Published July 27, 2009
ATLANTA—Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory led a press conference the morning of Monday, July 27, joyfully announcing Pope Benedict XVI’s appointment of Msgr. Luis Rafael Zarama as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
The appointment was first announced in Washington on July 27 by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Archbishop Gregory addressed members of the chancery and the press at the Catholic Center in Midtown, taking the opportunity to express his gratitude toward the Holy Father and Bishop-designate Zarama, and to give a brief update on the growing status of the archdiocese.
“I am deeply grateful to his Holiness for this appointment, which so favorably responds to the growing pastoral needs of our burgeoning local church,” said the archbishop in a press release on the announcement. “The Holy Father’s selection of Msgr. Zarama from among our own generous and zealous priests is an affirmation not only of the gifts of this very fine priest, but of the quality of all of the priests who serve us.”
Archbishop Gregory shared with those in attendance that Catholics in Atlanta are nearing 800,000 strong, a “staggering” increase from the 22,000 Catholics that were part of the archdiocese when it first separated from Savannah to become its own diocese in 1956.
The Atlanta archbishop told the crowd that the continued growth of the archdiocese is the main reason for the appointment of an auxiliary bishop, a position which is usually utilized when the diocese is so extensive that it requires more than one bishop to administer current diocesan responsibilities, when the bishop is unable to perform his functions, or if the diocese is attached to a royal or imperial office requiring the diocesan bishop’s protracted presence at court.
“In those circumstances, the Holy Father provides the local ordinary with an assistant in the episcopal ministry to share with him those responsibilities that require, or really call, for the presence of a bishop,” he explained.
After sharing some of the surprising statistics regarding Atlanta’s Catholic growth, a smiling Archbishop Gregory said, “Quite frankly, I could really use some help.”
Bishop-elect Zarama will become only the second auxiliary bishop in the 53-year history of the Archdiocese of Atlanta when he is ordained on Tuesday, Sept. 29. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago began his episcopal service in 1966 as an auxiliary bishop in Atlanta under then Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan, during the early years of the budding archdiocese when Archbishop Hallinan fell ill.
“I am trying to find the words to express myself,” said the beaming Bishop-elect Zarama as he took the podium following an introduction by the archbishop. He explained how the words came to him in his native language, Spanish, but he said it was a little more difficult to express his emotions in English.
“I am very deeply grateful to the Holy Father,” he continued, also thanking the archbishop for guidance and support throughout the years. He also addressed his colleagues at the Catholic Center, fellow priests and former parishioners who, according to him, made him into the man and priest he is today.
“I hope I can continue working with you, to have your support, and to continue to be able to serve God in this new appointment.”
Born Nov. 28, 1958, in Pasto, Colombia, to parents Rafael and Maria, Bishop-elect Zarama entered the seminary of Pasto and the Universidad Mariana, where he studied philosophy and theology from 1982-87. He then studied canon law at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá from 1987-91 before being ordained a priest in Atlanta in 1993.
Since his arrival in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Bishop-elect Zarama has worked with several parishes, including serving as parochial vicar for Sacred Heart Church, Atlanta, from 1993-96 and serving as both pastor of St. Mark Church, Clarkesville, and administrator for St. Helena Mission, Clayton, from 1996-2006.
In 2006, he was appointed vicar general for the archdiocese, a position he still holds. During his career he has also been involved with the Office of Vocations, the Court of Appeals of the Ecclesiastical Province of Atlanta and the Committee for the Continuing Education of Priests.
Bishop-elect Zarama became an American citizen July 4, 2000. In 2007, he was named a monsignor.
The new auxiliary bishop was a welcome choice, according to the archbishop, who said he brings with him a solid knowledge of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and a familiarity with both the Anglo and Hispanic communities.
“Bishop-elect Zarama is certainly proud of his Colombian heritage. We have a good number of Colombian-born priests. So he brings his Hispanic heritage, his love for his own Hispanic culture but also his love for the whole archdiocese.”
The archbishop explained that while serving local parishes, Bishop-elect Zarama “was beloved by both the Spanish-speaking community as well as the English-speaking community. … He has grown to know the archdiocese and has a broad perspective—and he brings that.”
“Besides, he’s a good guy,” the archbishop said to a chuckling crowd.
For Bishop-elect Zarama, “the first challenge is to help the archbishop,” he said.
But “how we can reach (Catholics) … with a message of love,” is also one of the most important tasks.
Bishop-elect Zarama’s episcopal ordination will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta.
“I heartily congratulate Bishop-elect Zarama, and I look forward to working with him in the episcopal service of the needs of all of our people,” Archbishop Gregory said.