Washington welcomes Wuerl as archbishop

Three thousand people, many of them Pittsburghers, filled a huge basilica yesterday to witness the Most Rev. Donald Wuerl become archbishop of the nation's capital

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Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
The Rev. Donald Wuerl enters the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for his Installation Mass as Archbishop of Washington, D.C.
Click photo for larger image.

More pictures

More photos from the Installation Mass in the daily photo journal.

WASHINGTON -- A crescendo of applause and alleluias greeted the Most Rev. Donald Wuerl as he followed a procession of priests and bishops into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to be installed as archbishop of Washington.

Three thousand people filled the largest Catholic church in the Western Hemisphere to welcome him. They ranged from U.S. senators to recent immigrants. Metropolitan Maximos of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh accompanied Archbishop Demetrios of North America as representatives of the Orthodox tradition.

"In an age that so desperately needs to hear the gospel of life, to witness the splendor of truth, and to live the challenge of faith and reason, the church -- you and I -- gathered around the successors to the apostles, one with Peter, must lovingly, persuasively and fearlessly reflect the light of Christ," Archbishop Wuerl said.

Music commissioned for his 1988 installation in Pittsburgh made the transfer with him to Washington. The ceremony, in the grandeur beneath the great domes of the basilica, nevertheless felt familiar to those who had witnessed his major diocesan Masses in Pittsburgh.

Hundreds of Pittsburghers appeared to have made the trip, including 50 priests. Helen Cindrich, president of People Concerned for the Unborn Child, was present, as was Rabbi Alvin Berkun of Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill. Mayor Bob O'Connor, the father of a priest, had a seat of honor in front of two U.S. senators, John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy.

In his homily, Archbishop Wuerl addressed questions that many had raised about his role in the nation's capital. The first task of every bishop, everywhere, is to teach, he said. But to teach means to apply the faith to all of the issues and circumstances of the present day.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
The Rev. Donald Wuerl's niece, Gianna Thacker, and nephews, Donald Wuerl II, center, and Dennis Wuerl Jr., wait to present items that will be consecrated for communion during the Installation Mass.
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"It is also the role of the church to see that the light of the gospel shines on all of the discussions and all of the debates that help to mold our culture and society. The voice of our most cherished values, the voice of the great teaching tradition rooted in God's word and God's wisdom, simply has to impact on our culture, our society," he said.

"The wisdom of God is a thread that needs to be woven into that fabric to create a truly good and just society. This aspect of ministry will bring the church into relationships with many in the cultural, educational, social service and political world. The voice of the gospel must be heard in any discussion that involves human dignity, human solidarity, development and ultimately holiness."

He turned to face his predecessor and offered praise to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was often a target of criticism by the far Catholic right for refusing to publicly condemn Catholic legislators who supported abortion rights, and for his bold stands in favor of justice for the poor worldwide.

"Cardinal McCarrick, you have set the bar very high -- very high -- as spiritual leader and pastor of souls and also as an archbishop engaged in the wider community, so that the work and voice of the gospel is always a part of whatever discussion occupies our community and our country," he said.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
Senator John Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz Kerry attend the Installation Mass for Archbishop Donald Wuerl.
Click photo for larger image.

The ceremony had opened with Cardinal McCarrick joking about the sweltering weather.

"We wanted you to have a warm welcome here, your grace. We just didn't realize it would be this warm," he said.

The heart of the installation came when 12 bishops and priests of the archdiocese ritually inspected the papal mandate naming the new archbishop of Washington. The tradition dates back centuries when communication with Rome took months, and it was possible for an impostor to present himself. The chancellor of the archdiocese, Jane Belford, then proclaimed that the pope had appointed Archbishop Wuerl to Washington.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio to the United States, read the mandate, a personal letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Archbishop Wuerl. The pope wrote of the intellectual gifts and diocesan experience that he would bring to his new post, as well as "your proven fidelity to Mother Church."

The symbolic highlight was when Archbishop Sambi and Cardinal McCarrick escorted him to his throne in the basilica. Archbishop Wuerl took his seat, Archbishop Sambi handed him the crozier, or shepherd's staff, of the archbishop, and Cardinal McCarrick moved back out of sight, to take his seat with the other cardinals.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
A priest presents an Apostolic Mandate from Pope Benedict XVI.
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A clear sign of the cultural difference between his new see and Pittsburgh was that the prayers of the faithful were offered in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Tagalog, Igbo, Creole, Portuguese and American Sign Language, as well as English. Two of the archbishop's nephews and his niece were in the delegation that brought the gifts forward before communion.

After Mass a reception was held in the crypt church below the main nave. Archbishop Wuerl greeted well-wishers before a shrine to Vatican II, containing the stole that Pope John XXIII wore to open the council and the tiara of Pope Paul VI......

Phil and Mary Jo Bondi came from Mt. Lebanon. They had never met the archbishop, having seen him from a distance at diocesan Masses in Pittsburgh.

"We were at his final Mass in Pittsburgh, so it was only fitting that we be at his installation. I feel privileged to be a part of the celebration. We will continue to pray for him and for the Archdiocese of Washington," Mrs. Bondi said......

Also present was Keith Rothfus, who moved from Sewickley to Washington 10 months ago.

"It's good to have an old friend here," he said of the archbishop, who he likewise had never personally met.

Photo gallery

More picture in the daily photo journal


The Rev. Andrew Fischer, pastor of the Catholic Community of Sharpsburg, served for many years as the archbishop's administrative secretary, and accompanied him on many pilgrimages to the basilica where he was installed yesterday.

"I was his master of ceremonies, and when we were done he always came back to Pittsburgh. I thought about that when I saw him sitting in his [archbishop's] chair at the end of Mass. Now he's staying. And I wish him well, and God's peace," Father Fischer said.

Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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