By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 1, 2019 | En Español
ATLANTA—Signs of Jesus are shown in “your mercy and compassion,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told believers at a Sunday, April 28 farewell Mass as he neared the end of his service in the Atlanta Archdiocese.
Friday, May 3, is Archbishop Gregory’s final day as the leader of the local Catholic community. He is scheduled to be installed as the new archbishop in the Archdiocese of Washington on May 21.
So, concluding his years as archbishop, he shared with the congregation how encountering the faithful in events across the archdiocese are proof for him of the resurrection of Jesus.
“The Living Christ is found in the Eucharist, in the people he claims as his own and in the poor who often manage to conceal his identity,” he said.
“You have invited me to believe more deeply and to love more generously than I might ever have imagined 14 years ago,” he said during his homily.
And he asked for their prayers “as a personal treasure and I assure you of mine as a sacred pledge always.”
The archbishop led the Atlanta community during a boom time. He ordained 64 priests and 152 permanent deacons and created 15 new parishes and missions in the 69 counties of the archdiocese. He gathered with Atlanta priests to say farewell about two weeks earlier at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week.
The midday Mass of farewell was on Divine Mercy Sunday in the Centennial Center at Marist School. A dozen priests joined Archbishop Gregory around the altar.
Believers crowded around him after Mass to wish him well. Close to 30 clapping and swaying women and men from the Ghanaian Catholic community blessed him and sang a song of praise, as he stood and smiled.
The Ghanaians were just one of the ethnic Catholic groups who came to say goodbye.
Maxwell Nelson, who worships at St. Patrick Church, in Norcross, said the Ghanian community has high regards for the archbishop.
“We absolutely honor him. He’s been very helpful to our community,” said Nelson.
CC Nguyen and Danh Nguyen, from Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Norcross, shook the archbishop’s hand to say thank you. A new church is scheduled to be dedicated in November on the feast day of the Vietnamese Martyrs. The archbishop broke ground with a ceremonial shovel at the parish to kickoff construction two years ago.
“We have tremendous respect for him,” said CC Nguyen.
The two men came to the Mass to show their appreciation and let Archbishop Gregory know the Vietnamese community would keep him in their prayers, he said.
From Atlanta’s Cathedral of Christ the King came two longtime ushers who have seen the archbishop many times and admire his welcoming style. Dale LaPedus said he always sees how engaged the archbishop is with people who want to say hello, with a talent to remember people’s names after just a few introductions.
For Casey Kossuth, he admired the archbishop’s preaching.
“I love his homilies. He really connects with everyone,” he said.
Rachel Ajua, of St. Lawrence Church, wanted to hear him preach for the last time.
“He’s just warm and inviting. He is relatable,” said the 24-year-old. “Whenever he is the guest preacher, it would feel like an honor.”
“He’s welcoming. That’s the whole idea,” said Elizabeth Piper, who attends St. Jude the Apostle Church. “You want to embrace all the different communities.”
In his homily, pointing out the shortcomings of the apostles, Archbishop Gregory said it should comfort Catholics to know there is room in the church for all.
“We are those that the Lord calls blessed because we have come to believe without the proof that Thomas demanded and ultimately received,” he said.