Local News

Pope taps Atlanta bishop to lead Raleigh diocese

Posted July 5

— Pope Francis announced on Wednesday that he has appointed an auxiliary bishop from Atlanta to lead the Diocese of Raleigh after the previous bishop was transferred to Virginia.

The pope chose Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama of the Archdiocese of Atlanta to serve as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh. His installation will occur at the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral on Aug. 29.

Bishop Michael Burbidge, who headed the Raleigh diocese for 10 years, was transferred to Arlington, Va., at the end of last year after the bishop there retired.

Zarama said he is a bit overwhelmed by his appointment.

"I need all the help coming from heaven in this moment to be here," he said during a Wednesday morning news conference in Raleigh. "I'm here with the only purpose to come and serve."

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., which Zarama said brings challenges and opportunities.

"You have a beautiful challenge, that is, it's growing," he said. "It's a family who is growing. People are coming, and the challenge is, how will we serve them?"

Gay marriage, abortion and divorce are among the social issues that continue to present other challenges to the Catholic church in the U.S.

"The first and the best way to approach things are with kindness and love and respect," he said. "When we have these elements together there, we can have a conversation and respect for each other. In that way, the Lord will guide us, what will be the best for each one."

A native of Colombia, Zarama, 58, becomes the first Hispanic bishop in North Carolina. He 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 and said the issue of immigration and serving those in the diocese who have come from someplace else is important to him.

"Sometimes, when we lose the memory and we don't remember our past, it's hard to understand what's going on with these people who are coming from different countries," he said, noting that America was built by waves of immigrants.

"They don't want it; they need the opportunity," he said of people leaving their homelands and coming to the U.S. "How we can approach them and serve them and help them to find that, at least in the church, they have a place where they can be and feel at home."

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