Pittsburgh bishop bids adieu to parishioners, friends

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Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Bishop Donald Wuerl greeted every one of the hundreds of people who waited in line at Oakland Catholic High School following his farewell Mass at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.
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By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Audio slideshow: Bishop Donald Wuerl scanned the audience yesterday at St. Paul Cathedral and saw The the governor, local Congressional leaders, representatives from each of the 214 parishes in the six-county diocese and his housekeeper. "My joy this afternoon in this Mass with you is in the opportunity to say to you who have been so much a part of my efforts to serve the church, 'thank you,'" he said.
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Audio highlights

The Rev. Wuerl's last homily as Bishop of Pittsburgh (in full, download may take several minutes)

Final remarks at the conclusion of the Mass

Previous stories

Bishop Wuerl reflects on his ministry in Pittsburgh (June 11, 2006)

Selection of Wuerl shows pope wants loyal, diplomatic voice in Washington (May 17, 2006)

Participate in a readers' forum and share your own reflections on Bishop Wuerl's tenure in Pittsburgh

For the last time as its bishop, Archbishop-designate Donald Wuerl processed into the cathedral of his Pittsburgh childhood and of his 18 years as shepherd of the Catholic faithful here and made a final circuit of its altar to purify it with clouds of incense.

He swung the smoking thurible as the choir sang the same song to which he had entered St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland as bishop in 1988.

But "18 years ago I was a little more lighthearted coming down that aisle," he said later.

He will be installed June 22 as archbishop of Washington, D.C., and is expected to become one of the most influential leaders of the U.S. hierarchy.

But yesterday was a reminder that his ties here remain strong. The 1,500-seat cathedral was packed, as a crowd including Gov. Ed Rendell as well as city street people came to say farewell.

Ticketed guests included representatives from each of his 214 parishes.

U.S. Reps. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods, Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, formed a political bridge between his hometown diocese and the nation's capital to which Pope Benedict XVI has sent him.

Before Mass, political dignitaries, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and former Pittsburgh Councilman Gene Ricciardi, stopped on the cathedral steps to shake hands and banter.

As the lengthy procession inched toward the entrance, Bishop Wuerl moved through the line to speak with each priest. Because most had to be in their own parishes yesterday, he had said farewell to priests at a Wednesday gathering. These had made a special effort to attend.

The Rev. John Batykefer, pastor of St. Patrick in Canonsburg, said it wasn't easy to get there on the busiest day of a priest's week.

Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Bishop Donald Wuerl says a final prayer in the Sacristy at St. Paul Cathedral after dressing for his farewell Mass.
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"I served 10 a.m. Mass and then flew out of there," to say good-bye to the bishop who had ordained him in 1990, he said.

Phil Pappas, founder of Community Human Resources, a South Oakland drop-in center, waited to have a few words with the bishop he said was always concerned about social justice and the needs of the homeless. Mr. Pappas told the bishop he would miss him and would visit Washington to "hassle" him about social justice issues.

Bishop Wuerl's 24-minute homily was an expression of gratitude.

"The office of bishop can be weighty, challenging and very demanding. However, no bishop carries out his ministry by himself," he said.

"My joy this afternoon in this Mass with you is in the opportunity to say to you who have been so much a part of my efforts to serve the church, 'Thank you.' Thank you for your help, thank you for your support, thank you for your care."

He reminded them that his first pastoral letter in 1988 was "New Beginnings in a Long Walk Together."

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Bishop Donald Wuerl celebrates Holy Communion during the Mass of Thanksgiving to mark his departure.
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"I had no way of knowing then how short or long that walk would be. To my great consolation, joy and satisfaction, it has been a walk with you of 18 years," he said.

"Know that I shall always cherish our years together, our efforts, our challenges."

At communion, he gave the host first to members of his family. They included his brother, Wayne, of Peters; his aunt, Mary Ellen Sortino, his mother's sister; and many younger Sortinos from the area.

Each person who received communion from him -- or remained in a pew -- had personal memories of his ministry.

Starlee Harden attended with a group from St. Charles Lwanga, a predominantly black parish formed from a 1992 merger of six East End churches.

"He's a good example of what we should be as Christians. He brought the flock together -- not only Catholics but other Christians and Jews and Muslims -- as one people who love each other as God wants," she said.

Helen Allen, also from St. Charles Lwanga, said Bishop Wuerl made it a priority to address racism.

"He went to all the churches, preaching racial equality of all the people," she said.

As his chancellor for the past three years, Arlene McGannon worked closely with him. His spiritual and administrative gifts are "immeasurable," she said.

"He understood his responsibilities. He always has the good of the church at heart, even though that required a lot of difficult decisions," she said.

The mayor, whose son Bishop Wuerl ordained a priest in 2001, called him a leader for the whole community.

"He's a role model for all of us, with his hard work and dedication. The smallest neighborhood among his 214 churches is as important to him as the biggest," he said.

Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Bishop Donald Wuerl greets Rabbi Alvin Berkun during a reception at Oakland Catholic High School following his farewell Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.
Click photo for larger image.

Many in attendance were not Catholic.

"The Muslim community of Pittsburgh is grateful especially for his outreach after Sept. 11," said Farooq Hussaini, who represented the Islamic Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

"When we were being persecuted and didn't know where to turn, he came to a press conference in the Islamic Center on the 13th of September 2001. That made us feel he cares," Mr. Hussaini said.

The Rev. James Mead, pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery, said Bishop Wuerl was a role model for his Protestant colleagues.

"I'm among the countless number who has experienced his kindness and friendship and even modeling and mentoring for my ministry to the Presbyterian churches of Pittsburgh," he said.

In closing and merging churches to make sure each would be strong for the future, Bishop Wuerl paid a great price but achieved great results, the Rev. Mead said.

"He was a good role model to me and the staff of the presbytery and others for what it takes to renew the church and get it positioned to look to the future instead of the past," he said.

Jon Burnett, the weekend weather reporter on KDKA-TV, came with his family.

"I'm not Catholic, but he almost makes me wish I were. He reminds me of the late Fred Rogers -- there is that same quiet strength that appeals to me and moves me," Mr. Burnett said.

More pictures

Photo Journal: A promotion for Wuerl
Audio Slideshow: A fond farewell


At the close of the Mass, auxiliary Bishop Paul Bradley presented Bishop Wuerl with a model of the cathedral, as the congregation burst into a standing ovation that lasted a full minute.

As the recessional music began, the bishop once again shook hands with each of his priests. As he took his place at the end of the line and stepped down into the central aisle, the congregation again burst into applause.

That continued while he paused to greet so many people along the aisle that the choir finished the four-verse hymn long before he reached the back of the church.

Bishop Wuerl finished his long walk toward the door accompanied only by the applause of his people.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
The Rev. Donald Wuerl acknowledges a greeting as he exits St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland after conducting his last Mass as Bishop of Pittsburgh.
Click photo for larger image

Staff writer Jan Ackerman contributed to this report. Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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