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Springfield’s bishop promises, like Peter, to love Jesus, care for his people
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (CNS) — Called to the episcopacy in the middle of a pandemic, in mid-December, in wintry Western New England, Springfield Bishop William D. Byrne followed in the footsteps of St. Peter to stand beside the Risen Lord and promise to love Jesus and care for his people.
With fewer than 300 people in a sanctuary that seats 1,000, Bishop Byrne was both ordained as a bishop and installed as the 10th bishop of Springfield during an afternoon Mass Dec. 14 in St. Michael’s Cathedral in downtown Springfield.
The principal celebrant and consecrator was Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley. Co-consecrators, seated on the altar, were Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, and Bishop Austin A. Vetter, of Helena, Montana.
Also present on the altar were Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., who read the apostolic letter from Pope Francis; Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, D.C.; Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, retired archbishop of Washington; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of St. Louis; and retired Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of Springfield.
Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, also was on the altar. He served as apostolic administrator of the Springfield Diocese for the five months preceding the ordination of Bishop Byrne, who was named Oct. 14 by Pope Francis to succeed then-Bishop Rozanski, who was installed Aug. 25 in St. Louis.
Also participating in the Mass were four seminarians and one seminary applicant from the Washington Archdiocese, who were altar servers. All were from Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, Maryland, where Bishop Byrne was pastor before he was named bishop of Springfield.
Readers for the Mass were Susan Byrne-Rust, Bishop Byrne’s oldest sister; and Anthony Williams, a close friend of the bishop.
Congregants at the Mass included Bishop Bryne’s 97-year-old mother, Mary Byrne, and members of his large immediate and extended family, along with close friends. Seated in the front row with his mother was the bishop’s older sister, Sister Deirdre Byrne, of the Little Workers of the Sacred Heart, who is a surgeon and retired colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
Community leaders at the Mass included Springfield’s mayor, the city’s police and fire commissioners, and Congressman Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts.
In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley compared the ordination of a bishop to the “second call” of St. Peter during what the cardinal termed the “last breakfast”: the appearance of the Risen Lord to the apostles at the Sea of Tiberias.
Recognizing Jesus sharing the morning meal of fresh-caught fish, Peter and the other apostles affirm their love of the Lord and receive their marching orders to “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep” and “follow me.”
“The gifts of ministry do not end with the apostles,” Cardinal O’Malley said during the homily. “Father Bill Byrne will share in the apostles’ role,” he said, adding that “the gifts of the Spirit are made available to believers of every age.”
Cardinal O’Malley said that Bishop Byrne, like centuries of bishops before him, “is called to be one in the college of bishops in union with St. Peter … to be witnesses to the resurrection of Christ and bear your share of the hardships of the apostles.”
He said bishops are called to a “deeper conversion” and, in the loving care of Mary, are to follow Christ, “who came not to be served, but to serve and to lay down his life for the flock.”
The ancient and somber rites of episcopal ordination and installation were accompanied throughout by the joyful presence of the ordinand, who waved to the congregation from his place at the cathedra, the “seat of the bishop.” He held aloft the pope’s apostolic letter on his appointment to Springfield as he walked down the cathedral’s center aisle.
The faithful answered both his wave from the altar and his walk down the aisle with applause.
Speaking to the congregation before the conclusion of the Mass, newly ordained Bishop Byrne referenced his recently published book, “5 Things With Father Bill: Hope, Humor and Help for the Soul,” noting five things he was grateful for on the day he became bishop of Springfield: God, his parents, his fellow priests, the people of the Washington Archdiocese, and the priests, religious and laypeople of the Springfield Diocese.
During a news conference in the Bishop Marshall Center at the cathedral before the Mass, Bishop Byrne told local media his first priority as bishop will be to ensure transparency surrounding the issue of clergy sexual abuse in the diocese.
“We have to move beyond words and start taking action,” he said. “People won’t hear the Gospel message if they don’t believe the teller of the story.”
He noted that he met with clergy abuse victims in the week before his ordination. “We have cared and listened,” he said, “and that’s how the healing begins.”
At the news conference, Bishop Byrne emphasized the importance of hope for the future of the church in western Massachusetts. He described that hope as “knowing that Jesus Christ has risen form the dead.”
“We are loved so much that our God came to find us,” he said.
Asked what legacy he hopes to build in his new assignment, Bishop Byrne said he will work to leave “souls more deeply in love with God.”
“There is only one answer for every human heart and that’s Jesus Christ,” he said.
Responding to a question about the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop Byrne said, “Our plan is not to get back to normal, but to get back to better.”
To those who may have become isolated from God and from their faith, he said, “Come home. Find God. Find your family of faith.”
At the closing of the Mass, he formally apologized to all victims of clergy abuse and reiterated his invitation to all Catholics in western Massachusetts to join in solidarity to do God’s work.
“You and I are more than neighbors. We are brothers and sisters on a mission to save souls,” he said. “I really believe God has not given up. … Jesus Christ is risen. In this alone, we find hope.”
Addressing the clergy, religious and laypeople of the diocese, Bishop Byrne said, “From your newest brother, William: God is not done here in western Mass.”
“We must preach the joy that love conquers hate, that peace defeats violence, that Life destroys death itself, that Jesus Christ is risen and in this alone do we find hope.”
Concluding his remarks, Bishop Byrne issued a final invitation: “This day and beyond, join me in bringing your brothers and sisters and neighbors and your friends back to Jesus Christ, who alone brings joy to the world.”
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Drake is editor of The Catholic Observer, the magazine of the Diocese of Springfield, and editor/news director of Catholic Communications in the diocese.