By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published August 5, 2010 | En Español
When Archbishop Paul Hallinan received Atlanta’s first auxiliary bishop in 1966, the archbishop at that time was suffering from the acute hepatitis that two years later would claim his life. Bishop Joseph Bernardin arrived from the Diocese of Charleston to assist the ailing Archbishop of Atlanta. The Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1966 was approximately 50,000.
Last year at this very time, we received our second auxiliary bishop—but there were some very different circumstances that prompted this appointment. We needed an auxiliary bishop not because the archbishop was sick but because we now have so many Catholics, parishes, ceremonies and events that one bishop simply cannot attend to all of the many activities that require the presence of a bishop!
So a couple of weeks ago, when I ran into one of our folks at a Publix who asked me, “How are you enjoying your semi-retirement now that you have an auxiliary bishop?,” I must have looked at him in rapt disbelief. My calendar has not lessened one bit since Bishop Luis Zarama has joined me. In some respects it has only increased in intensity.
Still he has been a tremendous blessing to me and to so many others who have come to meet this fine and generous man of faith.
Our growth as an archdiocese has been a great blessing. We are currently approaching one million Catholics who now call the Archdiocese of Atlanta their home. Our parishes are vibrant, our schools are notably flourishing, and our spiritual and social activities reflect the energy of a growing Catholic community. We have been blessed in so many different ways, and the presence of an auxiliary bishop is thus a sign that this local Church’s growth demands more episcopal attention and pastoral care than any one bishop could possible provide all alone. That is why auxiliary bishops are usually appointed to a See in order to provide that additional episcopal ministry that a diocese needs because of its growth, the vastness of its territory, or any special language or cultural needs of the people of God.
During the past year, Bishop Zarama has traveled throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta, celebrating special moments of joy, confirming many of our youngsters, and being present for meetings and gatherings as a sign of unity and hope for this community of believers. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for his generous collaboration and wise counsel.
He also has represented the Archdiocese of Atlanta in many other events beyond Georgia since a diocese is never an isolated reality. We belong to a far-reaching Church that beckons us to engage other Catholics beyond our borders. Our archdiocesan response to the needs of the people of Haiti was a tremendous expression of our care for others. The recent visit from the delegation of the bishops of Sudan and their festive celebration at Stone Mountain was another sign of our importance in the life of Catholics throughout the world. And on the last night of my recent visit to Ireland, I was able to renew my cherished friendship and esteem for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin over supper that he himself had prepared and with wonderfully fraternal and supportive conversation.
The life of our Province (which includes the dioceses of Georgia, North and South Carolina) is also a responsibility that we both must remember. Bishop Zarama has met many bishops in the past year, and he has attended the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meetings that bring bishops together from throughout our nation to strengthen the life of the Church in the United States and to encourage and support the mission of the Church in each of the individual diocesan communities that belong to our nation. I have been very proud of the way that he has thrown himself into the episcopal service of this local Church and the Church in our nation.
Next month, he will go to Rome for a New Bishops’ Seminar sponsored by the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, where he will meet all of the new bishops from throughout the world who have been appointed during the past year. He will discover another expression of the breadth of the Church Universal and will probably have a personal encounter with the Holy Father as one of the new bishops that he has recently appointed. I will stay at home during his time in Rome—anxiously waiting for my helper and my friend to return!