Local News

Catholics in eastern NC get new leader

Posted August 29

— Five weeks after the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral officially opened in Raleigh, it held its first major event on Tuesday, as Father Luis Rafael Zarama was installed as the sixth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh.

About 2,000 people packed the cathedral for the special Mass, during which Zarama delivered his sermon in both English and Spanish. A native of Colombia, the 58-year-old is the first Hispanic bishop in North Carolina.

"I was doing fine, but the Lord was looking to give me something more," he told the audience of leaving the Archdiocese of Atlanta after more than 20 years.

Zarama recounted the early morning call he got in June, noting he first ignored his cellphone and then gasped, "Oh God," when he saw the call was coming from Washington, D.C., knowing it was likely from Pope Francis' emissaries to the U.S.

When he realized his installation would take place on the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist, he said he was first taken aback, but then, he said, he saw it as a sign that he and all Catholics must work like John to prepare the way for Jesus to come into the world.

"Each one of us, with our own gifts, we can shine, and together, we can build this beautiful church that God wants us to be, not only this beautiful temple, but a temple of people, a church of people full of hope and love," he said. "We have a journey ahead of us because all of us can become missionaries and disciples of Jesus.

"It's not easy. John the Baptist found resistance preaching love and mercy, and we will find that," he continued. "Resistance is tough, but it challenges us to grow."

Zarama succeeds Bishop Michael Burbidge, who headed the Raleigh diocese for 10 years before he was transferred to Arlington, Va., at the end of last year. Burbidge was at Tuesday's Mass, and Zarama thanked him for his work.

"I think it probably means more to me because I'm a convert to the Catholic faith, and this is a landmark in my life," said Daisy Crump, who attended the Mass.

The Diocese of Raleigh covers 54 counties in central and eastern North Carolina and includes 95 parishes. It is among the fastest-growing Catholic dioceses in the U.S.

"We have a wonderful new bishop, and he's from South America. It's just bringing the world together. It's just going to be a great day for North Carolina," Ann Marco said.

"It's a very special day to have a Latino bishop, a new bishop, new blood. It's an exciting day for the church, an exciting day for Raleigh," Marie Vetter said.

"All are welcome, with Bishop Zarama being so articulate concerning the documented and the undocumented (immigrants)," Monsignor Jerry Sherba said.

Zarama was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in Atlanta in 1993, worked in several parishes and held various administrative posts in the Atlanta archdiocese and was named auxiliary bishop there in 2009. He became a U.S. citizen in 2000.

"Please help me with your prayers," he asked the congregation at the cathedral.


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