John Barres officially became the fifth bishop of the Rockville Centre Diocese during a Mass of Installation at St. Agnes Cathedral on a snowy Tuesday afternoon, ending almost two months of curious excitement among Long Island Catholics.
Barres, 56, succeeded Bishop William Murphy in leading 1.5 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
The entrance song, “We are Ready, God, to Sing,” was symbolic of the hundreds of people who packed St. Agnes on a day filled with anticipation. As Barres had during the vespers prayer service in his honor the night before, he followed dozens of clergymen into the church and walked alongside Murphy as the changing of the guard neared its completion.
Moments after the procession, Cardinal Timothy Dolan introduced the Most Rev. Christophe Pierre, who read an apostolic letter from Pope Francis, who appointed Barres the new bishop. In the letter, the pope sent his well wishes to Barres and thanked Murphy for his 15 years of service. The outgoing bishop was moved to tears as the crowd stood and cheered for him.
Murphy, 76, had served as bishop since 2001. According to the Code of Canon Law, diocesan bishops must submit their resignations to the pope when they reach age 75.
After Pierre read the letter, Barres took it and held it near his head as he walked around the church. The succession became complete when Dolan and Pierre escorted Barres to the back left corner of the altar. Seconds after he was seated, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Barres’s 30-minute homily focused on asking the Holy Spirit for new and creative approaches to evangelization and a “more spirit-driven and data-driven” Catholicism, including respecting the sanctity of life and marriage, embracing Latino families and protecting children. He also asked every active Catholic to start bringing former members of the church back to Mass between now and Ash Wednesday.
“I am so very sorry if you have been hurt or disappointed by the church in any way, and we stand here today to support you, to listen to you and to love you,” Barres said to former church members.
He also thanked Dolan, his former parishioners in Allentown, Pa., and the Diocese of Wilmington, Del.
After the speech, Barres presented the gifts and helped serve communion to those in attendance. During the postlude, he was seen proudly gazing at the people standing before him. At one point, he placed his hand over his heart as he continued to smile.
The night before the installation, hundreds of people from across Long Island gathered in and lined up around St. Agnes for the vespers service.
Some of the late attendees at the prayer service were able to speak with Barres in the church lobby moments before his entrance. One woman, a church employee, exclaimed, “I like him already!” to a co-worker after their brief encounter.
The anticipation grew when the organ started to play the processional hymn “Lift High the Cross.” As he entered, excited parishioners snapped photos and waved to Barres as he slowly approached the altar.
As he did at his introductory news conference in December, he focused his more personal 20-minute homily on the children. Using the phrase “dear young people” four times, he told the youngsters that they were “critical to this moment of history” and were “being called by Jesus, St. Paul and Pope Francis to be missionary disciples.”
“I am so grateful that you are here, and I look forward to meeting you, serving you and laying my life down for you as your shepherd and bishop,” he said before prompting the audience to applaud for the children in attendance.
Upon leaving the church, each child received a card with a picture of Barres as a bishop on one side and as a Princeton junior-varsity basketball player on the other. He told them they could control what would appear on their future cards, like having a family and a job or serving as a priest or nun.
He even fit social media into his homily, imploring the children to use them to spread God’s message. “You text and tweet 20 times faster than the rest of us, so we’re really counting on you,” he said. “We’ll be counting on you to use social media to witness to your love for Jesus and the mission of mercy of the Catholic Church.”
The sports fans in attendance were especially interested in hearing Barres talk about his basketball days, and he compared his position of point guard to being a leader in the church community. That message resonated with 11-year-old Katherine Mortimer, of Smithtown, who said she plays the same position on two basketball teams.
“I think he was very good, because he talked about Instagram and Twitter, like how we [talk] about that,” she said. “Also about the sports, when he was a basketball player.”
Matthew Parmentier, 11, of Central Islip, compared Barres to a former New York Yankees legend. “He’s kind of like Derek Jeter, because he just speaks out, like you almost know him, even though you don’t really know him,” Matthew said.
Arlene Kelly, 47, of Medford, brought her 10-year-old son, Patrick, to the ceremony, and was impressed by Barres’s focus on the children. “It was a beautiful ceremony,” she said. “He did speak to the children, and I was glad that he asked about them. [Patrick] is a Catholic school child, so I’m glad they brought children from all over the Island here to see this.”
Before the ceremony ended, Murphy stood and gave his final speech to the congregants. He praised Barres’s appointment, and thanked those who supported him during his 15 years as the diocese’s bishop.
“I am most grateful to God that he has sent me here to be with you, who I love so much,” Murphy said. “All these years, I talked to you about God’s love. Now, as I retire, I will spend my time talking to God about you.”
He received a standing ovation from the crowd, and women at the back of the church were seen crying and hugging.