Photo by Richard Meek | THE CATHOLIC COMMENTATOR
By Bonny Van, The Catholic Commentator
At precisely 2 p.m. on Aug. 24, dressed in a red vestment and red mitre, Bishop Michael G. Duca pounded on the door of St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge with a rubber mallet, signaling his wish to “come in.” When the doors opened wide, the bishop walked into a packed house of more than 730 people, with a choir and congregation, accompanied by a pipe organ and brass quintet, singing “Lift High the Cross.”
After a procession of more than 40 priests and deacons from the Diocese of Shreveport, Bishop Duca’s former diocese, and the Diocese of Baton Rouge and a second procession of 20 bishops, including Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Bishop Duca made his way to the altar where he was welcomed by Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench.
“Shreveport, we are sorry for your loss,” said a smiling Bishop Emeritus Muench. “But, Baton Rouge, we are happy for our gain!”
Monsignor Walter Erbi, Chargè d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature, then read the Apostolic Letter from Pope Francis, or Papal Bull, appointing Bishop Michael G. Duca as the sixth bishop of Baton Rouge. After Bishop Duca presented the Papal Bull to the Diocesan College of Consultors and the congregation, Archbishop Aymond and Msgr. Erbi escorted him to the cathedra, or cathedral chair, and presented him with his crozier (staff). The crozier used in the installation was also used in the installation of the diocese’s first bishop, Bishop Robert E. Tracy. The crozier is the principal symbol of Bishop Duca’s pastoral office as bishop.
A parade of more than 70 ministry representatives of the diocesan church greeted Bishop Duca. The representatives showed the diversity of gifts, culture, races and locales in the diocese. Scriptural readings were read in Spanish and French, another reference to the diversity of the Baton Rouge diocese.
During his homily, Bishop Duca spoke about the definition of a diocese as “a portion of the people God entrusted under the pastoral care of a bishop, who with the help of his presbyters and deacons, gathers the people in the Holy Spirit in the word and the Eucharist.”
“So, right now, as we gather here, you could take away all the buildings and all the chapels, me as the bishop with the presbyters, and even in a more powerful way, Msgr. Erbi’s presence here representing the Holy Father and our universal unity, we are the church, fully, completely,” said Bishop Duca. “Everything that is required to be the church is present here – one, holy, catholic, apostolic. We are the church. And, I want you to imagine, in the Holy Spirit, with the Word of God, around this altar, celebrating the Eucharist. That’s why everything we are comes to and from this altar, for here we are together in the body of Christ and we receive from this altar that strength, that nourishment that feeds us and we become what we receive. This is where we start and where we end. Everything we do, we must draw strength and meaning from here, because here we’re united with Christ on the cross. Here we die with Christ so that we can rise with Christ. Here we are fed and nourished.”
The bishop also spoke about the conversion of heart in order “to more and more become like Christ, to more and more cast off the darkness of sin, selfishness, bitterness and build a community that’s full of love.”
“Love is not easy,” he said. “Real love is what costs us the most. It also helps us to become more of what God wants us to be.”
The bishop also said that we are called to do more than just be “good Catholics,” we are called to “pick up the mission of Jesus.”
“Without the mission, our faith can just become self-serving, we become ‘holier-than-thous,’ and we think, ‘Oh, what a good church we have because we’re all so good,’ ” said Bishop Duca. “It’s the mission of going out beyond our walls and bringing the love of Christ to those around us. Pope Francis tells us, ‘Go out to the peripheries. Go out to the edges. Go out into the world.’ That’s when your faith becomes alive. During confirmation, you’re being confirmed with these gifts. You’re doing what the apostles did after they received the Holy Spirit. They went out! ‘Go! Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord! The key is the mission.
“We can lift our heads knowing that we are truly trying our best to be disciples of Jesus Christ. I will do my best because I take that definition (of diocese) seriously that this people, you, have been entrusted to my care. And it is an awesome responsibility.”
After the final blessing, Bishop Duca thanked everyone involved in the events leading up to the installation ceremony, and invited those present to a public reception at the Catholic Life Center in Baton Rouge. He added that when he was walking back from Communion, he started walking to another chair besides the presider’s chair.
“I forgot that this is my chair now, but I’ll get used to that soon,” he said.
After processing out of the cathedral, the bishop spoke briefly to the media, touching on the effort to grow churches and hopefully more vocations. For now, though, he is ready to “meet people and greet people and get to know the lay of the land.”
“I feel relieved, now that I have gone through the official ceremony,” said Bishop Duca. “I also feel inspired now. Just from the couple of days I’ve been here, I’ve begun to fall in love with the people here. They’re so excited and enthusiastic, so I’m ready to go. It’s very uplifting and overwhelming, actually.”