For nearly four minutes, the faithful shared heartfelt applause. Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama walked through much of Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral holding an apostolic letter signed by Pope Francis.
The message, conveyed by the traditions and words of the installation Mass, was clear. Bishop Zarama was the shepherd. And those present: his new flock.
The letter officially appointed him as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh. Moments before Bishop Zarama shared the letter with the people, it was read by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
“Indeed, it is our earnest desire … to provide appropriately for the Catholic Church of Raleigh,” Archbishop Pierre said. He added that Bishop Zarama came to Raleigh with venerable qualities, pastoral experience and skill in canon law.
Following the apostolic letter, Bishop Zarama took his seat in the cathedra, or bishop’s chair. He received a crosier, or staff, from Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, with whom he has served for more than 12 years.
He later received greetings from 15 people in the community, including representatives from campus ministry, the diaconate, Catholic schools, seminary and Catholic Charities.
When he delivered the homily, Bishop Zarama stood near the sanctuary stairs of the new cathedral, which was dedicated July 26.
“I like the freedom to be close … closer to you. I like to be able to see you and to talk to you,” he said.
Bishop Zarama, who served in the Archdiocese of Atlanta since his ordination to the priesthood in 1993, spoke about transition.
“I was doing fine,” he said about his life in Atlanta. “I was good. It was the life that the Lord was blessing me with for many years. And I was doing fine.”
He shared a story about how, when he flew on an airplane, he would often open the in-flight magazine and look at the map of destinations. Because he lived in Georgia, Delta was a frequent airline choice because of its Atlanta headquarters and hub.
“I would pray, whenever I was flying” he said. “This is not a pious way to pray … but I would say, ‘Lord, please, if you send me to a new place, will it be to a Delta destination?’”
Those gathered laughed with the new bishop. The faithful also shared smiles with their new shepherd as he shared how God works in mysterious ways.
“The great challenge that all of us, we have in front, it is: Don’t be afraid to let the light of the love of Jesus shine. It’s not too much about words, it’s most about love. The Lord challenges us, all of us, to go and to live our faith,” he said. “[Jesus] is the one who likes to come to us … through the sacraments. To come to us and to heal our own hearts first. We allow Jesus to come to us and make us instruments in which we will only become the voice that Jesus wants us to use to let the people know that love is possible. Redemption is possible. Merciful is possible.”
The Mass reflected the diversity of the diocese, which is home to nearly 500,000 Catholics of many backgrounds. In addition to a reading in Spanish, the prayers of the faithful were spoken in eight different languages, including Korean, Vietnamese and French.
Many members of Bishop Zarama’s family, including his mother, Maria Teresa Zarama, and three of his five siblings, were present. His mother, sister Rosa Matilde Zarama and brothers Bernardo and Juan Pablo Zarama presented the gifts.
The bishop took special care to thank his family for their presence and to especially thank his mother whom, he said, first taught him to pray. He also spoke about his father, Rafael, who died in 2012. “For my dad, who has the best place to be able to enjoy this celebration,” he said. “I feel his company and his love.”
Many people, including Father Feiser Munoz, traveled from Atlanta to be a part of the installation.
“He is a very humble and simple man with a good heart. He always tried to be there for me and for seminarians,” Father Munoz, a recently-ordained Army chaplain, said of Bishop Zarama. “I feel proud about him. I was so excited and happy to be here with him. I will miss [serving with] a man who is very gentle and a human being who is always caring for people.”
In his closing remarks, Bishop Zarama thanked those who were present, including Bishop Michael Burbidge, Raleigh’s former bishop who was appointed bishop of Arlington, Virginia, in 2016. Bishop Zarama mentioned many groups, including the choir, the installation committee, his former parishioners and priests from both Raleigh and Atlanta.
“May God bless you and thank you for your friendship,” he said to everyone. “Thanks is not enough.”
- Kate Turgeon Watson is editor of NC Catholics magazine.