TRUMBULL, Conn. (CNS) -- Bridgeport's new bishop used a famous image of his hometown -- the Brooklyn Bridge -- to describe how, like a physical bridge, a "spiritual bridge" pulls communities together and draws Catholics closer to God, the Gospels and one another as members of the body of Christ.
"On my first day of my ministry in your midst, I ask you to join with me hand in hand, heart to heart, to become builders of spiritual bridges with the help and grace of the Lord and his Holy Spirit," said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in a homily during his installation Mass Sept. 19 at St. Theresa Church in Trumbull.
"I believe with all my heart that when God's mercy is offered to anyone who is afflicted, burdened, lonely or lost, such a person will leap forward and take the hand of the Lord and cross the bridge with his grace," the bishop continued. "Let us have no fear for the Lord will give us all that we need to be the best of bridge-builders to his honor and glory."
About 1,200 people packed the church for the Mass when the former auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, N.Y., officially succeeded Archbishop William E. Lori, now archbishop of Baltimore, as the fifth bishop of Bridgeport.
In addition to Archbishop Lori, other prelates at the installation included New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan; Cardinal Edward M. Egan, New York's retired archbishop; Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States; and Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford, who was the principal celebrant of the Mass.
The Brooklyn Bridge is the "iconic symbol of the borough of my birth," Bishop Caggiano said as he began his homily. "A marvel of engineering," he said, the bridge was "the largest steel suspension bridge in all the world when it was completed, opening "with great fanfare" May 24, 1883.
The bridge had a "transformative effect ... in the life of what we now call New York City," he said. "A people once divided by a river were now able to meet and encounter one another, creating a greater sense of community -- businesses boomed. ... It was less than 15 years that those two cities melded into one great city."
"Bridges unite, they open opportunity, they can even transform human life," he added.
Bridgeport residents "are no strangers to power of bridge building," Bishop Caggiano continued. The city and diocese are named for the "first drawbridge built over the Pequonnock River," he noted, adding to laughter from the congregation that he did his "homework" about his new home.
That bridge allowed Bridgeport "to grow and prosper for decades and upon decades," he said, adding that like physical bridges, spiritual bridges have transformative power.
"(The) very center of mission the Lord himself has given to you and to me has much to do about strengthening and building spiritual bridges," Bishop Caggiano said.
He asked Catholics to join him in "two great tasks in the years ahead -- to strengthen the spiritual bridges that already exist in our midst ... and to have the courage to build new bridges to all who have left our community of faith and to all who sincerely seek the face of God."
That work, he continued, begins by "strengthening the unity we already share as members of the church of Christ ... (a unity) strengthened by grateful praise and right worship and fearless preaching of the Gospel and the lives you and I live in integrity and service."
Catholics must resolve to reach out and "leave no one behind, leave no one to fend for themselves, leave no one to be tossed into the shadows of our parishes, schools, neighborhoods and homes," he said. They must serve those in greatest need: "the poor, the sick, the disabled, the lonely, the unborn; those who live in fear and distress, who have given up hope in life. Every human life is precious, needed and must be cared for."
Bishop Caggiano had a special message for youths and young adults in the diocese, especially those no longer practicing their faith or struggling "with broken hearts and perhaps broken trust."
"We have a special place in our hearts for every single one of you, and we pledge to all of you this day to listen to your needs, to harness your energy, your enthusiasm, your joyful optimism, so that every young person who is searching or struggling in life ... looking for hope and joy will find it here in the Catholic community of faith," Bishop Caggiano said.
He urged all Catholics to invite them "home" and "not be afraid to listen to their concerns, to offer them anew an invitation to come and to join us in worship of the Lord -- the time for them to come home is now," he said.
The challenge ahead for Catholics and the church at large is great, the bishop said.
"Building spiritual bridges" today is not easy, Bishop Caggiano said, because so many people "have embraced isolation, secularism that has no room for God, an indifference to human life, an attitude that 'my life is all about me.' ... Technology is no longer a tool but ... molds human life."
But "you and I will face (challenges) together as sisters and brothers," he said.
"I invite you with your depth of faith and generosity of spirit and love of neighbor," he added, to "work together to build spiritual bridges that will stand not for a century, not for an age but with the Lord's grace unto everlasting life."