Reflecting on the city’s patron St. Louis IX, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski centered on a theme of love and overcoming current challenges at a Solemn Vespers Aug. 24 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
The hour-long prayer service, traditionally held the evening before the Mass of installation for a new archbishop, was attended by more than 200 people, including retiring Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, members of the Catholic community, ecumenical and civic leaders, and members of Archbishop Rozanski’s family, including his brothers Kenneth and Albert. Attendance was by invitation in order to adhere to local health guidelines.
Speaking from the ambo, Archbishop Rozanski described the evening prayer as a time to raise “our voices to the God who rules over us not with great power and dread, but with a heart of love.” Similarly, he described St. Louis as someone who embraced God’s love and emulated that during his earthly life.
The procession included nearly a dozen bishops, including Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso and St. Louis native Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., as well as retired Cardinal Justin Rigali, who served as archbishop of St. Louis from 1994-2003. Msgr. Dennis Kuruppassery, representing the apostolic nuncio to the United States, also was present.
Hymns, antiphons and canticles and music filled the cathedral basilica, including a postlude in honor of Archbishop Rozanski, written by Horst Buchholz, the cathedral basilica’s director of sacred music. A sign of the episcopal transition already was present — Archbishop Rozanski’s coat of arms hung above the bishop’s chair, or cathedra, placed there the morning of the prayer service. Archbishop Carlson’s coat of arms was hung with those from past St. Louis archbishops near the sacristy.
In the homily, Archbishop Rozanski referred to the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:7-8), in which he describes forfeiting everything for Christ’s sake. All else is to be considered rubbish, St. Paul says, with Christ as his wealth.
This reading “gives us greater insight into the motivation that St. Louis had in his care for the people entrusted to him,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “No earthly kingdom can ever surpass the one that God promises to His faithful ones — a kingdom permeated by God’s love, His care and a presence that reassuringly enfolds us always.”
Archbishop Rozanski said we are called to be active leaders in the midst of challenges in our modern world, such as the COVID-19 virus, racial tension and lack of civil discourse. All of these things, he said, “have driven us from the unity that we so long for and need in living up to the call of God’s kingdom. Our separation and isolation is antithetical to the call that Jesus gives to us to look out for our brothers and sisters. As subjects of God’s Kingdom, we cannot allow ourselves to yield to despair and merely throw up our hands in surrender. Jesus shows us the way to surmount the challenges of these times.”
He also cited examples of saints with connections to St. Louis who persevered in turbulent times — St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, who came to the St. Louis area to help establish schools here; and St. John Paul II, who visited St. Louis in 1999. In addition to losing his parents and brother by the time he was 19, he also witnessed the Nazi invasion of his homeland of Poland, and the rule of atheistic communism there.
“Yet St. John Paul II’s consistent urging to all of us was Jesus’ own words: ‘Be not afraid!’” Archbishop Rozanski said.
The end of Vespers was marked with the presentation of leaders from several religious communities, ecumenical leaders and representatives from the archdiocese, all who came forward to greet the new archbishop. Archbishop Rozanski also thanked many groups in attendance, and Archbishop Carlson for his “heroic leadership of this archdiocese for the last 11 years,” which received a standing ovation.
“I thank almighty God for the opportunity to serve you as your shepherd,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “God bless you, and know of my prayers for you. And please do pray for me.”