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On eve of installation, new archbishop Robert Carlson emphasizes peace, reason and reaching out

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 9, 2009 - In his first sermon in St. Louis, Archbishop-elect Robert Carlson reached out to the entire region and encouraged civic, business and leaders of other faiths to work together to build a better community. He encouraged them to be hopeful and persistent on tough issues. Carlson spoke Tuesday night at the Solemn Evening Prayer Service the night before his installation as the 9th archbishop of St. Louis. About 1,400 attended the 90-minute service at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. He spoke in a relaxed, warm style.

“We must be willing to establish partnerships with the ecumenical community and the civic community to accomplish what needs to be done in today's world,” he said.

He said the role of the church in today’s culture is often counter cultural. He noted that in praying one of the psalms chosen for the evening service, the assembly had asked that “God would bless us with justice and integrity in serving our neighbor and one another. As we pass this message on, we must remember that it is best accomplished by persuasion and service flowing from our prayer and personal witness.”

The Gospels call him to preach “heavenly wisdom that is pure and peaceful and reasonable, not pompous, not inflated not rude but rather one that rejoices in the truth, offers hope and leads the way to Christ.”

People’s actions speak louder than words, he said. Some years ago, a young man said that the words Carlson was preaching were “hard words.” Later, in prayer Carlson realized that perhaps they were “hard words not loving words” because he himself was not living the words just preaching them.

That daily prayer, no matter how important one’s duties, makes the rest of the day more productive and worthwhile.

He added a bit of self-deprecating humor telling “almost ancient history” about when he was in high school. After summer football practice, he was told he didn’t make the cut to be on the team. Still, he showed up for team practice. When the coach asked if he understood the meaning of the word cut, the “Holy Spirit must have inspired” young Carlson to ask the coach how he could get better if he didn’t practice.

The coach let him hold the dummy. Eventually, one of the players dropped out, and Carlson made the team. As the assembly laughed, Carlson urged them to be persistence in loving their neighbors. In a very rare response for a homily, most in the assembly stood and gave him a sustained standing ovation.

“An excellent homily” said Monsignor James T. Telthorst, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows parish in South St. Louis and a former winner of the Aquinas Institute’s Great Preacher Award.

“It was well thought out, “ said Telthorst. “He understood his civic audience, talked about the importance of prayer and loving your neighbor. And he did with a touch of humor.”

Several dozen ecumenical guests at the service were seated near the front and introduced to Carlson near the end of the service. Bishop Gerald Manshold, leader of the Central States District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and his wife, Anita, came from Kansas City to welcome Carlson to Missouri.

Manshold was impressed by the beauty of the service’s readings and sacred music but heartened by Carlson’s invitation to the larger community to work together, he said. “There are many things that Missouri Christian leaders can work together on,” Manshold said. Among the most pressing are “immigration issues and universal health care,” he said, indicating two examples that seemed to fulfill Carlson’s call to show the love of the Gospel message by actions not just preaching. Manshold said he hopes to have a chance for solid conversation soon.


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Festive religious ceremonies celebrating the installation of Minneapolis native Robert Carlson as the 9th St. Louis archbishop began this evening with a vigil prayer service at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard.

An hour of sacred classical music is being presented by more than 150 musicians including a bell choir and an orchestra of 10. Pews are reserved for leaders of other Christian denominations and representatives of various faiths will be given seats of honor at the service. Carlson also will greet them during the service.

Earlier in the day, Carlson -- who served until last week in Saginaw, Mich., and before that as bishop of Sioux Falls, S.D. -- gave the St. Louis Beacon an interview Tuesday morning on a wide range of topics. Video of some of it is available here.

He talked about placing women in important church roles. As Saginaw bishop he had a woman chancellor, Nancy Werner; and Trudy McCafferty was one of his two spiritual directors. Both are lay women. McCafferty has worked with priests and bishops for 25 years, he said. He also has two sisters who have input into his life.

A key issue for many St. Louis parishioners and for some of the St. Louis priests preparing to walk in the vigil procession tonight is when he might announce pastors for several parishes now led by temporary pastoral administrators. Under church law during the first 12 months of an interim between bishops, the administrator may not appoint pastors. That has left a few parishes in limbo.

Carlson said he will “soon” name as pastor many priests serving parishes in temporary assignments as parish administrators. He has two conditions. The priest must have already served as a pastor in a previous parish and the interim administrator Bishop Robert Hermann and the Archdiocese’s priests’ personal board must have agreed on the man’s parish appointment. He indicated that he need not interview each priest before the announcement as a permanent pastor. One source said announcements could come by Sunday; Carlson declined to state a date.

In Saginaw, Carlson served as his own very successful vocations director but he will not take on those duties in St. Louis, he said. Monsignor Ed Rice (no relation to this reporter) has been doing an excellent job leading the St. Louis Archdiocese Vocations office, and he will not replace him, Carlson said. The two men already have been talking about how to encourage more St. Louis men to become priests, Carlson said.

Carlson credited the Holy Spirit, not himself, with bringing so many Michigan men to the seminary in his previous posts. One key way to get more priests is to encourage Catholic parents to talk seriously to their young children about a variety of vocations including married life and the priesthood, he said.

Tomorrow at 2 p.m. Carlson’s installation Mass will include a process of more than 50 bishops from across the nation and about 11 cardinals.

Among them will be Cardinal Justin Rigali, who will lead installation rites. Archbishop Raymond Burke has come from Rome to assist in the rite. Both men are former St. Louis archbishops.

Patricia Rice is a freelance reporter who has long covered religion. Joe Milner is an intern with the St. Louis Beacon. 

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.