Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg installs Bishop Gregory Parkes in grand ceremony

A crowd of family and faithful witnesses Bishop Parkes' investiture.
Published January 5 2017
Updated January 5 2017

ST. PETERSBURG

The installation of Bishop Gregory L. Parkes as head of Tampa Bay's Roman Catholics on Wednesday was steeped in liturgical splendor and symbolism.

There was the moment when he took possession of the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, the 6-foot, 8-inch bishop knocking on the closed door he had to stoop to enter, kissing an offered crucifix and sprinkling himself and those around him with holy water.

The procession of church hierarchy that followed, led by cross and incense and candle bearers, included Pope Francis' ambassador to the United States, the archbishop of Miami and the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and a smiling Bishop Robert Nugent Lynch, 75, whom Parkes is succeeding.

Early in the two-hour service, Parkes, 52, held up the letter from the pope that appointed him the fifth bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, a jurisdiction spanning Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Addressing those who had crowded into the cathedral — many had arrived hours early for the 2 p.m. service — Tampa Bay's new Catholic shepherd promised to take time to get to know his flock and to listen to them as he creates a vision for the diocese.

Some things, though, will never change, he said.

"For example, our care of the poor and the marginalized, our defense of human life at all of its stages, protecting and promoting religious freedom and the dignity of marriage, Catholic education and formation and our faithfulness to the teachings of our faith. And sharing the joy of our faith with others . . . in other words, to be and to become missionary disciples."

He cited Pope Francis several times as he spoke of what it means to evangelize and to be an everyday missionary.

"We are missionaries and evangelizers to our family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, those who have left the practice of the Catholic faith and those with no faith, and finally, those we encounter in our daily lives."

Present at Wednesday's service were the bishop's brothers, Christopher Parkes, 55, who is retired from the Department of the Navy, and the Rev. Stephen Parkes, 51, pastor of the 4,000-family Annunciation Catholic Church in Altamonte Springs. The bishop's uncle and aunt, Douglas and Dee Parkes, were among those who took up the gifts of bread and wine to be used for the Communion. Parkes blessed and hugged them. His parents, Joan and Ronald Parkes, had been present for his ordination as a priest, but died before his ordination as a bishop in 2012, when he was installed head of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

The diversity of his new diocese was on display Wednesday. Parishioners representing Hispanic, Polish, Filipino, American Indian, Portuguese, Brazilian and Vietnamese cultures had prominent roles in the service. Parkes even gave a short piece of his homily in Spanish.

Leaders from other Christian denominations, as well as from the Jewish faith, were among the dignitaries invited to be present at the service in the renovated St. Petersburg cathedral, a legacy of Lynch.

Lynch received prolonged applause as Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami spoke of the gratitude that the people of the St. Petersburg Diocese have for his ministry of more than two decades.

For Sue Brett, who sat on the installation committee when Lynch arrived in the Tampa Bay area almost 21 years ago, and then again for Parkes, it was a bittersweet day.

"We're going to miss Bishop Lynch tremendously," she said, "but I rest assured in the fact that the spirit has sent the right man, at the right time, for this diocese."

Michael Raposa, 53, chief executive officer of St. Vincent de Paul and an usher at the service, marveled that the new bishop is younger than he is.

"It's an incredible transition for the diocese. It's exciting to see the next generation of priests rising into leadership," he said.

Parkes told the congregation that his first reaction on hearing the news of his appointment from papal ambassador Archbishop Christophe Pierre "was one of surprise," since he had been bishop of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese for only 41/2 years.

The St. Petersburg Diocese, with about half-million Catholics, is somewhat larger. The North Florida diocese has just 67,316 Catholics.

"I have always trusted in the Lord's will for my life and ministry, and so, it was in that same spirit that I told Archbishop Pierre that I accepted this appointment and I will do my best to fulfill the Lord's will. . . . Then, after that, my first inclination was to pray."

The congregation laughed.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes

                   
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