By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 2006
The ritual is centuries old -- first the "inspection" of the pope's written announcement of the new archbishop, then the seating of the new leader on the throne, and finally the presentation of the symbolic golden staff to the shepherd.
Then the roar of applause, which rolled like a huge tide yesterday across the 3,000 Catholics at the soaring Basilica of the National Shrine, where Donald W. Wuerl, a poised, teacherly Pittsburgher, was installed as Washington's sixth archbishop.
But the three-hour ceremony was also befitting this changing region, where Mass is celebrated in 22 languages, where guests arrived in the sweltering afternoon to hear bells from the basilica tower mingle with guitar, tambourines and "Alleluja" sung in Spanish. People took the microphone one after the other to say "Let us pray to the Lord" in Vietnamese, Igbo, Creole.
Since his appointment last month, this was the first good look that Catholics here have gotten at the 65-year-old Wuerl, who comes from a diocese where the economy and the Catholic population have been shrinking and there are but two Spanish-language Masses -- compared with 48 here.
It was also the first good look that Wuerl got of his new flock, with its many hues and its political electricity. Among the dignitaries in the basilica yesterday was Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whose Catholicism became an issue in the last presidential election when some Catholic activists challenged priests to deny Communion to him and other political candidates supporting abortion rights. Kerry took Communion yesterday.
The prominence of Wuerl's new post and his stature among church insiders was evident in the presence of nine cardinals and dozens of bishops and archbishops from across the country. Among them was retiring Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who opened the service with cracks about the hot weather and political partisanship, immediately reflecting the contrast between him and the more reserved Wuerl.
The audience itself, bathed in bright spotlights and enveloped occasionally in clouds of incense, was reflective of the increasingly global Catholic quilt. There were groups of nuns in white, black and electric blue. Priests in robes, suits and short-sleeved shirts. Many religious orders were represented, including the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Malta, marching in matching capes and hats. There were monks in simple sandals and senior citizens in elaborate bonnets.
Many of those at the installation were clergy or lay leaders, but some were just everyday Catholics curious about the new shepherd in town.
"I just wanted to see what he said and how he said it," said Erma Proctor, 59, a retiree who worships at the Church of the Incarnation in Northeast Washington. "I thought he seemed very personable and that he will carry on what Cardinal McCarrick started," she said, noting McCarrick's success at fundraising for Catholic charities. "And the ceremony was just awesome."
Priests and other archdiocese-watchers said they would be listening closely to Wuerl's homily, looking for some sense of how he would balance spiritual leadership with the political issues that fuel daily life here -- some view the Washington archbishop as a de facto national Catholic spokesman. But in his 25-minute homily, Wuerl avoided controversial topics, emphasizing that a bishop's job is to teach, to "feed the sheep."
Wuerl is known in his hometown, where he served as bishop for the past 18 years, as "the teaching bishop." He hosted a weekly cable television show and has compiled a best-selling book of Catholic teachings, now in its sixth edition. He was also known as a behind-the-scenes bridge-builder, someone who preferred pressing quietly in private to making demands in public.
"My hope is to walk with you, to work with you, to minister together with you and for you so that Christ's light, already shining brightly in this faith community, will continue to be reflected in all of us ever more strongly," he told the rapt crowd. "It is also the role of the church to see that the light of the Gospel shines on all of the discussions, all of the debate that help to mold our culture and our society. The voice of our most cherished values, the voice of the great teaching tradition rooted in God's word and God's wisdom, simply has to impact the life of our society."