Washington opened its arms to Bishop Donald W. Wuerl yesterday, welcoming him in an ornate, incense-filled, three-hour Mass installing him as the city’s newest Catholic archbishop.
More than 2,500 people packed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, including hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals, and dozens of ambassadors, politicians, clergy of many denominations, and officials from Catholic organizations and schools in the city.
“Today the church of Washington rejoices as the Most Rev. Donald Wuerl is installed,” Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio, told the crowd. Reading from a document signed by Pope Benedict XVI, he said the now former bishop of Pittsburgh was chosen for his new role because of his “proven fidelity to Mother Church.”
After Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick resigned last summer at the obligatory retirement age of 75, “we judged you, venerable brother, to be most suitable and prepared to guide them,” Archbishop Sambi said.
Then Archbishop Sambi and Cardinal McCarrick approached the new archbishop to escort him to the episcopal throne to the left of the high altar, thereby officially installing him. With a swirl of robes, Archbishop Wuerl sat down amid a crescendo of applause as the cardinal handed him his crozier, an ornate, golden shepherd’s crook symbolizing his authority over the archdiocese.
“My heart is full of a spirit of reverence and awe to be called to minister as shepherd of the church of Washington,” the archbishop said a few minutes later. “Aware of my many personal limitations, I nonetheless embrace joyfully with faith in God’s providential plan … this call.”
Reading his sermon from an eight-page, single-spaced text, Archbishop Wuerl made it clear that his prime ministry would be to teach.
“The bishop is a teacher of the faith and herald of the word,” he said, “a minister of the grace of the high priesthood and is also charged with the pastoral care of the flock entrusted to his charge.”
As a symbol of the multiple ethnicities in the Archdiocese of Washington , readers said the intercessory prayers in 10 languages. Hundreds of Pittsburgh residents attended, including its Greek Orthodox archbishop, Metropolitan Maximos, and his superior, Metropolitan Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, based in New York. Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor also drove to the District for the ceremony.
“He’s a tremendous spiritual leader,” the mayor said. “He has all the attributes to make a wonderful archbishop for our country.”
Cardinal McCarrick, one of nine red-robed cardinals present, opened the ceremony with a wry apology to out-of-towners for the muggy June heat.
“It seemed only fitting that we wanted a warm welcome, your grace,” he said to Archbishop Sambi. “But we didn’t think it would be this warm. Remember, Christmas is only six months away.”
The cardinal received several ovations from Washington Catholics for his 51/2 years leading the archdiocese. But the loudest applause went to the new archbishop, who proceeded into the church, waved and shook hands with several congregants, including Sens. John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrats.
“This is a wonderful celebration of a great transition,” said Mr. Kerry, adding that he was a personal friend of the archbishop’s.
Other politicians included Jim Nicholson, veterans affairs secretary and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who read a statement from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, proclaiming yesterday as a “day of tribute” to the archbishop. The Washington archdiocese includes several Maryland counties.