Bishop Zarama Ordained As Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop
Published: October 1, 2009
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, left, presents Bishop Luis Zarama with his crosier or pastoral staff, the third pontifical sign of the new Atlanta bishop’s office. The other two are the miter and the bishop’s ring. All three were bestowed upon Bishop Zarama during his Sept. 29 episcopal ordination at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
ATLANTA—On Sept. 29, the feast day of the Holy Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory ordained Luis Rafael Zarama as the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the titular bishop of Bararus.
The day included many historic elements: this was the first bishop ordained in the archdiocese, the first bishop ordained by Archbishop Gregory, the first U.S. bishop from the country of Colombia, the first auxiliary bishop named for Atlanta because of growth in North Georgia (rather than the illness of the ordinary), and the first episcopal ordination held at the city’s metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.
Hundreds in the jubilant crowd of clergy, religious, family, friends, dignitaries and Chancery leaders overflowed from the stately stone Cathedral, fragranced with delicate white and golden orchids, into the quiet, decorated parish hall and across the street, again for the first time, at neighboring Second- Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.
The episcopal ordination Mass was also the first ordination Mass in Atlanta broadcast worldwide by a local cable station, Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters, which allowed Catholics around the world, especially in Bishop Zarama’s home country of Colombia, to watch the ordination Mass online, while Catholics around Atlanta were able to share in watching the Mass on the local cable station.
Following the laying on of hands, Archbishop Gregory anoints the head of Bishop Zarama with sacred chrism.
‘A First-Time Event’
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said, “This blessed moment in the history of the Archdiocese of Atlanta is a first-time event. In our 53-year history, every bishop to have served this local Church arrived here already having been ordained to the episcopacy elsewhere. … Today … one of our own has been selected to serve us in the episcopacy and he will begin that service here in our midst.”
He also made special note of the fact that the feast of the archangels is “the liturgical commemoration of God’s special agents of strength, good news, and healing. They personify God’s unfathomable desire to use every means and every opportunity to save us.”
Archbishop Gregory was the consecrator for the ordination, and the two co-consecrators were Atlanta Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran, who was the first priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta to be ordained a bishop when he was first named the bishop of Tulsa, Okla., in 1978.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, left, slips the miter over the head of Bishop Luis Zarama during his investiture.
Bishop Zarama’s appointment as auxiliary bishop was announced in Washington July 27 by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop Zarama was also named the titular bishop of Bararus, a historical area of the world that no longer exists, because while he is not in charge of the archdiocese, as bishop he is also the head of a church. In this way the Catholic Church can memorialize an ancient church.
Born in the city of Pasto, Colombia, the new bishop attended college there, earning a degree in theology and philosophy at the Marian University in Pasto, and earning a degree in canon law in 1991 from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá. After moving to the Atlanta area, he was ordained a priest on Nov. 27, 1993. His first assignment was as a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Church, Atlanta. In 1996, he was named pastor at St. Mark Church, Clarkesville, the first Hispanic priest to be made a pastor in the archdiocese. He served there and as administrator at St. Helena Mission, Clayton, for a decade, making many friends and earning the respect and love of his parishioners. He became an American citizen on July 4, 2000.
Bishop Luis Zarama smiles in the direction of the congregation as he sits among his brother bishops.
Province Bishops Take Part
During the few hours prior to the ordination Mass, as the Cathedral filled with the bustle of anticipation and emotional excitement, people streamed into the church to find a place for the Mass. Bishop Zarama popped into the church several times to give out a few hugs and share a smile with friends and well-wishers. At one point, the congregation burst into applause, a harbinger for what was to come.
Kirial DeRozas-Miles is Bishop Zarama’s executive assistant. She has known him for 10 years but has only worked for him since he became vicar general.
“We haven’t stopped working since the announcement,” she said, adding that she is “very happy to start working for the new auxiliary bishop.”
The procession leading into the Mass finally began, and more than 70 deacons, 164 priests, and 22 bishops and archbishops, and one abbot, marched into the church as the Cathedral Choir led the assembly in singing. In a welcoming gesture, all of the bishops of the Atlanta Province shared in the liturgy, including the current and retired bishops of Raleigh, Charleston, Charlotte and Savannah.
During the Mass the rite of ordination followed the Liturgy of the Word. The assembly sang “Veni Creator” as an invocation of the Holy Spirit, and then Msgr. Joseph Corbett, vicar general and moderator of the Curia, stepped to the ambo to present the elect.
“Have you a mandate from the Apostolic See?” asked Archbishop Gregory. Msgr. Corbett replied in the affirmative, and Father James Schillinger and Father Pedro Poloche came forward to read the apostolic letter from Pope Benedict XVI in both English and Spanish.
The assembly burst into applause after the letter was read.
Archbishop Gregory gave a homily that described in detail the role and responsibilities of a bishop, saying, “Your ordination brings a great deal of joy for the Archdiocese of Atlanta and in a special way for our wonderful and diverse Hispanic community that is such a valuable part of this one family of believers.”
Bishop Luis Zarama lays prostrate before the altar as all in attendance pray for his ordination and the entire Church.
Many of those listening shed tears of happiness.
After the promise of the elect, Bishop Zarama prostrated himself before the altar while the assembly sang the Litany of the Saints.
Archbishop Gregory, Archbishop Donoghue and Archbishop Beltran all laid hands on his head, and the other bishops, each in turn, did the same.
Transitional deacon Mario Lopez, left, and permanent deacon Dennis Dorner hold the Book of the Gospels over Bishop Zarama’s head. This moment symbolizes the weight and power of God’s word and the bishop’s responsibility to carry it forth as a teacher. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
Book Of The Gospels
In a dramatic part of the liturgy, Deacons Mario Lopez and Dennis Dorner held the Book of the Gospels open over his head, as the consecrating bishops prayed the long prayer of consecration, “ … So now pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to the holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name.”
Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Zarama then donned protective cloths, and the archbishop poured the chrism oil, the oil of “mystical anointing,” on Bishop Zarama’s head.
Bishop Zarama then received from Archbishop Gregory the Book of the Gospels as a sign of his duty to preach the word of God with all patience and sound doctrine, then the signs of his office as bishop: a ring to represent the spiritual marriage between the church and Christ, the miter, a sign of the holiness that shines in the life of a bishop, and the crosier, the sign of a shepherd guiding his sheep.
All of the bishops then shared a sign of peace. Archbishop Gregory’s enthusiastic embrace of his new auxiliary bishop knocked Bishop Zarama’s miter askew, earning laughter and applause from the assembly.
Bishop Luis Zarama is the second auxiliary bishop of Atlanta and first bishop Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory has had the opportunity to ordain during his episcopate.
A Taste Of Heaven
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Zarama took the opportunity to thank many people in both English and Spanish. He began with, “First of all, I want to offer thanks to God for the gift of life and the gift of faith, and to our Lord Jesus Christ, for his church, and for calling me to his service in the priesthood.”
He expressed his gratefulness to the pope, the apostolic nuncio, and to Archbishop Gregory “for your trust, your guidance, and your example, which have helped me to better serve the Lord in our archdiocese, and appreciate in a new way the greatness of his people.”
To his brother bishops, Bishop Zarama said, “Your presence here speaks volumes and makes me feel at peace, knowing I can count on your experience, your example, and your prayers, to help me be a good bishop.”
After thanking his brother priests and “beloved deacons,” women and men religious, seminarians, he spoke to his family, the large contingent seated on the right side of the church, which included his mother and father, Maria Teresa and Rafael Zarama, and four of his five siblings.
“You taught me love and gave me the gift of faith that has made me the man I am today—the Lord’s priest and the Church’s bishop,” he said.
Bishop Zarama thanked the “family of faith” in the archdiocese for their “prayers, friendship and love,” and he especially called out the young people at the Mass, saying “You face a special task of being missionaries for Christ, of having the courage to bring his loving message to those who need the guidance and healing of the Gospel.”
He ended by going off his prepared remarks, saying to all, “I don’t have words enough. … You have helped me to taste heaven” today.
Before and after the Mass, many praised Atlanta’s new auxiliary bishop.
Juan and Maria Christina Zarama, the bishop’s brother and sister-in-law, were in awe after the ceremony. They said it was “very organized and beautiful.” Their young daughter Isabella called the Mass “amazing,” adding that she had cried during the ceremony. Her father laughed and said he cried “five times.”
Other family members included brother Esteban Zarama, who traveled from Colombia to be there for the ordination Mass. He noted that his own daughter, Melissa, received her first Communion at Bishop Zarama’s first Mass after his ordination as a priest. Now he said that Maria graduated from college in Florida last weekend. “They are together somehow … they’ve always been very close.”
Bishop Luis Zarama is a bishop in motion as he makes his entrance to thunderous applause up the center aisle of the Cathedral to his place on the altar.
Young Bishop A Sign Of Vitality
The church in Colombia has “been very generous” in sending priests to the United States over the years, said Bishop Raymundo J. Peña of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.
Now the pope has chosen one of them, Bishop Zarama, to become a bishop. He may be the first Colombian to become a U.S. bishop, but the honor reflects on all the Colombian priests, the bishop said as he awaited the ordination at the Cathedral.
“It is a sign that the Holy Father recognizes the contribution they have made to the church in the United States,” he said.
One of more than 20 bishops at the Sept. 29 Mass, Bishop Peña called the appointment “a tremendous blessing for the Archdiocese of Atlanta and, in particular, for the Hispanic people of the archdiocese.”
He said he looks forward to working with Bishop Zarama in the full U.S. bishops’ conference and the collegial gatherings of the 30 or so bishops of Hispanic heritage.
From inside the rectory, where the bishops gathered prior to Mass, to inside the Cathedral itself, there was an atmosphere of enthusiasm and happiness about the occasion.
Many spoke of its meaning for the growing Catholic community in the South and the possibility that the warmth and youthfulness of Bishop Zarama, and his bilingual skills, will invigorate many Catholics, especially the young.
Bishop Oscar Cantú, auxiliary bishop of San Antonio, Texas, said, “I am sure that he will be warmly welcomed by all the church in the archdiocese and, most especially, by the Hispanic Catholics who, I am sure, will be just delighted to see one of their own in the episcopacy.”
As he has experienced, “there is a certain joy and a certain responsibility that goes along with” representing this important and large Catholic community as a leader.
He also pointed out that the 50-year-old is a young bishop and “simply his presence will be a strong message to the church.”
“It is always energizing to see a younger bishop,” he said.
As he walks out among the congregation to give them a blessing, Bishop Luis Zarama first stops by the pew of his parents, where they both give him a supportive hug and kiss. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
Auxiliary ‘Long Overdue’
Archbishop Beltran said the appointment of an auxiliary bishop to assist in North Georgia was “long overdue.”
He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of Christ the King in 1960, four years after the Diocese of Atlanta was first established.
“We only had 22 priests,” he recalled.
While at the Cathedral, he made Communion calls as far away as Roswell and Sandy Springs because there were no parishes there and when he was the pastor of Holy Cross Church in the late 1960s it included all of Gwinnett County.
“So the growth has been phenomenal,” he said.
“In my opinion the archdiocese has continued a fairly rapid growth over the last 25 years. I was not at all surprised. I expected an auxiliary bishop before this. It is a recognition of the vitality of the church growth.”
“You receive another shepherd who will work very closely with the archbishop. … I think it is a wonderful thing. It is a sign that the church is very alive,” Archbishop Beltran said.
“It is a good opportunity to be here as part of the Province of Atlanta,” said Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, N.C. “I just want to come and support my new brother bishop.”
Father Ignacio Morales beamed as he waited because the bishop-to-be had asked him to take a special role in the ordination Mass, carrying the miter he would receive as a sign of the bishop’s office.
“What a privilege,” Father Morales said.
The Atlanta priest, ordained this year, first encountered the future bishop when he was in seminary in Mexico and then Msgr. Zarama came to meet the seminarians. The first impression was very strong.
Bishop Zarama “is a very fine priest,” he said, “a very compelling example of what a priest can be. … (You think) gosh, I would like to be like him.”
“What we like about him is his personality. He is a priest in the whole sense of the word,” Father Morales said.
He “will be a wonderful help to Archbishop Gregory,” the priest said.
The parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch thinks receiving an auxiliary bishop who is bilingual will especially help the archdiocese, responding both to its growth in numbers of Catholics and to its diversity.
Receiving this appointment through the pope for him confirms God’s providence at work.
“In this event we are seeing the presence of God. He is still taking care of us in so many ways,” Father Morales said.
Fifteen-year-old Jose Camacho of St. Helena Church, Clayton, on Bishop Zarama’s immediate left, laughs with the newly ordained bishop as he mingles with people on the Cathedral plaza after the ordination.
Challenging Young Adults
Raul Valencia Lopez, part of a group of 14 who came from St. Helena Church, Clayton, said that by seeing “Father Luis” elevated to bishop “God encourages us to do the same. Be more like him. Do more service.”
He came with others from the “Soldiers of Christ,” a spiritual group for young adults Bishop Zarama started when he was pastor in Clayton. He has kept up with them even after becoming vicar general, giving them spiritual direction and regularly visiting the North Georgia mountain church to meet with them for prayer and community.
“He says he will still come,” said Sergio Ruiz-Acevedo, with a smile.
The new bishop as a pastor trained the young adults to go out and give healing retreats.
“I think he is very concerned with other people. He goes beyond” what is required, Ruiz-Acevedo said. “He’s a good priest. He’s a loving priest.”
Peter Faletti, a member of Christ Our King and Savior Church in Greensboro, has been working with the strategic planning process of the archdiocese over the last three years as a consultant with the North Highland Group. He has worked closely with the new bishop.
Bishop Zarama “is the essence of what pastoral means,” Faletti said. “I have not heard anything but praise and joy” over his appointment as auxiliary bishop.
In sending a second bishop to assist Archbishop Gregory, the pope recognized the growth in this archdiocese that the planning process has also documented and its multiculturalism, the planner said.
“You have to petition for and (the pope) has to grant the petition” for an auxiliary bishop, Faletti said. “(Pope Benedict XVI) agreed with Archbishop Gregory that the need was there and the need was now.”
Asked what gift Bishop Zarama would bring to his new role, Franciscan Sister Olivia Cardenas said, “The gift of love.”
Tom Grant and Gwendolyn Mason, who represented the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver, saw a natural affinity between their organizations and Bishop Zarama, even before they met him.
St. Peter Claver, their patron, is also the patron of Colombia, where the Jesuit saint worked among African slaves in the city of Cartagena in acts of compassion and evangelization.
“We will receive him with open arms,” Grant said of the new bishop. “We will try to be of service to him. Whatever he wants we will try to render it.”
Archbishop Gregory, in his homily, gave his new auxiliary bishop these words of encouragement, “Our priests, religious, and all of the faithful will receive you with joy as you begin to serve them in this new ministry. Reassure them often of the presence of the Good Shepherd who always cares for His flock with tenderness, joy, and fidelity. May the Lord who has begun a good work in you, Luis, bring it to fulfillment.”
Gretchen Keiser also contributed to this article.