New bishop offers Vespers Service in Northern Region
by luke eggleston
sun staff writer
OSWEGO — Bishop Robert Cunningham completed his circuit of regional Vespers Services on June 23 with a visit to St. Joseph’s Church.
The bishop’s tour of the regions began with Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, followed by Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica and St. Patrick’s in Binghamton.
At each outpost of the Syracuse Diocese, the new bishop used his homily to underscore his primary concerns for the health of the church: the dignity and sanctity of life and the pressing need for vocations.
Bishop Cunningham believes that the question of life is at the root of all other social questions.
“People ask me wherever I go all over the diocese what are my plans, what are my priorities, what do I think is important. And there are many things that are important but I think that the need we have for reverence for all human life is extremely important,” he said. “It’s the most important issue facing the church and facing the world because without life there are no other human rights. So we need that right to life and that respect for the right to life. We need to embed that in our people at all times. There’s nothing more important than the right to life, from which all other rights flow.”
He added that the priest shortage in the church in the U.S. is an imperative challenge.
“Then the other issue is the continued need for vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. Everybody in the church is called to holiness,” Bishop Cunningham said. “Everyone has a common vocation but some of us are called to a special vocation as priests and deacons and sisters and brothers. We need to emphasize that and encourage our young people to consider that way of life.”
During the heart of his homily, the bishop stressed the theme of hope.
After proceeding to the altar, the bishop was welcomed by children bearing banners from each parish in the Northern Region. When they arrived at the sanctuary, each child or group of children planted their banner facing the congregation.
According to Father Andrew Baranski, pastor of both St. Joseph’s and St. Stephen the King Parishes, roughly 500 people packed into the church. Many attendees stood in the back of the church. Msgr. Richard Kopp, the diocesan director of priest personnel, accompanied the bishop and observed that the service received 100 percent attendance from the priests of the Northern Region.
The bishop was very pleased with the presentation by the youth of the Northern Region and the substantial number of attendees.
“This was a wonderful turnout,” he said. “The church was full. It was really nice to see so many young people here. There were people of all ages but the young were here in remarkable numbers from the school. I thought that the liturgical service was great and the people were just so warm and welcoming.”
The region’s Catholics who attended the service were impressed with the bishop.
“He makes a very good first impression and I’m sure that he’s very sincere and I’m sure that he’ll do a good job,” said Bob Stone, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Church in Oswego.
Several described the bishop as “forthright” in separate conversations.
“He’s very forthright; he’s eager. It seems like he’s got a lot of energy and we look forward to getting to know him,” said St. Joseph’s parishioner David Roman, adding that the bishop’s call for prayer and fasting for vocations was timely. “He’s a traditionalist and he’s certainly calling for vocations. We need it desperately. It’s a message he needs to concentrate on.”
“I thought he did an excellent job of focusing us on what he identified — and I would agree with him — as the two most important issues for the church,” said Mac McKinstry, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Church in Oswego.
At the close of the service, Father Baranski presented the new bishop with a replica of the lighthouse the Lake Ontario community frequently claims as its symbol.
“The community has a big investment in the lighthouse and it’s a symbol that everyone in the community can relate to. I thought he framed it well as a source of light in times of trouble,” McKinstry said.
In addition to meeting with the priests and presiding over the Vespers Service, Bishop Cunningham briefly toured several communities in the Northern Region, which is comprised entirely of Oswego County. He also visited Holy Trinity School as well as the Neuman Center on the SUNY Oswego campus.
“The people that come to these gatherings are people of faith and I want to encourage them to work with me as we try and build up the faith and invite people back into the fullness of the faith and the church and to do all that we can to strengthen the life and faith of these people. It’s very encouraging. The people here tonight are very happy to be here. They’re telling me that they’d like to work with me as we continue to move forward,” Bishop Cunningham said.