On July 5th, I had the honor and privilege of introducing the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh, Luis Rafael Zarama, to the media and to the people of our diocese and beyond.
I found our new bishop’s background fascinating. He emigrated to the United States in 1991 and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1993. He served as a parochial vicar (or assistant pastor) in a parish in Atlanta, and from 1996 to 2006 he was pastor of a parish with a mission. He became an American citizen on July 4, 2000.
I am struck by the fact that we now have an Hispanic bishop who was an immigrant and a pastor. Bishop Zarama comes to a diocese where the Hispanic immigrant population continues to grow. He knows what it is like to be an immigrant in our country and what local parishes can do to welcome and assist people who arrive here from another country.
Have you noticed that Pope Francis’ recent appointments of bishops often include pastors? I think he wants new bishops to be leaders who understand the needs and struggles of ordinary people and who reach out to serve them.
Bishop Zarama knows that immigrant groups are often a blessing to their new community and their parish. Recently, I received a letter from a woman in a small, rural parish in our diocese. She described how the Hispanic community in her parish had a festival and raised $2,000 for the parish.
In early July, I took Bishop Zarama to our new cathedral, where he will be installed Aug. 29. He was astounded at its immensity and elegance, as I also was! He took time to speak with the men and women construction workers, many of whom were Hispanic. With his attentive presence, they lit up like a light bulb!
The next day the bishop met individually with the employees who work at the Catholic Center, and he spent most of the morning with about eight Cardinal Gibbons High School students, who gave him a tour of their school. It is obvious that he values the work of diocesan personnel and enjoys being with young people. He thought both groups were “professionals.” I believe our new bishop is a good listener who is very perceptive and encouraging. He has a keen sense of humor, too.
On another note, I believe that the dedication of our new cathedral was truly an historic event. Located on the highest spot in Raleigh overlooking the downtown area, the new Cathedral is on historic ground. The Nazareth Catholic Orphanage, founded by Father Thomas Frederick Price in 1898, was there for many years, as was the Diocesan Chancery, Cardinal Gibbons High School and the Catholic Center.
When I was rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral in the 1980s, the Cathedral Church, with seating of about 350, could accommodate most diocesan events, such as ordinations. In time, as the diocese and the parish grew, the Cathedral Church could no longer host these diocesan events.
With the arrival of Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, space will no longer be a problem; and the Catholic people of the Diocese of Raleigh will have a common spiritual home.
I am grateful that Bishop Burbidge and others persevered in their efforts to involve the people of the diocese in this historic effort of building a new Cathedral.