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Archbishop Carlson celebrates his 'dynamic' new home

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 10, 2009 - This afternoon, minutes after he was installed as the new St. Louis Archbishop, Robert James Carlson told standing-room-only crowd of 1,800 at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica that St. Louis Archdiocese is "dynamic."

He celebrates "the diversity of gifts and graces present in our priests, and deacons, and religious and laypeople and see those gifts, as important as our basic unity, because they all have the same divine origin and purpose."

He quoted Pope John Paul II,, who had preached in the same church 10 years ago: "The unity of the Church is not uniformity, but an organic blending of legitimate diversities."

Quoting Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he said, "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit. There are different forms of service but the same Lord. There are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone."

In his brief 16-minute homily, given about half way through the Installation Mass of the Holy Spirit, he spoke of his love of the Holy Spirit and his deep respect for priests and for religious men and women who take vows.

As bells rang, trumpets and French horns sounded and about 180 choristers sang, Philadelphia Cardinal Justin F. Rigali installed Carlson as the 9th St. Louis archbishop.

The installation role of representing the pope was an honor for Rigali, St. Louis archbishop from 1994 until 2003. He is the only American on the Vatican Congregation for Bishops that assists the pope in appointing bishops. Traditionally, the Vatican's Apostolic Nuncio to the US, Washington diplomat Archbishop Pietro Sambi, executes the installation blessing and rite.

One other Cardinal was on the altar, Francis George of Chicago, who studied at a now-closed Belleville seminary. Seated nearby were 53 bishops and archbishops from across the U.S. and one from Rome: Archbishop Raymond Burke, who last June was called to lead the Vatican Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, its court of last resort. He had served as St. Louis archbishop for four years

Burke also had the honor of formally handing Carlson the archbishops' crosier, the brass, hooked shepherd's staff  -- a symbol of his duty to devote his life to his flock.

"We wanted Archbishop Burke to have a role, since he is the archbishop emeritus," said Monsignor Henry Breier, who served the chief master of ceremonies - a title with duties that mix liturgical expert, choreographer and stealth cue-giver. Breier served as secretary to both Rigali and Burke and likely will continue in the same role for Carlson at least for a smooth transition.

The ceremony began with a 35-minute procession lead by a cross bearer, acolytes and 359 priests vested to concelebrate the Mass, the 53 bishops, two cardinals and finally Carlson. The procession walked east from the Cathedral Parish School along Maryland Avenue, south on Newstead Avenue sidewalk, then, west on Lindell Boulevard and up the great wide steps of the cathedral. Carlson and Rigali stood near the top, protected from the sun by blue and white umbrellas.

Festive, rhythmic, Latino praise hymns backed by guitar and drums and sung by a group of 150 friends of Carlson played from across Lindell. The predominately Latino American group traveled from Michigan, Minnesota and northern Illinois in vans, said Dave Thornton, a group leader. They stood in the heat; and when the Mass concluded, they sang again.

As the procession moved from the hot sidewalks into the cool church, two choirs and the orchestra of 10 played sacred music by Mozart, Elgar, Bruckner and John Rutter.

As Carlson in red Pentecost season vestments walked down the main aisle, the sunlight twinkled on gold in the cathedral's 41.5 million pieces of glass mosaics. Visitors, including bishops, broke processional ranks to crane their necks to see the mosaics and the Bible and Catholic Church history the designs convey.

Few who walked the aisle got attention equal to that of St. Louis native New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in his second visit to the city since his installation in the Big Apple April 15.

"Seeing you makes me know I'm home," he said to friends.

Bishop Robert Hermann, 74, a Ste. Genevieve County native who has been archdiocesan administrator for the past 11 months, welcomed the assembly. Monsignor Alexander Cifuentes Castano, representing the papal nuncio, read the pope's letter naming Carlson to the chair of the St. Louis Cathedral. The Archdiocesan College of Consulter looked at the document and agreed it was authentic - a very serious duty in ancient times. Rigali led Carlson from one side of the sanctuary to the other where he sat in the bishop's cathedra - a marble chair.

In an ancient rite in which the people accept their new bishop, the priests and people applauded for 38 seconds. Then the assembly sang "Glory to God in the Highest" in a musical setting by Charles Callahan commissioned for the Papal Mass at the Dome Jan. 27, 1999.

Prayers of the people were offered by lay people in French and Spanish -- the languages of St. Louis' earliest Catholic settlers -- and in English. Then, recent immigrants said prayers in Polish. Tagalog and Vietnamese.

Priests filled the front third of the church from transept to transept. And Carlson's words about the priesthood impressed many.

"Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep love for priesthood and a profound love for priests," Carlson said in his homily. "Brothers, you will be my closest collaborators in ministry. I promise to pray for you, to support you, listen to you."

He loves "raising up new and worthy vocations and look forward to collaborating with you in this important work. I will never ordain a man a priest that I do not know."

Monday night he had visited Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury and talked informally with a group of 6th to 9th grade boys who are exploring becoming priests. Some of those youths were at the Mass.

"He was very good with them," said seminary rector and president Monsignor Theodore Wojcicki. He is excited by Carlson's proven reputation as a recruiter of young men to the priesthood.

Young and old were intrigued by him.

Many at the Mass said that they liked what they saw of Carlson's style. "I love him, a bishop who can make us laugh and talks about prayer," said Hortense Watkins, a retired St. Louis Public School teacher and Cathedral choir member. "He speaks with warmth and sincerity. I am looking forward to him."

Priests reacted to his warmth, too.

"He's refreshing, extremely outgoing and worldly wise good about reaching out the whole community," said the Rev. Salvatore E. Polizzi, pastor of St. Roch Parish in the city's Central West End.

Others hoped for a leader with common sense.

"He brings an Upper Midwest, down-to-earthiness and, I hope, prairie common sense," said the Rev. Benedict Viviano, a Dominican and one of the world's leading New Testament scholars, professor emeritus at the University of Friebourg in Switzerland. The native St. Louisan was here visiting family and walked in procession.

Jane Ostenfeld and her sister Mary Claire were in a parish school honor guard holding balloons. The sisters' earnestly practiced making deep curtsies without tumbling so they could honor Carlson. When he passed them they were so excited they forgot to bow, especially after he patted Jane on the head.

When asked if they knew the new leader's name, Jane snapped to attention, "Robert Carlson." Her second grade at St. Mark's in South County had watched his April announcement press conference on television in class, she said. Her impression: "He's a very nice man."

In his homily Tuesday night, then archbishop-elect Carlson said, “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.”

Craning her neck to see the bishop, Sister Clementia, 26, a Franciscan Sister of the Martyr St. George smiled broadly as if she were seeing a rock star. Until moving to St. Louis to help out part time at the archbishop's residence on Lindell, she was a cook at the Apostolic Nunicature in Washington for Sambi and his predecessor.

"I haven't met him yet," she said but hoped to at the reception. She hopes he likes Italian food, her specialty.

Swami Chetanananda, spiritual leader of the Vedanta Center overlooking Forest Park, said that he and another monk were honored to be invited and were always interested in a new St. Louis archbishop. He had attended Rigali's installation in 1994 and was pleased to be invited back. He found it encouraging that Carlson had asked for the religious, civic and business communities to work together for the community Tuesday night at the Vigil Prayer service.

Adelaide Schlafly, who turns 94 next month, walked in procession with grace in a long black cape signifying her pontifical honor as a Dame of Malta, an organization recognized as an NGO by the United Nations for its worldwide charity.

She too has mealtime connection with bishops. Since she was in her teens she has dined at her own and at family members' homes with six of St. Louis' nine archbishops from cathedral-builder Cardinal John J. Glennon, who presided from 1903 until 1946, to Burke.

One of the hallmarks of St. Louis Cathedral, a reason that Pope John Paul II gave it basilica status in the 1990s, is the professional, heartfelt quality of its sacred music. At the recent installation of a bishop in another city, four hymns were sung. Between the evening prayer service and the mass today, the adult and children's choir and the bell choir provided nearly seven hours of music.

"We've been practicing since September," said St. Louis Archdiocesan music director John Romeri. At 9 the morning the Vatican named Carlson to St. Louis, choir members phoned Romeri to ask if the would start doubling up rehearsals that very night.

The St. Louis Archdiocese Music Department continued the Catholic Church's 1,500-year-old tradition of commissioning sacred music for important occasions. For Carlson's installation, Romeri commissioned American composer James Chepponis to write a musical setting for Psalm 104, which was sung at the Mass. The choir also sang two works that the archdiocese commissioned for the January 26, 1999, Papal Mass in St. Louis.

Along with the new music was a sumptuous array of classical sacred works. One moving highlight came at Communion when the 60-voice Archdiocesan children's choir sang Gabriel Faure's lilting, tender, very French, "Ave Verum."

A few songs focused on Carlson's new duties. The adult choir sang Malcolm Boyle's "Thou, O God, Art Praised in Sion" with the lines: "Blessed is the man whom Thou Choosest and receivest unto Thee. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee."

Burke found the choirs' songs uplifting. In a brief chat on the church steps Burke said it was a very nostalgic time for him and recalled that just five years ago he was beginning his St. Louis tenure.

Of the lay people in attendance, about 400, including Carlson's two sisters, know Carlson well. A few hundred more had met him in his two whirlwind visits here since April. Some came because they were curious. Most attended because the succession of bishop in the St. Louis archdiocese is a momentous occasion for Catholics. Hundreds of these without special roles stood through the service. Others were on metal folding chairs in side niches with limited views and relied on television screens to follow the rites.

"Catholics believe that the bishops of the diocese is a successor to the apostles and that is a powerful symbol, said the Rev. Gregory Mohrman, the prior of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Louis and St. Mary in Creve Coeur. "The bishop is a real way to connect in an unbroken line to the Twelve (apostles). So, the installation of a bishop is always a joyous occasion."

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer who has covered religion for many years. Joe Milner is an intern at 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.