By NANCY SCHWERIN
Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer — Romans 12:12
CHARLESTON — The Diocese of Charleston received its new shepherd in grand scale Wednesday, Sept. 29, amidst a sea of faithful — 3,000 strong — who traveled by the busload to welcome Bishop Robert J. Baker.
The North Charleston Convention Center was the site of the largest gathering of Catholics in the state since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1987. The reverent ceremony, while sustaining its long-standing traditions, was immersed with joy and excitement.
Just as the crowd settled, the impressive procession began. A multitude of nearly 200 priests from Florida and South Carolina, 20 bishops, four archbishops, and a crew of seminarians preceded Bishop Baker, who walked through his soon-to-be flock with his usual warm smile — a gesture of hope and optimism that remained in place throughout the ceremony.
The room grew still as the Millennium Choir — 400 men, women and children from across the state — closed out the gathering hymn, “O Christ the Great Foundation.”
Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, apostolic nuncio to the United States, acting on behalf of Pope John Paul II read the apostolic letter calling Bishop-elect Baker to ordination as the Bishop of Charleston. The letter, in part, states, ‘you will apply all yourself to carry out the responsibilities on behalf of the good and the welfare of your people.’ The congregation applauded their approval boldly.
In his homily the primary consecrating bishop, Archbishop John F. Donoghue of Atlanta, spoke on the duties of the office and addressed Bishop Baker as a brother bishop: “… being true to Christ as a bishop requires one thing more than anything else, one thing that cannot be prepared, but must spring forth from our mind and heart because we know there is no other answer — trust in the power of Christ to guide us. … I enjoin you to remain vigilant, for your own sake and for the sake of your people — to guard your own spiritual health, by adhering to the life of prayer and devotion that has to be the first mark of a bishop’s life.”
Archbishop Donoghue then questioned Bishop Baker, who stood before him, on his resolve to uphold the faith and to perform his duties as a bishop faithfully. The elect prostrated himself on the floor as the congregation recited the Litany of the Saints.
The consecrating bishops, Archbishops Donoghue and Montalvo, and Bishop John J. Snyder of St. Augustine, led the other prelates in the laying on of hands.
In a symbolic gesture, the Book of the Gospels was held over the bishop’s head as a sign of the power of the word of God. Archbishop Donoghue in the prayer of consecration called the Holy Spirit down upon Bishop Baker and anointed his head, marking the completion of the elevation to the episcopacy.
The Book of the Gospels was presented to the bishop, and he received the three symbols of his office from Archbishop Donoghue — the miter, the ring, and the crosier. The symbols had been blessed by Bishop David B. Thompson, the now officially retired bishop of Charleston, at a vespers service held the previous night at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Bishop Baker received the kiss of peace from his brother bishops in a concluding gesture in the rite of ordination. Prior to that rite, the liturgy of the word was interspersed with the influence of the new shepherd. In keeping with Bishop Baker’s inclusive spirit — a virtue of his priestly ministry — the readings were repeated in Spanish and in Vietnamese.
The liturgy of the Eucharist held a special tribute to the bishop’s motto: Rejoicing in Hope. A communion hymn was written by William Schlitt and composed by Timothy Tikker expressly for the ordination ceremony and took the title and theme of the bishop’s motto.
Before the blessing and dismissal, Bishop Baker addressed the congregation offering many thanks to those who helped make the day possible and to all who made the trip. He thanked local dignitaries and ecumenical leaders for sharing in the occasion.
His excitement was apparent when, in his thanks, he said, “I’m having fun up here.” In acknowledging his family, he joked, “My mother’s been worried about feeding all of you.”
The new prelate also asked Bishop Thompson to stand and be recognized for his faithful service and guidance during this transition period, and when Bishop Baker stumbled over the word episcopacy, saying, “I’ll learn to say that word eventually,” Bishop Thompson replied: “You don’t have to say it; you just have to do it.”
Bishop Baker left with this sentiment: “Rejoice in the hope that is Jesus Christ …. If you have hope you will be a joyful person.”