Proclaiming his successor as “exactly the man our Church needs,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput introduced Archbishop-elect Nelson J. Perez, whom Pope Francis named as the next Archbishop of Philadelphia, at a Jan. 23 press conference in Philadelphia.
He will be installed as archbishop Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. A live stream will be available at http://archphila.org/.
The pope had announced the appointment while accepting the resignation of Archbishop Chaput, who last September turned 75, the customary age for retirement by Catholic bishops.
Anticipation for his successor had been building intensely in the archdiocese since that time, and judging by the applause in the room filled with more than 100 archdiocesan staff, it was a warm welcome home for Archbishop Perez, 58, currently the bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland.
He described his appointment as a “surreal moment” for a former priest of the archdiocese to be named its new shepherd.
Archbishop Perez, 58, is the first archbishop of Philadelphia of Hispanic heritage; his parents emigrated from Cuba and he was born in Miami in 1961. He is also the first native son to be archbishop of Philadelphia since Archbishop (later) Cardinal Dennis Dougherty in the early 20th century.
“You know, once a Philadelphia priest, always a Philadelphia priest,” he said. “So the part of me that has that identity inside of me cannot wrap its head around being the Archbishop of Philadelphia. It doesn’t compute. But it is what the Lord wants and what the Holy Father wants.”
After studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and his priestly ordination in 1989, then-Father Perez served at St. Ambrose Parish in Philadelphia, worked in ministry to Hispanic Catholics of the archdiocese and led two parishes, St. William in Philadelphia and St. Agnes in West Chester, before he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Center, N.Y.
In 2017 he was named Bishop of Cleveland and at the press conference he praised the people of that diocese and especially its Catholic young adults who “were a great source of joy” for him. He added that he “hoped to reach out to the young adults here” in Philadelphia.
Archbishop Perez also singled out praise for Archbishop Chaput, whom he called a friend and mentor.
Acknowledging the challenges of the past eight years in Philadelphia ranging from parish and school closures to financial crises to a wounded morale for both clergy and laity due to the sexual abuse crisis, Archbishop Chaput confronted them “with great courage and steadfastness,” Archbishop Perez said.
“I watched it from afar (and) learned from him, how steadfast he was and with profound faith that while things were tough, that God would make a way, that somehow, someway all things happen for the good of those who love God, as St. Paul said.”
In his remarks Archbishop Perez offered a special greeting in Spanish to the Hispanic Catholics of the archdiocese, encouraging them in “a missionary Church, in the life of our community and in the truth of the Gospel,” he said.
He had previously served in diocesan-wide ministry to Latino Catholics in the 1990s and as pastor led two archdiocesan parishes with significant Hispanic populations.
He did not leave the clergy sexual abuse scandal unaddressed. “I and we continue to pray for your healing,” he said of victims abused by members of the Church, “and we hold deep within our hearts those who have been hurt. It never should have happened, and we are sorry.”
Although the Church has “gone through difficult moments in the last two decades, heart-wrenching moments … the Church is still here because the Church is Christ. We (members of the Church) come and go. The mystical body of Christ, the Church, has to deal with us in our humanity, and we’re complex human beings. But God works through us. So I have great hope for the church, despite everything you read.”
He offered an encouragement to his listeners at the press conference and those watching it live streamed on the internet: “Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit working in you, through you, and despite you,” he said.
(Matthew Gambino is the Director and General Manager of CatholicPhilly.com.)
By Matthew Gambino, Special to The Witness