PHILADELPHIA — With all of the ceremony befitting the occasion, Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez made his way into the grand Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul, stopping along the way to greet those that came for his installation as the tenth archbishop of the diocese. This is a church whose construction was started more than a century and a half ago by the man who would become the nation's first male saint in St. John Neumann, the church where two of the last three popes have prayed, the church where Archbishop Perez was himself ordained a priest and the church that he will now call home.
"So how about that, " Archbishop Perez said to those assembled, drawing a laugh. At 58, he's the youngest Archbishop of Philadelphia since another Cleveland Bishop, Cardinal John Krol was named to the post in 1961 at the age of 50. Perez taking time out to acknowledge those from Cleveland who traveled to Philadelphia for the mass and to thank the people back in Ohio.
"Only 2.5 years ago I got to Cleveland. They embraced me with incredible joy and incredible love, it's been 2.5 years of just utter joy," he said. "I love the people of Cleveland. They will always, always have a place in my heart and I have to say what I said to them when I got there. Cleveland Rocks, Cleveland Rocks," he said to applause.
He inherits a church in Philadelphia facing financial challenges, a shrinking base and one hit hard by the sexual abuse scandal, but he made his first homily about hope and he shared the Cleveland story of a conversation he had with someone at the Cleveland Clinic after a speech he recently gave. The person came up to him after and asked if, with all that is going on in the world, he still had hope.
"And I said to this person, I said, 'Listen, I gave my life to a faith that believes that a dead man rose from the dead. Yes I have hope.'"
He would close his homily as he has closed so many confirmations over his years as bishop by asking those assembled to remember and repeat this simple refrain: "Never underestimate the power of the spirit of God working in you, through you and despite you."
For now, the Latin term "sede vacante" applies in Cleveland; the bishop's chair is vacant. An eventual successor will be named by Pope Francis with the Diocesan College of Consultors expected to meet as early as this week to name someone from the diocese to oversee day to day operations until that day comes and the twelfth Bishop of Cleveland is installed.