Delivering messages of hope and mercy, and in turn receiving prayers and a hearty welcome from parishioners across the Diocese, Bishop Timothy Senior celebrated Masses in the Diocese’s ten deaneries this summer in a series of visits to introduce himself to his flock.
In Harrisburg, Danville, York, Hanover, Mechanicsburg, Chambersburg, Lebanon, Elysburg, Columbia and Rohrerstown, he was met with enthusiasm from Catholics who turned out to bid him well wishes and welcome on the heels of his installation as the Twelfth Bishop of Harrisburg on June 21.
“It’s just a little over two months since I became the bishop, and all of these travels around the Diocese have really been wonderful,” Bishop Senior said at the final Mass, celebrated for the South Lancaster Deanery at St. Leo the Great Church in Rohrerstown on August 29.
“It’s very encouraging to encounter people, like yourselves, who are so committed to their faith, excited about the faith, dedicated to their parishes,” he said. “There are so many wonderful priests, deacons and religious that I have met along the way, and I’m just very blessed to experience it. I’ve been able to see the vitality of the Church here in Harrisburg.”
Messages of being faithful witnesses, extending mercy and holding on to hope were the focus of the bishop’s homilies throughout the Masses.
At the first Mass, celebrated for the Dauphin Deanery at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Harrisburg on July 18, the bishop encouraged the congregation to live the Gospel in a way that attracts and evangelizes others simply by our actions.
In his homily, the bishop told the faithful that all the words in the world cannot persuade people to a deeper faith or to turn towards God like a powerful example can. “We must live our faith in a visible way, and to recognize Jesus in other people,” he said.
At a packed St. Cecilia Church in Lebanon on August 17, he extolled the gift of mercy, encouraging those gathered at the Lebanon Deanery Mass to practice forgiveness, although it can sometimes be a difficult task to do.
“When we think about all the mercy that we can receive from God, why would we hold it back from somebody else? We are challenged as His disciples to forgive. When we think about forgiveness, it makes sense: ‘God has forgiven me so much, I have to forgive.’ In practice, it gets tough,” Bishop Senior said. “I think part of the reason forgiveness can be so hard is, so often we carry hurt and loss and disappointment with us – a lot of it from our families and relationships, holding grudges, or refusing to talk to this person or that person anymore.”
“So often, the hurt is associated with a wound only God can heal. Ask Him for that healing, ask Him for the grace to forgive,” he said.
At Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Elysburg on August 22, the bishop spoke on the virtue of hope, and called on the faithful to extend hope to others.
“As Christians and disciples of Jesus, we have a hope that can never be taken from us. The light of Jesus Christ comes and conquers every darkness and brings hope and banishes evil,” he said. “Sometimes as Christians, we have to let that light be seen. We have so many burdens, but the light of faith gives us strength. Our world too needs to see that in us – we need to be bringing that hope and that light to others.”
We can extend the gift of hope to others “by our actions, by our witness, by the way we treat people,” Bishop Senior said. “We can be that glimmer of light and help banish the darkness.”
Priests, deacons and religious from the parishes within each deanery joined the faithful for the Masses in welcoming the bishop with open arms. Across the Diocese, many people took the opportunity to serve – as greeters, lectors, altar servers, musicians and choir members. Several of the Masses featured a Knights of Columbus Honor Guard or service at the altar by members of St. Michael’s Guard.
“The Mass was unbelievably beautiful. Seeing Bishop Senior in person, we are totally blessed,” said Mary Snyder, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Mount Carmel. “It was amazing to have him here. Seeing him in person is to see an image of holiness,” she said after the Mass in Elysburg.
“The way he talks is so gentle, and the messages he gives are just what we need to hear.”
Friends Sean Domencic and Joseph Gonzalez shared their first impressions of Bishop Senior following the final Deanery Mass at St. Leo the Great Church.
“We’re often a bit distanced from our bishops just because we don’t get to see them very often, but this Mass is such an important part of the sacramental life of the Church, and I was glad to visibly see our chief priest with the priests of our deanery together on the altar,” said Domencic, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Lancaster.
Asked what he hopes to see from the Diocese’s new bishop, Domencic said he’s “looking for clarity around the many confusing questions of our times. There is so much polarization, and I feel that young Catholics like myself are often being formed more by social media influencers. Having clear formation that addresses the problems in our times is what I’m really praying to receive from our bishop.”
Gonzalez, a former seminarian and currently a leader among the Diocese’s young adult groups, said he is pleased to hear of Bishop Senior’s focus on promotion of vocations to the priesthood. “When I heard he was appointed to our Diocese, I talked to a couple of my friends who studied at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and heard nothing but positive reviews.”
“A chance to be able to be here and pray with our shepherd was a pretty neat opportunity,” said Gonzalez, a member of St. John Neumann Parish in Lancaster. “It’s been cool to follow him and see what he’s been doing in terms of spreading his arms open wide to embrace our Diocese. It’s been beautiful to see, and I’m really excited to have him as our bishop.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, Jen Reed and Rachel Bryson, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness