New Hartford archbishop pledges to love, serve Christ 'by serving you'
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)
By Jack Sheedy
Catholic News Service
BLOOMFIELD, Conn. (CNS) -- Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, named to head the Hartford Archdiocese, acknowledged he has much to learn about his new home, then the Detroit native quipped, "I don't know if I'll ever be able to say 'Hartford' with just the right New England accent."
"But I pledge all my love and effort to serve Christ by serving you, as together we seek to walk, and help others to walk, what Christ himself calls 'the narrow road that leads to life,'" he said Oct. 29 in remarks to more than 100 clergy, religious and media representatives assembled at the archdiocesan center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.
The news conference followed the announcement earlier that morning that Pope Francis had appointed then-Bishop Blair of Toledo, Ohio, 64, to succeed Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, 76, who is retiring.
Archbishop Blair said he was in Rome Oct. 17 when he received word from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, the pope had appointed him to the new post.
"The next day at a papal audience, I was able to thank Pope Francis in person for the confidence he has placed in me, and I asked for his blessing on the church in both Hartford and Toledo," he said.
"I want to say how very happy and honored I am to be your new archbishop," he continued. "I especially look forward to meeting the priests, who are a bishop's closest and indispensable collaborators. My new home also includes people of many different churches, religions and backgrounds whose collaboration and friendship I look forward to in times to come."
The installation Mass for Archbishop Blair will be celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford Dec. 16, just two days shy of the 10th anniversary of Archbishop Mansell's installation Dec. 18, 2003.
Asked if he had specific directions he intends to take the archdiocese, Archbishop Blair said, "I didn't have any conversation with the Holy Father about particular things. Like all of you, I am very intrigued by this new Holy Father, and very challenged by him in the best ways. Many things are reported about the things he says and does, but I find that he's given new energy to the church."
When many media microphones conspired to cause audio feedback, the archbishop brought laughter by suggesting the bishops do an exorcism of the sound system.
Asked how he intends to handle bad publicity even long after the church's sex abuse scandals have subsided, Archbishop Blair said, "Well, I think the best way is simply to be the church in the way that Christ wants us to be the church ... to stay close to Christ and to really try to address the material and spiritual needs of people, in keeping with the Gospel."
He said that when scandal struck the Toledo Diocese before his installation there in 2003 -- his predecessor -- Bishop James R. Hoffman -- removed some accused priests. "Subsequently, I had to remove some as well. I think our diocese responded appropriately," he said.
Asked how he intends to shepherd fallen-away Catholics to return to the fold, he said, "This is very much on the minds of the bishops. We speak in terms of a new evangelization, and that is to re-propose the message of the Gospel ... to people who may have been baptized Catholic who are no longer practicing, people who feel a kind of drift in their lives spiritually.
"So this is very much engaging the mind of the church today. It's much discussed, but it's not just a matter of discussing but of doing, of seeing how we can be faithful to the word of God and to re-propose the Gospel."
He said that his role on social issues such as same-sex marriage and assisted suicide will be dictated by the Catholic Church's teachings.
"Whether I were an archbishop or not, I certainly subscribe to the teaching of the church in these matters that is rooted in the Gospel and rooted even more in just human reason and the difference between right and wrong," he said.
Archbishop Mansell said his successor comes to the job "with a whole plethora of experience for which we are deeply grateful. We offer him our sincere congratulations, prayers and the promise of support as we go forward."
He added Hartford is a beautiful archdiocese where "we are continually doing things that make us a better experience as a church. We're very confident, given Bishop Blair's experience and his record, that we will continue."
- Sheedy is news editor of The Catholic Transcript, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.