New Orange bishop encourages Catholic unity in diversity

In his first homily as head of the Orange diocese, Bishop Kevin Vann urged Catholics to help build up the Body of Christ and to shape the culture, not be shaped by it.

"We are gathered here in this God-given moment ... as the Body of Christ, as the family of God, in our common mission to bring once again the good news of Jesus Christ in the world," he said Dec. 10.

"By the hand of God, I believe, we have been brought together, as the Scripture says, as the stream that gladdens the city of God."

Bishop Vann was installed as head of the Diocese of Orange in a Mass at the Bren Events Center on the campus of the University of California - Irvine. He previously led the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas.

About 250 priests, 50 bishops and thousands of Catholic laity attended the Mass. Public officials and religious leaders like Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. also greeted the fourth Bishop of Orange.

The entrance procession included Aztec dancers, Vietnamese incense bearers and a Knights of Columbus honor guard. The Mass readings were in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, while the Lord's Prayer was said in the various languages used in the diocese.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles opened the Mass with the sign of the cross. Cardinal Roger Mahony, the emeritus Archbishop of Los Angeles, presided over the Mass as the senior prelate.

Bishop Vann, 61, gave his homily in both English and Spanish. He said Catholics can be united despite their different backgrounds.

"The sometimes disparate currents of life in faith can indeed be brought together in unity, peace, love and great joy to build up the body of Christ," he said. "That is the call for each of us here now in Orange."

The bishop recalled his experience of the powerful Mississippi River, which he crossed during trips from his hometown of Springfield, Ill. to St. Louis.

"Certainly, like the currents of the Mississippi, the winds and currents of our culture and society can frighten us and threaten to push our lives in different directions and weaken our unity and mission. But in the end, we know, that can never happen."

Bishop Vann reminded the faithful that their lives are "directly shaped truly by the hand of God."

"Like the spire of the old cathedral in St. Louis, we need to remember each day that God is here and that our lives give testimony to that," he said. "Let us remember always that our mission is to shape the currents of our times with that faith, as the stream that gladdens the city of God, and not be shaped by them."

He said Catholics do not journey alone. Rather, they journey "with each other in the company of a cloud of witnesses that have made that journey before."

The bishop mentioned St. Marianne Cope, a 19th-century Franciscan sister who ministered to the lepers of Hawaii; St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American Indian to be declared a saint; Bl. Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Spanish Franciscan priest who established missions throughout California; and Fr. Augustine Tolton, the first African American to be ordained a priest.

Bishop Vann repeated his emphasis on unity with the words of the early Christian St. Ignatius of Antioch: "The strength of the Church is the unity together of everyone with the office of the bishop."
At the beginning of the installation Mass, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, read an apostolic letter from Pope Benedict XVI which formally appointed Bishop Vann to the diocese. Pope Benedict praised the bishop as "a faithful teacher of God's word."

Archbishop Vigano thanked Bishop Vann for his "generosity in answering the call to serve." He also thanked the retired Bishop Tod Brown for his "many years of dedicated leadership."

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Bishop Vann is the oldest of six children. He worked as a medical technologist before entering the seminary in 1976. He was ordained a priest in 1981 and is a specialist in canon law.

He serves as the Vatican's delegate for the special pastoral provision that helps Episcopal and Anglican clergy and laity enter the Catholic Church.

He is a member of both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration and of the conference's Canonical Affairs Committee.

The bishop is fluent in Spanish and Italian and is learning Vietnamese.

There are 1.3 million Catholics in the Diocese of Orange, making up 41 percent of the diocese's population of 3.2 million people. The diocese is the 10th largest in the country and is the fastest growing in the U.S.

Through the work of Bishop Brown, the diocese purchased the 3,000-seat Crystal Cathedral, a glass church built by the retired Protestant televangelist Rev. Robert H. Schuller. The diocese bought the church rather than build a new cathedral. It has renamed the church "Christ Cathedral" and has begun renovations to make it a fitting space for Catholic worship.

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