Following the Gospel, Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama rose from his cathedra and walked slowly to the center of the altar. It’s a scene many in our diocese are familiar with as he rarely gives homilies from the ambo. What happened next, however, was unprecedented.
Acknowledging that sometimes ‘good homilies’ and ‘nice words’ can be meaningless, Bishop Luis Rafael removed the zucchetto from his head, fell to his knees, bowed his head to the assembly and, on behalf of his brother priests and the Church, asked for forgiveness. He remained kneeling upon the white marble of the altar for the entirety of his homily.
It was just one of many emotional moments from the Mass of Reparation and Prayer for Healing held on the evening of September 25 at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh.
Nearly 700 faithful from throughout the diocese gathered at the Mass that served as a response to the recent clergy sex abuse reports and Pennsylvania Grand Jury findings. Many dioceses throughout the country have responded with holy hours and prayer services; it was Bishop Luis Rafael’s initiative to offer a response centered around the Eucharist.
The cathedral bells tolled to focus the assembly on the sober and penitential beginning to the liturgy, and over 50 priests and deacons processed in. When Bishop Luis Rafael reached the altar, he invited the faithful to kneel while he recited the first of seven petitions for this Mass.
“O Shepherd of Israel, hear us as we pray. We come before you now in anger and betrayal, embarrassment and pain at the neglect and suffering experienced by those for whom the Church ought to have been their protector. Heal your people, O Lord, and reform your Church, granting us the strength and the grace that we need.”
Four representatives from laity and religious life proceeded to read prayer petitions, asking God for healing, wisdom and compassion specifically in regard to helping the victims of the abuse. Between each petition, the choir led the somber refrain inspired by Psalm 130, “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.”
The bishop, who was principal celebrant for the Mass, Monsignor David Brockman and Monsignor Jeffrey Ingham, as leaders in the diocese, wore Lenten reddish-purple vestments, which are a sign of penitence. Deacon Michael Alig and Deacon José Juan Banda, who assisted the bishop in the liturgy, also wore Lenten vestments.
In his homily, Bishop Luis Rafael not only asked for forgiveness, he spoke concretely and passionately about how deep the betrayal goes for the victims of this abuse. “The person that you most trust failed and destroyed, in you, the beautiful opportunity to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
After addressing the assembly, Bishop Luis Rafael rose from his knees and turned to address the priests and deacons. He apologized to them on behalf of bishops who were complacent and involved in the abuse and encouraged them to continue to find strength in the Eucharist. “It’s tough to preach today. Whatever we say is not good enough, but our mission is to not allow the people to lose hope. That is our mission. Don’t allow people to lose hope because Jesus is hope.”
After the Mass, many remained gathered in the narthex. Some waited to see Bishop Luis Rafael, who stayed until every person who wanted to had a chance to talk with him. Others sat and conversed privately with priests. Most, however, simply visited and embraced one another as friend, brother, sister, priest, and parishioner, sharing this powerful statement of solidarity and faith as one Body of Christ.
- Mandy Howard