The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta  

Silver Jubilee Celebration

Archbishop Gregory celebrated his 25th episcopal anniversary on Decemeber 13, 2008.

Anniversary Mass Homily by Archbishop Fiorenza

Homily by The Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Archbishop Emeritus of Galveston-Houston
At the 25th Anniversary Episcopal Ordination of
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory
December 9, 2008

On this grace-filled day of jubilee, the Church of Atlanta sings the joyful song of gratitude for the silver anniversary of the episcopal ordination of its shepherd, truly a pastor bonus, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. The Church in the United States happily joins this celebration because the Shepherd of Atlanta has, in many important ways, been its shepherd during the years he served as the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This jubilee celebration has its origins many years ago, when the eleven year old Wilton began a faith-journey with Christ as he emerged from the saving waters of baptism. Surely it was the grace of the Holy Spirit which led the young boy to become a Catholic, a free and mature choice for one who was captivated by the truth and beauty of the teachings of Jesus which he found in the Catholic Church. This encounter with Jesus awakened in his young heart a desire to be more closely united with the Lord. With the support of his family, he responded to the graces of a vocation and began studies for the priesthood as a thirteen year old teenager. The teenage Wilton was convinced that Jesus wanted him to be a priest, and after high school seminary, he entered the college program as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago. On May 9, 1973, through the imposition of the hands of Cardinal John Cody and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, Wilton D. Gregory was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. At that moment thirty-five years ago, every fiber of his being was sealed by the Holy Spirit and he became a priest forever called to offer the sacrifice of praise in the Eucharist and to preach the gospel of salvation to all people.

His intelligence and many other gifts were obvious to Cardinal Cody who sent him to Rome for graduate studies where in 1980 he was awarded a doctorate in Liturgical studies. Returning to Chicago, he was assigned to teach at the Archdiocesan seminary and a liturgical consultant to the Cardinal. It didn’t take long for the Vatican to recognize the special gifts of this rising star in Chicago, and at the tender age of thirty-five, Wilton D. Gregory was named by Pope John Paul II as an Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and a member of the College of Bishops. Now, twenty-five years later, we give thanks that God called him to a greater responsibility of service, to be a successor of the Apostles and a shepherd in His Church.

On the day of his episcopal ordination, the readings chosen are the same ones in today’s liturgy. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah describes the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian exile in which God, with the tender care of a shepherd, led them to freedom and nourished them with love. The second reading, reminded the newly appointed bishop that within the body of the Church, God has given him a variety of people with different ministries to assist him building up the Church. Indeed, in the gospel of Luke, Jesus describes the mission of his Church is to preach the gospel of the kingdom with single-mindedness, and to avoid material attachments which will distract from the urgency of proclaiming salvation to those who will accept the gospel and believe it. Each of these readings relate to the ministry of a bishop as a shepherd in the Church.

The mission of every bishop is identical with the mission Christ gave to the Church, namely to be stewards of the mysteries of God. It is the ministry of an apostle bishop to guide and direct all the ministries so that by coordination they will contribute to the unity of the Church. Through his preaching and teaching the mysteries of God, the apostle bishop maintains the visible bond of communion with the head and members of the episcopal college. This bond of communion, truly a communion of love, is fostered in the diocese by the bishop who joins together a diversity of races, nationalities, language and cultures in fraternal love to be witnesses of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The bond of communion within the episcopal college under the Holy Father, the successor of Peter, is ritualized at the central moment of the ordination ceremony when all the attending bishops silently, one by one, impose their hands on the head of the bishop-elect, passing on the mission and power that has come from Christ to the apostles and their successors. Then, together, all the bishops pray the ancient prayer of ordination that reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the source of the bishop’s apostolic mission and authority.

To dramatize that the whole of the bishop’s life and mission is a servant to the Word of God, a book of the gospel is held over the head of the newly ordained bishop who is kneeling beneath the book. The meaning of this powerful sign is unmistakable: the entire ministry of the bishop is under the Word of God, with the sole purpose of announcing the Word, proclaiming it and living it with fidelity.

For the last twenty-five years the episcopal life and ministry of Archbishop Gregory has been a faithful servant to the Word of God whose fullest meaning is the Word of God himself, the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. He has been proclaiming the gospel of Jesus and explaining its salvific meaning so that the truth and beauty of its message has truly nourished those whom he has served. Above all, he has been a witness to God’s word by the example of his life.

His genuine kindness, and patience, the loving concern he has for the poor, the immigrants and the marginalized, the attention he gives to the sick and elderly, his fatherly care for the priests and deacons, the great charity he shows to all, including those who might disagree with him, are part and parcel of Wilton Gregory. These human qualities, honed by prayer and a strong spiritual life, are innate to his personality and to his ministry as the Shepherd of the Church of Atlanta. I am certain that in the few years he has served in Atlanta, you have come to realize how blessed you are to have him as your shepherd.

On learning the good news that Wilton had been named by the Holy Father to be the Archbishop of Atlanta, I welcomed him to the Church in the South, and assured him that despite suffering the brutality of the Northern aggression during the Civil War, Southern people are the most welcoming, warm, and friendly people he would ever meet and know. I think he has found this to be true, as you have found your Archbishop to be a true Shepherd after the heart of Christ.

It is my great honor and pleasure to have him, not only as a revered brother bishop and colleague, but as a very dear and cherished friend. During the three years I served as president of our episcopal conference, I was blessed to have him as the vice president. It was a true comfort for me to have the benefit of his wisdom and the superabundance of his common sense and good humor to assist me in leading and coordinating 300 rather independent bishops, who are use to having their own ideas prevail in their own diocese, and were not always happy when their opinions had to give way to the collective voice of the conference.

When Archbishop Gregory became the president of the episcopal conference, his gifts of leadership quickly became evident when one of the greatest crisis ever faced by the Church in the United States is its over 200 years of history literally exploded shortly after he assumed the presidency: the sex abuse scandal of minors by some priests and bishops. It was a very dark and horrendous time. The confidence of Catholic people in their priests and bishops were at an all time low. The June 2002 meeting in Dallas was the most difficult meeting ever held by the United States Bishops. It was a tension filled and very depressing meeting.

Thank God, Bishop Wilton Gregory, with his calmness and level headed leadership, courageously led us to make critical important decisions, such as a National Review Board and the adoption of a Charter to investigate allegations of abuse. With these and other important decisions of his leadership, not the least of which was to convince the Vatican that these were necessary steps for the Church in the Untied States to address the crisis and to make the protection of children and minors a top priority. During the very difficult days of his tenure as president, Bishop Gregory’s leadership was not only outstanding; I believe no other bishop could have served us better that he did. The Church in the United States will always be grateful for his steady hand and determined leadership during a very dark time just a few years ago.

This great leader, this holy man is your shepherd, chosen by the Holy Father to lead the important and ever growing Archdiocese of Atlanta. He leads you in prayer, especially in celebrating the Eucharist when you gather as God’s people to offer the sacrifice of praise; he nourishes you with both the bread that comes from heaven and the Word that comes from the gospels; like the Good Shepherd, he brings you to safety amidst the dangers that could lead you astray; he administers the archdiocese with careful planning and prudence; he leads with the example of a true servant of the mysteries of God; and above all, he loves you and holds each of you close to his shepherd’s heart. He is truly a pastor bonus.

How wonderful and fitting it is that the Church in Atlanta, and all who know and love him, should rejoice on the silver anniversary of his episcopal ordination, and thank God in this Eucharist for the life and ministry of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.

Fifty years ago young Wilton was led by the Holy Spirit to the waters of baptism. 35 years ago the Holy Spirit of God sealed him as a priest of Jesus Christ. 25 years ago the same Divine Third Person of the Blessed Trinity called him for a greater responsibility in the Church. My dear Wilton, we pray today that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless your episcopal life and ministry with great joy and peace as a dedicated and faithful bishop of the Church and as a one who has served all of God’s people with the loving care of a great and good Shepherd.