The first day of summer ushered in a new season for the Diocese on June 21, as Bishop Timothy C. Senior officially became the Twelfth Bishop of Harrisburg, taking his seat in the cathedra during a solemn and beautiful Mass of Installation at St. Patrick Cathedral.
Filling the Diocese’s Mother Church for the historic liturgy, a congregation of hundreds of bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and lay faithful erupted into sustained and thunderous applause as Bishop Senior took to the cathedra, escorted by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and Archbishop Nelson Pérez, Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia.
“As I begin my service as bishop in Harrisburg, my primary desire is to be a good pastor; to be a leader who is servant first and so to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ with integrity and fidelity. I will endeavor each day to give myself completely to this service. Please do not hesitate to let me know when I fall short of that goal,” Bishop Senior said in his homily. “So, I ask you again to please pray for me, that I may be the bishop that the Church in Harrisburg needs me to be.”
The solemn and symbolically-rich liturgy, streamed live on the Diocese’s YouTube channel, began with the impressive sight of a nearly 15-minute entrance procession of priests, deacons and seminarians, as well as more than 30 bishops.
At the back of the Cathedral, Archbishop Pérez presented Bishop Senior to Father Joshua Brommer, rector of the Cathedral, who offered the bishop a crucifix to be venerated with a kiss, as well as a sprinkler of holy water for the bishop to sprinkle himself and those present before processing to the altar.
Bishop Ronald Gainer, Eleventh Bishop and Bishop Emeritus of Harrisburg, offered words of welcome to the assembly and to his successor – whom he has fraternally referred to as “Twelve” – as Mass began.
“In this solemn liturgy, we thank God, who unceasingly keeps His enduring promise to provide shepherds for the Church; shepherds after His own heart, who will care for His people through proclaiming the Gospel, celebrating the sacraments, caring for the poor and administrating the daily works of the Church,” Bishop Gainer said, expressing his profound gratitude for Pope Francis for appointing Bishop Senior to Harrisburg.
“As God’s holy people gathered around the altar this afternoon, we pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our new shepherd and upon the entire Diocese of Harrisburg, so that we may be renewed as missionary disciples and in our commitment to proclaim Christ and His Gospel to the world around us,” Bishop Gainer remarked.
Then, Archbishop Pérez asked for Pope Francis’ apostolic letter appointing Bishop Senior to Harrisburg to be shown and to be read by Archbishop Pierre, who addressed the bishop before reading the papal bull.
“As you continue to know and trust in God, who has brought you this far, you can be sure that His Divine Mercy will remain upon you and that He will guard and bless the ministry that has been entrusted to you,” the archbishop told Bishop Senior.
Following the reading of the letter, Bishop Senior was seated in the cathedra – it’s high back now emblazoned with his Coat of Arms – to enthusiastic and welcoming applause from the congregation.
The rite continued with the Greeting of the Bishop, as representatives from the clergy, religious, laity, Catholic education, multicultural apostolates, Catholic social work, civil service and ecumenical leaders greeted and welcomed Bishop Senior.
The First and Second Reading (Ezekiel 34:11-16 and 2 Timothy 1:6-14) were proclaimed in Vietnamese and Spanish, respectively, a sampling witness to the vibrant multicultural richness of the Church of Harrisburg.
“I think I got a little glimpse of what heaven is like,” lector Jennifer Le said after the Mass. “When will I ever have the privilege of being part of something like this? It was such an honor to know what this Mass means to the history of the Diocese.”
A member of St. Anne and Our Lady of La Vang Parish in Lancaster, Le said she was especially moved when Bishop Senior officially took his place as Bishop of Harrisburg when he sat in the cathedra.
“The moment he sat in the chair with his staff, and all the applause that followed, I knew at that historic moment that he has made a great sacrifice in his life to serve the Church,” she said. “He sat there not in the glory of sitting on a throne, but to accept the work of what it will mean to be a shepherd taking care of us.”
Brian and Heather Dunlap, members of the Cathedral Parish, also marveled at the sight of the historic celebration.
“This is our first time being at an installation of a bishop, and we feel so fortunate to be part of this event in the history of the Diocese,” Brian said. “My family is from Philly and they’ve said nothing but extremely high things of Bishop Senior. I’m sure he’ll be an incredible bishop for us, and I’m excited to see the direction he leads us in and what he’ll bring to the Church.”
The Dunlaps looked on as proud parents as their sons – CJ, Shane and Brody – served as altar servers for the Mass. The boys have been faithfully serving at the Cathedral Parish for four years.
“They understand they’re serving the Church in a spirit of giving,” their dad said. “For them to be part of this Mass is just an incredible opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I know will stay with them.”
A Call to Encounter
In his first homily as Bishop of Harrisburg, Bishop Senior reaffirmed his commitment and that of the Diocese to continue assisting survivors of clergy sex abuse and ensuring aggressive youth protection policies remain in place.
“Though these have been difficult years for those who serve in the Church, and in some ways for all Catholics, it is imperative that we also call to mind the painful experience of those who are survivors of sexual abuse,” he said. “I stand ready to do my part in accompanying and assisting survivors, and I want to reaffirm the commitment of the Church in Harrisburg to do all that we can to provide care and support for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, and to ensure that the policies and procedures that are in place to protect children and to work with law enforcement to respond to allegations of sexual abuse, will remain in force, and will continue to be reviewed and evaluated when necessary.”
He expressed his gratitude for the dedicated and faithful priests of the Diocese, and for the leadership of Bishop Gainer.
“You have guided this local Church in Harrisburg for over nine years, through some challenging times, with great effectiveness, pastoral charity, wisdom and great love for those entrusted to your care,” he told his predecessor. “We are all blessed that you will be continuing to be active in ministry in the Diocese in your retirement. God has more work for you to do among us. Thank you, Bishop Gainer! Ad Multos Annos!”
Reflecting on the Gospel Reading for the Mass (Matthew 28:19a, 20b) in which Jesus commissions the disciples to go out into all the nations, he acknowledged his mission to tend to the flock, and called upon the faithful to join him in proclaiming the Gospel.
“My brothers and sisters, while a bishop, together with his priests and deacons, has a unique role in this ministry, the responsibly for the proclamation of the Gospel…is shared by all the baptized,” Bishop Senior remarked. “We are all called by God to make the presence of Jesus evident through our lives. We must not allow the tragic scandals in the Church, or other challenges that we have faced to impede us in living our faith in Jesus Christ.”
“Jesus, whom we believe lives in us, also works through us,” he said. “As we consume His precious Body and Blood in the Eucharist, He feeds us with Himself, so that we might be ever more configured to His likeness and to be Christians who radiate the Joy of the Gospel to others; especially those who are lost, on the margins, not connected to the Church, who do not know God – let alone know how much they are loved by God, and that even when it is ‘cloudy and dark’ that the loving gaze of the Father is always upon them – longing for them to turn and be embraced in His mercy.”
He called upon the faithful to engage in a “culture of encounter” envisioned by Pope Francis, and pointed to the Cathedral’s stained-glass window of St. Patrick engaging those who had persecuted him as an example of looking outward to encounter the culture.
The image of Patrick, which graces Bishop Senior’s prayer card, “provides an image for how we, Catholics of the Church in Harrisburg, gathered as we are in the shadow of the Capital building of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, need to be looking outward, and to engage the culture with a desire to encounter others, to listen, to discern and to act, always guided by the Holy Spirit, and the positive and redemptive message of the Gospel,” he said.
“We need to be open to how the Spirit will speak to us through one another in our encounters, that together, having listened, we might then discern what the Spirit is calling us to do, and so then act accordingly. This is a challenge to each of us to live our faith more actively; to be Christians in whom Jesus is recognized,” the bishop added.
Concluding his homily, Bishop Senior invited the people of the Diocese of Harrisburg to join him “in the work of renewing and strengthening our faith; in opening our hearts anew to the power of the Holy Spirit who will stir into flame the gift of God that we have received, and in centering our lives on our relationship with Jesus Christ.”
With a fitting reference to his episcopal motto, he paraphrased the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, former Archbishop of Cincinnati and Chicago: “When the day comes when my name falls from mention in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, may we all have come ever more fully to ‘know Him in whom we have believed.’”
(Photos by Chris Heisey and Lisa Schlager, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness