By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published October 1, 2009
While parishioners, friends and family members of Bishop Luis Zarama have openly voiced their approval of his elevation to the episcopacy, his fellow priests also have spoken up in support of his selection and the help he will bring in shepherding the local church.
The news was well received by Bishop Zarama’s confreres, priests said.
“The announcement was greeted with great enthusiasm by everyone I’ve spoken to,” said Msgr. Patrick Bishop, pastor of Transfiguration Church, Marietta.
“This is going to be such a help to Archbishop (Wilton D.) Gregory,” he said. “The confirmation schedule alone is more than any one person can handle.”
The clergy have recognized the growth of the North Georgia church and collectively felt it was an appropriate move for Archbishop Gregory to petition Rome for an auxiliary bishop.
An Atlanta native, Msgr. Bishop easily recalls when the Catholic population in the metro area was only 40,000 strong. Now the numbers are well over 700,000, with nearly 300 priests and 200 deacons, a staggering increase over the past few decades.
“Atlanta has taken off as a city and therefore as a church,” commented Msgr. Bishop.
Father Richard Morrow, 80, who began serving in Georgia several years before the Atlanta Diocese was created, said the addition of an auxiliary bishop is a great sign of hope.
“There’s a wonderful reason for optimism among the members of the archdiocese,” he said.
“Archbishop Gregory has been good for our archdiocese, but he can only accomplish so much,” the priest said. Bishop Zarama not only can share the bishop’s duties, he has served the archdiocese well in many ways already.
“He knows Atlanta. He knows parish ministry and he knows the language and the culture of our Spanish-speaking people, which generates most of the growth among our members.”
“All who know him speak of his devotion to the Lord and to his flock in North Georgia,” Father Morrow added.
“When I heard that we were getting an auxiliary bishop, I was very excited for the archdiocese,” commented Father Randall Mattox, pastor of Good Samaritan Church, Ellijay.
“It is a reflection of how much the archdiocese is growing in faith and numbers,” he added. “There are more Catholics and Catholics are more enthused about their faith. It is a very exciting time for the archdiocese.”
With the Hispanic population increasing exponentially, many feel Colombian-born Bishop Zarama is the perfect choice as auxiliary bishop. However, there are many other qualities that make Bishop Zarama a good choice, according to the priests.
“He is somewhat of a logical choice,” said Father T.J. Meehan, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Atlanta. “Luis is well thought of by his confreres.”
Father Meehan recalled meeting Bishop Zarama several times when he was stationed as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart in downtown Atlanta. At the time, Father Meehan was serving as the chaplain for Grady Hospital and would occasionally travel to Sacred Heart to help celebrate Masses on Sunday mornings.
“I always knew he was well received here at the parish,” he said. “He is such a good listener. Whatever concerns I needed to talk to him about, he was always open and compassionate.”
“I was very delighted about the news,” Father Meehan added.
He said Bishop Zarama’s pastoral concern is one of many qualities that will aid him in his new position. He described the new auxiliary bishop as “kind, faithful and most helpful to people.”
“A good pastor helps make a good bishop,” he said.
Father Dan Stack, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cartersville, knew him when he was beginning to serve in North Georgia. One of his struggles when he arrived in the United States was not only to learn English, but also to adapt in the Hispanic community from Colombian life to the predominantly Mexican population here—something he has done very well, Father Stack said.
“He had a huge cultural adjustment with the Mexican community as well as the English-speaking community,” said Father Stack. “His success in Clarkesville tells you that he was able to adapt well on both fronts. He is a most appropriate face for the Catholic Church of North Georgia—multilingual and multicultural.”
Priests repeatedly said that the strong and consistent growth of the Catholic Church in North Georgia continues to be a sign of God’s work among his people. They wish Bishop Zarama the best and know he is the right man for the job.
Bishop Zarama “is a wonderful choice as auxiliary bishop,” said Father Mattox. “He is intelligent, kind and prayerful and has a great love for the people. He is a man of great charity.”