CLEVELAND — From across the 185 parishes that make up the Diocese of Cleveland, they came together Tuesday to remember their long-time shepherd, Bishop Anthony Pilla, who died last week at the age of 88. They were joined by Bishops and Archbishops from around the country as Bishop Edward Malesic read the condolences sent from Pope Francis to the Diocese.
The homily on this day was given by the priest who likely knew him best, his longtime secretary Fr. Edward Estok who expressed his nervousness of this task until he recalled something the bishop would often tell him.
"He would say to me 'Ed, take a patience pill," he said. He also recalled another familiar saying in Pilla's voice as he looked out at this crowd that the Bishop considered family whether related by blood or by faith.
"You are good people," which drew a laugh from the crowd.
Pilla was the first and only Bishop in the history of the Diocese to be a son of the diocese he led. And in his 25 years as head of it, he built relationships with the leaders of other faiths in Cleveland and bridges between the different ethnic communities.
"Bishop Pilla was Pope Francis before Pope Francis," Estok said.
Something Malesic spoke of in telling the story of their last meeting in Little Italy just last month during the feast. The two had just had lunch in the basement of Holy Rosary Church. "We enjoyed a good meal together and then I said to him I wanted to go up and walk around, not thinking to invite him to go with me. I thought it might be too much for him to walk those several blocks."
"So up I went with a few other priests and navigated the crowd up the hill in Little Italy and then started back down to the church when all of a sudden I saw a priest coming up the hill. No, not a priest, a bishop! And I said to those around me 'is that Tony Pilla?' And it
"He was out with the people walking cautiously up the hill with his cane and they were crowding around him asking for his blessing, talking with him, reminiscing. He knew that if he went up to those streets to walk up that hill he wouldn't get so far so he knew he could do it," Malesic said.
"He was in his element with his people and he was enjoying every minute of it. He was the beloved bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland. I saw that and knew that, that day. That will be an image that will remain with me for a long time."