He was in Raleigh three years ago for a provincial meeting. And he was in the diocese April 11 to celebrate Chrism Mass. But Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama, 58, didn’t have time during either visit to see much of the diocese.
That’s all changing.
On July 5 the Vatican announced that Bishop Zarama was appointed the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh. As news spread early that morning, the reaction was swift and heartfelt. By the hundreds, the faithful liked, commented and shared the news on social media.
At the Catholic Center, just hours after the announcement, video journalists lined the back of a large conference room. Notebooks in hand, reporters sat in chairs and awaited the press conference.
Monsignor Michael Shugrue, who served the diocese as administrator since December, introduced Bishop Zarama, and offered biographical information.
For his part, Bishop Zarama opened with a prayer – the Glory Be.
“I need all the help coming from heaven in this moment to be here and to express my gratitude to the holy father for choosing me to become the sixth bishop of Raleigh,” he said, smiling. “I am here with the only purpose to serve. What is my agenda? Right now, [it’s] to know the diocese, to know the priests and to know the people.”
After the press conference, Bishop Zarama had lunch with executive staff members of the Diocese of Raleigh. He toured Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral with Monsignor David Brockman, Monsignor Jerry Sherba and Monsignor Shugrue. It was Bishop Zarama’s first visit to the construction site. (He saw the outside of the building in April when he visited the diocese for Chrism Mass.)
Thursday morning, he visited Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, where a group of students took him on a tour of the campus, which was relatively quiet because school was out for summer break.
“It was really neat to see students who dropped everything … one even left a vacation … to come in and meet him. The students were so excited about him being here. They wanted him to have a great day,” Jason Curtis, principal, said. “He was comfortable and joking with the students. He’s kind and gentle … [and] he has this great joy, too.”
While at Gibbons, Bishop Zarama blessed young campers participating in a school-sponsored drama camp that was preparing productions of Willy Wonka and Beauty and the Beast. He watched a number from each show.
“Bishop said to them, ‘Hey, look, I can’t go back to watching Disney after this, it was that good,’” Mr. Curtis laughed.
Camper Hannah Morgan, 10, said she and her friends were excited to have Bishop Zarama in the audience as they performed Be our Guest. “I felt special that he came out to spend time with us,” she said. “I thought the bishop was very nice … he smiled the whole time. And it felt good to hear that he thought it sounded good.”
After the visit to Gibbons, he celebrated Mass at the Catholic Center’s chapel Thursday afternoon and surprised many of the faithful who regularly attend weekday Masses there.
“It was a very reverent experience of the Mass [and] … it was a joy to have our shepherd with the flock,” Father Philip Tighe, director of the Office of Vocations, said. “There was as sense of thanksgiving and a sense of gratitude to be with our shepherd.”
In his homily the bishop spoke about the Gospel, noting the faithfulness of Abraham.
After Mass, the new bishop held a lunch meeting with staff members to discuss his Aug. 29 installation Mass. He concluded the day Thursday by touring the Catholic Center to meet diocesan employees.
Reaction from parishioners
During an interview with NC Catholics magazine, Bishop Zarama was asked what he’d like the faithful to know about him.
“They will know me,” he responded patiently while sitting in the large office he will soon occupy. “I cannot say something because, you know, we will have time to know each other … with our own gifts. We need each other.”
For their part, the faithful from more than 90 parishes and missions in the diocese were excited about the appointment of a new bishop.
Tom Hickman, of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Apex, learned the news via Twitter around 6:30 a.m. July 5.
“I thought it was great. With the new cathedral coming … the timing couldn’t have been better,” he said.
That same day Kelly Calegar, of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, learned the news from her pastor, Father Justin Kerber, C.P., just before noon Mass at the cathedral. “I have been praying about it for a long time … that the right one would be found,” she said after Mass. “It feels really good to have a bishop again … I was very happy to learn that he could speak Spanish.”
Crystal Tapia, a student at Meredith College in Raleigh, agrees. “I think for the Hispanic community, this is huge,” she said. “My parents are from Mexico. My mom will be so happy to learn the news. For my generation, [Bishop Zarama’s appointment] is important, too,” she said, adding that a bishop who was born in South America would not only share a language with the Hispanic population of the diocese, but share traditions as well.
-Kate Turgeon Watson, editor of NC Catholics