Bishop Fisher vows commitment for renewal at installation as 15th bishop of Buffalo
St. Joseph Cathedral looked thin as a limited number of guests were allowed inside to witness the installation of Bishop Michael W. Fisher as the 15th ordinary of the Diocese of Buffalo on Jan. 15. This suited the new bishop, who prefers a pastoral presence rather than a regal one.
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, who served as apostolic administrator for the past year, welcomed everyone including those watching via livestream. Due to Covid concerns Bishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Bishop Fisher’s home diocese of Washington, D.C., did not attend.
“Today it is my pleasure to say with real confidence, that we are in the presence of a wonderful spiritual leader. … Just your presence alone is a sign, a testimony to our faith and our love,” Bishop Scharfenberger said.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, invited Sister Regina Murphy, chancellor of the diocese, to read the apostolic letter from Pope Francis by which Bishop Fisher is appointed bishop of Buffalo. The letter read, in part:
“It is with fatherly love that we turn our thoughts to spiritual needs of the ecclesial community of Buffalo. … Accordingly, we have thought of you, venerable brother, who in the exercise of various responsibilities have clearly manifested your spiritual and human qualities and have acquired for yourself practical experience. All of which, in our judgement, render you as one who is appropriately suitable for undertaking these greater duties. …
“May the lord assist you, so you may continually serve His people in joy and hope, and sustained by the example and protection of St. Joseph the Worker, you may, as you sincerely give witness to the mercy of God, accomplish what you set out to do.”
Cardinal Dolan then led Bishop Fisher to the cathedra, which is his official seat in the diocese. As Bishop Fisher sits he became the bishop of Buffalo.
The 300 people in the cathedral gave a standing ovation.
During his homily, Bishop Fisher greeted those present and those watching via livestream.
My friends, I offer praise to God, Lord and Shepherd of us all, and my immense gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for the gift to now serve you as your pastor and shepherd, your brother in the faith that unites us, and as your devoted servant. Archbishop Pierre, if you are watching, I humbly ask you that you convey my heartfelt gratitude to his holiness for his confidence in me.
I now join the good and faithful people of the Diocese of Buffalo on the journey you’ve begun toward renewal, toward healing and in what must be our relentless work to make possible a new, more promising era for this family of faith. As now an official Buffalonian – I join your resounding chorus – “GO BILLS!” That drew applause for the football team preparing for the playoffs.
“It’s with the greatest humility that I accept this call to now serve you as your 15th bishop, and which I view as a continuation of the assent to Christian discipleship, first offered on my behalf at baptism some 62 years ago by my wonderful and devoted parents, Margo and Bill. Together with my adoring grandparents who were such a presence and positive influence in our lives, I bring their memory to this altar this day in a very special way, with the unqualified admission that all which has brought me to this point and enabled me over these many years to hear the often subtle voice of God and to say yes again and again to His promptings was made possible by their tremendous love and remarkable example of faith and faithfulness.”
Reflecting on the Book of Jeremiah, Bishop Fisher addressed those who have turned their back on the Catholic Church.
“Those of us who remain know and assert in the depths of our hearts that it is Jesus Christ who calls us, and in whom we ultimately trust and follow. It is Jesus Christ who has the words of eternal life – who makes sense of all that we confront in our lives and that often doesn’t make sense. It is Jesus Christ who never disappoints, though we confront deep disappointment. It is Jesus Christ whose promises are true and abiding, even when we have been disillusioned and left to wonder how it is we might recapture the zeal and joy that led us to become followers of Jesus.
“Already, I have become so touched, so enthused, by the abundance of goodwill, determination and expressions of support and commitment to collaboration. I arrive at a moment when considerable work has already begun in paving the path toward renewal that Bishop Scharfenberger has begun as apostolic administrator. I join with all of you in offering Bishop Scharfenberger my sincere thanks for his leadership and devotion this past year. Overseeing the many affairs of one diocese is all-consuming; overseeing the affairs of two is nothing short of heroic!” His praise for Bishop Scharfenberger drew applause.
Speaking about the work of healing that needs to be done in the diocese, Bishop Fisher said he sees potential in the diocese and supports the diocesan “Road to Renewal” effort, stating, “ I have been struck by the clear and common sentiment that regards the extraordinary potential of this faith community here in Western New York as unquestionably greater than the challenge that have been our preoccupation.”
He continued, “As a pastor, I’ve always felt that my job, my ministry was to identify the gifts of my people and to put them to the good work of the parish. It is the disposition, the inclination to rely on and support one another that will determine our future. It was really never the case that the work of evangelization belonged only to those ordained to Holy Orders or religious life, though admittedly, this was a perception that persisted and has persisted for so long. Our parishes are always the seed-bed, the seed-bed of evangelization, where faith is nurtured at the earliest stages of life, where our most profound and defining moments are celebrated, mourned and interpreted in the light of the Gospel; where the many charisms that enrich our family of faith are allowed to flourish and contribute each in its own way, without competition or bias, but combined together with the talents and capabilities of others.”
He went on to praise the legacy of the Diocese of Buffalo in providing Catholic education to the young.
“I have often considered those who devote their lives to educating our youth as the true heroes who demonstrate what Jesus regarded as the greatest love: ‘To lay down one’s life’ for another,” he said. “And so, to all the educators and those who support and work in our schools and parish faith formation programs, you have my gratitude, my constant admiration, and my commitment to be your advocate and your partner in defining a new era in Catholic education here in the Diocese of Buffalo.”
Lastly, he addressed victims of abuse who have turned away from the Church.
“In this work of renewal that together must be our constant preoccupation, we must be ever mindful of those who have turned away – not because of any failing on their part – but because they have been deeply harmed by the sin and failings of those they trusted most. Those who have suffered abuse, whose voices have not been sufficiently heard, and whose pain has not been eased – these brothers and sisters we must find a way to lead – or simply to invite – back to the Church that has failed them. To all who have suffered and continue to feel like they no longer belong or have a place within the family that once nurtured their faith and contributed to their identity, I pledge to listen; to comfort however I can; to understand as best I am able; and to exert every effort within my capacity to be an instrument of your healing, if you will allow me.”
He concluded with a call of togetherness and teamwork in the renewal of the Buffalo Diocese.
“And so, my brothers and sisters, let us now begin our journey together, moving forward arm-in-arm, well, maybe elbow-to-elbow right now, in a spirit of fraternal love and support in the work of rebuilding. Let us again recall the words of the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading, who assures us that we have every reason to be confident and hopeful – assured that what God has begun in us and through us, he will bring to sure completion.”
The entire installation Mass can be seen at www.buffalodioce.org.