By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 1, 2019
ATLANTA—More than 150 of Atlanta’s priests said farewell to Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory during his final Chrism Mass as the leader of the Atlanta Archdiocese.
The annual Holy Week Mass is a gathering of nearly all priests who serve the Catholic community in north and central Georgia. At the Mass, priests renewed their ordination promises. Archbishop Gregory also blessed the sacred oils used in sacraments in parishes and missions of the archdiocese.
The Tuesday, April 16, Mass was the last large gathering of priests with the bishop who has led them for 14 years.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory urged the priests to remain united, not through ideology, nor age, nor whether they see themselves as traditional or progressive. Rather, priests must be united through faith, he said.
“We are one because the Lord Jesus has chosen—for his and still unrevealed reasons—to call us his friends and entrusted us with his priestly office, through no merit of our own,” he said.
“You bring the zeal of your love for the Gospel and for the Lord’s church to this Eucharist and to every Mass that you earnestly celebrate under every conceivable circumstance and with the prayerful intentions of the people you serve,” he said.
“Christ’s Eucharist is limitless in its grace it engenders and bestows,” he said. Archbishop Gregory said the priesthood is a “treasure that we share” with believers.
Archbishop Gregory asked for forgiveness for any offense he may have caused during his Atlanta ministry. He praised the priests for their generous service.
“I will take all of you in my heart to Washington, along with the memories of our union in Christ,” said the archbishop.
Later in a Tweet, he said, “What a fine group of priests serve this local Church. They work hard, pray hard, and enjoy the ministry they offer. I am grateful for their friendship & collaboration. They sent me cards, offered me best wishes & assured me of their prayers. I thank them from the heart.”
The Mass was also the celebration of the jubilee anniversaries of 17 priests, both religious order and archdiocesan priests. They were honored for 60, 50 and 25 years of ministry as priests.
Three priests were formally incardinated into the Archdiocese of Atlanta at the Chrism Mass. Incardination refers to the practice of transferring allegiance from one diocesan church to another. The priests incardinated by decree were Father Tamiru Atraga, Father Urey Mark, and Father Peeter Pedroza.
A new situation for priests
Archbishop Gregory led the Atlanta community as the number of Catholics grew. He ordained 64 priests and 152 permanent deacons, and 15 new parishes and missions were dedicated.
During a dinner with the clergymen following Mass, the archbishop received a standing ovation.
For most priests, it is the first time an archbishop has been sent to another diocese from Atlanta, leaving a vacancy in the office of archbishop.
Father Bryan Small, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, said it is a new situation for the priests. There is “futile speculation” about the next bishop, he said. “That aside, everyone is looking at a giant question mark and that produces anxiety.”
The archdiocese gained two auxiliary bishop positions during Archbishop Gregory’s tenure. The original two auxiliaries, Bishop Luis R. Zarama and Bishop David P. Talley, moved on to serve in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Memphis, Tennessee, respectively.
Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, was ordained an auxiliary bishop by Archbishop Gregory in the spring of 2018. Bishop Konzen first knew the archbishop from his time as principal and teacher at Marist School. He often invited the archbishop to speak to students about leadership. Working side by side, Bishop Konzen said he came to admire his “sense of balance.”
“There is balance in the way that Archbishop Gregory leads in liturgy, in his understanding of the challenges facing the church, in his hopes for the development of the archdiocese and in the various venues and events where he is present and in charge,” noted Bishop Konzen.
Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III said by watching the archbishop, he has learned to focus on sharing Jesus’ message. Archbishop Gregory ordained him as an auxiliary bishop in 2017.
“Archbishop Gregory has shown me by his pastoral example how to maintain a calm demeanor and rejoice in the Lord always,” he said.
“I’m sad to see him go. He’s always been kind to me personally,” said Father Gaurav Shroff, parish administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Church, Blairsville, in an email. “He ordained me. He’s been a father to me and to us,” he said.
A larger number of priests than usual attended the Chrism Mass for the chance to bid farewell, Father Shroff said.
Even if priests differed with their leader, it was clear Archbishop Gregory “respected and loved his priests,” Father Shroff said. “He wanted us to succeed and do well.”