Bishop Sullivan vows to lead as a pastor

Bishop Sullivan vows to lead as a pastor

frcoverbishopsAuxiliary Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, left, of New York stands with Bishop Joseph Galante during a press conference in the Camden Diocesan Center on Jan. 8 to announce Bishop Sullivan’s appointment as the eighth bishop of Camden.

Photo by James A. McBride

CAMDEN — In his first appearance in Camden, Bishop Dennis Sullivan said he would lead the diocese as a pastor, pledged that the church will never abandon Camden, and offered a greeting to Hispanics in fluent Spanish.

Bishop Sullivan was introduced as the eighth bishop of Camden at a press conference in the Camden Diocesan Center on Jan. 8. Those in attendance – chancery officials, diocesan employees and even the journalists – welcomed Bishop Sullivan and expressed their gratitude to Bishop Joseph Galante, who has won their respect and affection during a period of significant change for the church in South Jersey.

Earlier in the day Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, papal nuncio to the U.S., made the announcement in Washington that Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Bishop Galante, and that he would be succeeded by Bishop Sullivan, who is currently an auxiliary bishop of New York.

Bishop Galante, 74, who has been on dialysis for the past year, said that his eight years and nine months in Camden have been the happiest of the 20 years he has been a bishop, and expressed his gratitude to those he worked closely with and all the Catholics of the diocese.
“I joyfully welcome you to the wonderful people of God of this diocese,” Bishop Galante said in presenting Bishop Sullivan. “I trust you will come to love them as I do.”

Bishop Sullivan, 67, began by explaining that he had recently been in Rome, where he had made a point of visiting Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, to see “The Calling of St. Matthew” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Caravaggio’s painting, an image of contrasting shadows and light completed in 1600, depicts the moment at which Jesus calls Matthew to follow him. Meeting Jesus and pointing to his own chest, Matthew, a tax collector, has a look of astonishment on his face.

Bishop Sullivan said he felt the same reaction to his appointment as the eighth bishop of Camden: “Who, me?” But also as in the painting, he said, he felt the light of Christ touching him.

Before the 10 a.m. press conference, Catholics throughout South Jersey were googling Bishop Sullivan and looking at his official biography on the Archdiocese of New York website. Some also read the 1,500-word report on Whispers in the Loggia, a website for church-watchers that describes Bishop Sullivan as “a career pastor who became a chancery whiz.”

Bishop Sullivan has spent 22 years as a pastor in New York City and Larchmont, N.Y., and he said he would bring a pastor’s sensibility to the chancery in Camden. He also said that he sees strength of the church in the local parishes.

A lighthearted moment came when Bishop Sullivan, in answer to a reporter’s question, identified himself as a Yankees and Giants fan. “I will pray for the Eagles,” he said, to the approval of Bishop Galante, who is well known for his love of the team.

The question and answer session focused largely on three areas: the violence and poverty of Camden City, the importance of the growing Hispanic presence and the reconfiguration of the parishes in the diocese.

Like many other dioceses, Camden has undergone an extensive pastoral planning process that reduced the number of parishes from 124 to 70. Bishop Sullivan was instrumental in New York’s own ongoing reorganization, and he said he knows how difficult, and how necessary, such changes are.

Bishop Sullivan, who noted that he once served at a parish in the Bronx in an extremely poor area, received applause when he said, “the church must walk with the poor and never abandon the city of Camden.”

In addition to offering a message in Spanish, the bishop stressed that Hispanic Catholics are not simply Catholics who speak a different language but members of the church with their own sensibilities, gifts and customs.

Noting that this year has been designated a Year of Faith by the pope, Bishop Sullivan said he is “walking through the door of faith.”

“I know I don’t need to walk alone,” he said. “I walk with the Lord and in the goodly company of the faithful.”

Shortly after the press conference, Bishop Galante presided and Bishop Sullivan was the principal celebrant and homilist of the noon Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

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