence with the usual yearly retreat for the bishops of the Southeast at the St Pete church's crown jewel: the diocese's Bethany Center, which has become known as one of the nation's finest retreat facilities.

Here, the morning's fullvid (begins at the 5:30 mark)


"Fidel Has Died.... Now He Awaits Judgment."

Querido Don Agustín, Fidel falleció.

If there's a place to start amid this early morning's news, we'd be remiss to not look first to the heroic witness, courage, sanctity and charity of Bishop Agustín Roman, who led South Florida's Cuban faithful in exile for five decades until his death in early 2012.

Yet even as thousands of El Padrino's own who fled their homeland for these shores would be laid to rest facing the island 93 miles away, awaiting the day of its freedom, that wasn't the burial Román chose for himself... barring the future that – at least, on a symbolic level – suddenly begins with this moment.

Late Friday night, the Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the death of his Communist regime's "historic leader" – his brother, Fidel, the island's de facto ruler for nearly a half-century – at the age of 90.

One of the West's most polarizing characters all through and even beyond his reign, while the colorful, oft-impulsive Comandante had formally handed the office to his younger sibling nearly a decade ago, the passing of the island's totemic personage – the guiding force behind no less than three papal visits to an officially-atheist country – represents a watershed point in what church officials on all levels have long hoped will be Cuba's "soft landing" into a liberated reality, a scenario already beginning to make marked headway following the landmark 2014 pact between Washington and Havana which, at Pope Francis' behest, began to thaw the half-century blockade between the island and the US.

All that said, the scene feels rather surreal. And with Miami's exile base at Calle Ocho (8th Street) choked through the night with revelers – in part as the nearby Orange Bowl, kept on reserve for decades as the community's Ground Zero for this occasion, no longer exists – the ecclesial reaction could only begin in one spot....

Within an hour of the news breaking (read: 2am), Archbishop Thomas Wenski – the first native son to lead his hometown's 1.4 million-member fold... yet, for these purposes, the "honorary Cuban" who so immersed himself in ministry to the exiles as a seminarian that Román would preach his first Mass – was on the Whispers Hatline, sounding little different than not a few Cubs fans just a couple weeks ago. (And as his own shock took root, word emerged that the Ermita de la Caridad – the bayfront shrine to Cuba's Marian patroness: the Caridad de Cobre, Our Lady of Charity – was being opened overnight for an all-hours vigil for the island.)

Fittingly born amid a hurricane, the cigar-chomping, Harley-riding prelate might be battling a cold, but to know Wenski is to know how no bug could keep him from the flourishes of the moment... at least, under normal circumstances.

Clearly, though, this scene was anything but.

Having held the US bishops' de facto portfolio for Cuban affairs for most of his 20 years on the bench – he did, after all, oversee multiple food-drops on the island as priest-head of Miami's Catholic Charities – at the outset, the current lead pastor of the exiles  (seen at left in the chair of the archbishop of Havana during a 2012 Cathedral Mass) could muster all of one line:

"The death of Castro represents the end of an era, and a beginning of hope for the island."

As the reality began to sink in, however, the onetime Colbert guest's usual verve began to return – shortly after 4am, the following statement emerged, given here in both its conveyed languages....
En el libro de Eclesiastés del Antiguo Testamento leemos: “Al justo y al malvado los juzgará Dios pues hay un tiempo para toda obra y un lugar para toda acción. “ (Eclesiastés 3: 17). Fidel Castro se murió. Ahora le toca a él el juicio de Dios que es misericordiosa y también justo. Su muerte provoca muchas emociones – dentro y fuera de la Isla. Sin embargo, más allá de todas las posibles emociones, el deceso de esta figura debe llevarnos a invocar a la patrona de Cuba, la Virgen de la Caridad pidiendo la paz por Cuba y por su pueblo.

“A Jesús por Maria, la caridad nos une.” Que Santa Maria de la Caridad escuche al pueblo y adelante para Cuba la hora de la reconciliación en la verdad acompañada de la libertad y la justicia. Que, por la intercesión de la Virgen mambisa, los cubanos sepan transitar ese camino estrecho entre el miedo que cede al mal y la violencia que bajo ilusión de luchar contra el mal solamente lo empeora. Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, cúbranos con tu manto!

* * * 
In the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, we read: “...both the just and the wicked God will judge, since a time is set for every affair and for every work.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 17) Fidel Castro has died. Now he awaits the judgment of God who is merciful but also just. His death provokes many emotions –both in and outside the Island. Nevertheless, beyond all possible emotions, the passing of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgen of Charity, asking for peace for Cuba and its people.

“To Jesus through Mary, Charity unites us”. May Holy Mary, Our Lady of Charity, hear her people’s prayers and hasten for Cuba the hour of its reconciliation in truth, accompanied by freedom and justice. May through the intercession of the “Virgen Mambisa” the Cuba people will know how to traverse that narrow road between fear which gives in to evil and violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse. “Our Lady of Charity, cover us with your mantle.”
In an even more pointed commentary from the exile's home-base, one prominent Cuban in the South Florida fold cabled overnight that "My parents and my grandparents long[ed] to live this day and did not see it. To hell he [i.e. Castro] goes."

As of press-time, no statement has yet emerged from the Vatican – further developments to follow.

SVILUPPO (7.30am ET): Addressed to Raúl Castro as Cuba's head of state, the following message from the Holy See to Havana was released around 1pm in Rome.

Unusually for a text of this sort, yet duly reflecting the Pope's keen investment in the Cuban situation, the telegram was signed not by the Cardinal-Secretary of State, but Francis himself – here, the note's full English translation:
On receiving the sad news of the death of your dear brother, His Excellency Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, former President of the Council of State and the Government of the Republic of Cuba, I express my sentiments of grief to Your Excellency and the rest of the family of the late dignity, as well as to the government and the people of the beloved nation.

At the same time, I offer prayers to the Lord for his rest and I entrust all the Cuban people to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of the Caridad del Cobre, Patroness of your Land.

Francisco PP.