Several weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI appointed a new bishop for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie. Most Rev. Lawrence Persico was ordained Monday as a bishop, having what the Church considers the “fullness of Holy Orders” to serve and guide the Catholic community of the 13 counties of Northwestern Pennsylvania, including Mercer County.
We watch presidential transitions as a nation every four or eight years. Our transitions of leadership are the envy of the world. The Catholic Church does much the same, and has been at it for a much longer time!
For Catholics, this transition happens less often (typically). We have had the same bishop, Most Rev. Donald Trautman, for 22 years. But now the Holy Father has accepted his retirement and named his replacement. And we, the Church, are well served by the ease with which the change happens.
We still have our sacraments, our social services, our ministries. We will still be able to call the diocesan offices for information and assistance. The clergy, priests and deacons now work with and for Bishop Persico, in whose name we have the privilege of serving.
In our tradition, the bishop is the head, and thus the servant, of the local Church. He is obedient to the Holy Father, yet he makes all the decisions Church law permits for the specific needs of God’s people in our area. We see a figure of Christ Jesus in him. It is in the Lord’s name that he comes to shepherd us.
He will do it in his own way, similar to and yet different from Bishop Trautman and his eight other predecessors. He will get to know his sheep and we will get to know him.
In the meantime, we as individuals, parishes and institutions with the diocese, live our journey of faith. This transition reminds us of our unity and yet diversity as a Church – open to all but one in the ways of Christ Jesus. For example, every parish in Mercer County offers similar sacraments and services, but we each do it in our own way.
As Catholics, this is a time to celebrate our tradition. We have been passing on the gospel from the time of Jesus to our own day in just this way.
Next Thursday, Oct. 11, our new bishop will come to the valley to meet all of us. There will be a Mass at 7 p.m. at Notre Dame Church. A public reception will follow the liturgy. People will come from various parts of our county and region to participate. All Catholics of our area are encouraged to come and join in this special moment.
We invite all Christians to be one with us in our rejoicing that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the whole Church. We invite people of all faiths to come and experience our prayer and to meet our new bishop. In our ecumenical culture, it is good for us to share moments like this. We believe in and serve the same God. Our new bishop will be working closely with the leaders of other Christian churches and other faiths to serve people, especially the poor and hurting. Come and be with us to experience this new beginning.
We ask your prayers for our retiring bishop, Bishop Trautman, who has served our area through his guidance of the parishes, schools, and social service agencies in the valley. Places such as the Prince of Peace Center and John XXIII Home have always had a special place in his heart. He has also confirmed thousands of high school students in our area. Last year, we saw the great support he offered to our Catholic schools through his initiative to bring us together in a united education system. We thank him and we thank God for him.
We ask your prayers for our new bishop, that God will help him lead and guide us in ways that will be beneficial for all. We ask your prayers for us as a Church, to be the community of faithful that Jesus calls us to be, preparing our corner of the world for His return. That is, after all, what we are all doing – getting ourselves and our world ready.
The Rev. Jeffery Noble is pastor of Church of Notre Dame, Hermitage.