By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published October 1, 2009
His two families surrounded Bishop-designate Luis Zarama on the eve of his ordination as a bishop.
Pews on one side of the Cathedral of Christ the King were filled with priests from throughout the archdiocese in black clerical garb, while the opposite side was filled with members of his family and close friends invited to this intimate time of prayer.
The next day might bring a burst of excitement and the organized chaos of an ordination day; at vespers one could still feel the nervous anticipation of the coming events.
Nearly 100 priests and seminarians and more than 25 members of the Zarama family, including his parents, were present for the evening of prayer. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory reflected on its significance.
“From this community of priests, one has been selected to share in the fullness of the priestly office,” the archbishop said. “One of our own is chosen for shepherding in a new fashion all of the flock of Christ here in North and Central Georgia. Tomorrow will dawn for him and for us as a bright promise of hope.”
“Luis, none of us knows how many tomorrows the Lord will give us,” the archbishop continued,” but we know that they are all secure because He loves us and His love endures forever. At this vesper hour, we also dare to dream and to ask the Father of light to bring into your life every gift that will make you truly a happy, holy, zealous and effective bishop for the Church.”
Throughout most of the evening, Archbishop Gregory sat in his cathedra, flanked by Deacons Steve Swope and Tom Zahuta, while Bishop-designate Zarama sat on the opposite side of the altar facing the archbishop with two assisting priests, Father Jim Schillinger and Father Ignacio Morales.
Father Morales, who hails from Mexico, called the announcement of Bishop Zarama’s elevation a “beautiful surprise.”
“He is very paternal,” said the priest who was just ordained in June. “I am excited there is someone to represent the Hispanic population.”
But the young priest also emphasized Bishop Zarama’s universality and how he genuinely cares about all people, whether they are Anglo, Hispanic, old or young.
Following the archbishop’s homily, Bishop-designate Zarama stood behind the altar to take the oath of fidelity, a public profession of his allegiance to the Catholic Church and all of its teachings as well as his fidelity and loyalty to the pope. Both he and Archbishop Gregory signed the text, witnessing to his profession of fidelity.
The archbishop then blessed the signs of the office of the bishop, a ring, miter and crosier, which would be given to the new bishop the following day after his ordination.
Following the intercessions and closing prayer, Bishop-designate Zarama spoke to the congregation, mentioning the three bishops who would be consecrators at his ordination and other visiting bishops.
“Tonight, I want first to say a word of personal thanks to Archbishops Gregory, (John F.) Donoghue and (Eusebius) Beltran, and to the many other bishops whose words of companionship and whose prayers have helped me to feel, during these days, a more profound presence of the Lord in my life,” Bishop-designate Zarama began.
He also candidly talked about when he first arrived in Atlanta from Colombia and those whose kindnesses led to his staying.
“On the day of my arrival in Atlanta, it was our late friend and shepherd Archbishop (James P.) Lyke who offered me the shelter of his residence,” he continued, speaking of Atlanta’s archbishop in the early 1990s. “Even though the language restrictions limited our communication, I was surprised by the warmth of his hospitality, which conquered my heart and made me feel at home.”
“Adjusting was not easy and I went through a moment of crisis that almost caused me to leave. But the Spirit intervened, and thanks to the support of one of you who was there at that moment, I am here at this moment.”
Tears could be seen in the eyes of family members as his gaze fell across everyone in the sanctuary. The genuine appreciation of his family and friends could strongly be felt and he continued through his address with certainty and calmness.
“I cannot say how moved I am to have with me here so many of my family and relatives,” he said. “God be thanked that tonight we are praying together once again. Moments like this remind me of our family prayer in Pasto at bedtime.”
“We began this ceremony of vespers, dear friends, with the beautiful plea: ‘O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me.’ May I ask you, from my heart, that before we end, in the closeness of your own heart, please say that prayer once more, for me, with just this slight change in words: ‘O God come to his assistance, O Lord make haste to help him.’ This is what I know I need—your prayers that I be helped—and with them, I am content to serve however the Lord may choose.”
He then proceeded to share the same sentiment, albeit at a slightly quicker pace, in his native language of Spanish before the final blessing at the end of the service.
Archdiocesan seminarians led the procession out of the church, followed by Fathers Schillinger and Morales, who carried the future bishop’s crosier and staff. Archbishop Gregory followed, smiling and blessing attendees as he left.
The crowd eventually filed into the Cathedral’s parish hall where an elaborate reception awaited them.
The bishop-designate arrived shortly after, where he was greeted by hugs, smiles and words of encouragement and congratulations. The smile on Bishop-designate Zarama’s face showed them all he was ready to serve them in his new role as bishop.