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‘Not leaving, being sent’

Bishop Baldacchino’s parishioners at St. Kieran bid him farewell, with sadness and a fire truck

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MIAMI | Claudia and Thomas Botero had been away from the Church for a long time. When their two children were born, they thought about going back. Although they tried many times, nothing attracted them.

Until one day, when they attended a Mass where the homilist’s message was “no matter the situation, come to me, the doors are open,” Claudia said.

“We looked at each other and teared up. It was a message directed at us in an incredible way, and it immediately captivated us,” said Thomas, recalling the moment four years ago.

The homilist was Bishop Peter Baldacchino, celebrating Mass at St. Kieran, where he has been pastor since 2014.

Bishop Peter Baldacchino poses with the Botero family, parishioners of St. Kieran. Left, Claudia (mother) and Alexandra. Right, Julian and Thomas (the father). The Botero family returned to the Church after hearing a homily from Bishop Baldacchino inviting them to return no matter what had happened.

Photographer: ROCIO GRANADOS | LVC

Bishop Peter Baldacchino poses with the Botero family, parishioners of St. Kieran. Left, Claudia (mother) and Alexandra. Right, Julian and Thomas (the father). The Botero family returned to the Church after hearing a homily from Bishop Baldacchino inviting them to return no matter what had happened. "It was a message directed at us and it immediately captivated us," Thomas said, recalling that moment four years ago.

Newlyweds Daniel Torres and Andrea Romero greet Bishop Peter Baldacchino after Sunday Mass on June 30 at St. Kieran Parish.

Photographer: ROCIO GRANADOS | LVC

Newlyweds Daniel Torres and Andrea Romero greet Bishop Peter Baldacchino after Sunday Mass on June 30 at St. Kieran Parish. "Bishop Peter helped us a lot throughout the entire process (of marriage preparation). He took us practically by the hand," said Torres.

Pat Tetcash, a parishioner of St. Kieran, shows Bishop Peter Baldacchino an apron they made to raise funds for the new Diocese the Bishop was assigned, Las Cruces. The apron has a photograph of the bishop and the message “Hasta la vista Bishop Peter”. With them another parishioner, Jenny Garcia.

Photographer: ROCIO GRANADOS | LVC

Pat Tetcash, a parishioner of St. Kieran, shows Bishop Peter Baldacchino an apron they made to raise funds for the new Diocese the Bishop was assigned, Las Cruces. The apron has a photograph of the bishop and the message “Hasta la vista Bishop Peter”. With them another parishioner, Jenny Garcia.

Members of St. Kieran’s Legion of Mary pose with Bishop Peter Baldacchino during the farewell party thrown for him by parishioners. In addition to serving as Miami auxiliary bishop, he also served as St. Kieran’s pastor since 2014.

Photographer: ROCIO GRANADOS | LVC

Members of St. Kieran’s Legion of Mary pose with Bishop Peter Baldacchino during the farewell party thrown for him by parishioners. In addition to serving as Miami auxiliary bishop, he also served as St. Kieran’s pastor since 2014.

“Bishop Peter really touched our heart. He is a person with passion, tenderness and sweetness, such a gift. He is a man of the people,” said Thomas, who attended a June 30 farewell for the bishop organized by St. Kieran’s parishioners.

Bishop Baldacchino was appointed third bishop of the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, in May, and will be installed at the cathedral there July 23. He has served as auxiliary bishop of Miami since March 2014, and as St. Kieran’s pastor since June of that year.

During the farewell Mass, Bishop Baldacchino thanked God for the past five years. He also informed parishioners that Father Adelson Moreira, St. Kieran’s parochial vicar, had been appointed parochial vicar at Corpus Christi Parish in Miami.

“Many might think, they’re leaving us. No! To leave is to pack up and go. We’re not leaving you. We’re being sent,” the bishop said, explaining that all are members of the body of Christ and Pope Francis, as the head of that body, has sent him.

“So it’s my head that says go and my body that moves. If I’m going to Las Cruces, you are coming with me to Las Cruces,” he said.

He also assured them that “the Lord has been thinking about you for a long time,” as St. Kieran’s new pastor will be Schoenstatt Father Jesús Ferrás, an alumnus of Immaculata-La Salle High School, which shares a campus with St. Kieran.

“The new priest will bring young people. I hope you will give him the same respect and cooperation you gave me,” Bishop Baldacchino said.


FIRE TRUCK

After the Mass, a fire truck waited outside to take the bishop around the corner to the Knights of Columbus hall, where the farewell celebration was held.

“The bishop loves fire trucks. Every time we had a festival at St. Kieran he would ask the fire truck to come for the kids. And we thought, what a great surprise to bring it for him,” said Jenny García, one of the organizers of the farewell.

“We were blessed that he was part of our spiritual walk at St. Kieran Parish,” said Pat Tetcash, another member of the organizing committee. “We’re also here to celebrate his next journey and the path that takes him to the mission in Las Cruces.”

To raise funds for that mission, parishioners sold food and drink at the luncheon, along with aprons bearing the bishop’s image and the phrase “Hasta la vista Bishop Peter.” They also gave him other gifts, such as a soccer ball to help him stay in shape and a Bible so he can continue deepening his faith.

St. Kieran’s children donated the cake and the Knights of Columbus Council 1729 raised $500 for the Diocese of Las Cruces.

While thanking them for the surprise and the gifts, Bishop Baldacchino told them, “Enjoy. I want to see you smiling even though there might be some sad moments sometimes.”


SADNESS

For many of those in attendance, that was one of those sad moments.

“He has been very spiritual, a man of profound faith. It leaves an emptiness in me. I’m sad that he’s leaving,” said García.

“He leaves us with a vast void. We want to complain to the pope, but he knows what he’s doing,” added Thomas Botero.

He noted that Bishop Baldacchino started a tradition of gathering with the faithful after Sunday Masses to drink some coffee and take lots of pictures — a tradition that brought the community together. “We all know each other here and it’s because of him,” said Botero.

“I have gone to Masses where children are running around, and the priest tells the parents to put them in the back, in the little space where they belong. He doesn’t do that. He would say, ‘Don’t get distracted by the children. Children will be children. Let them play in the house of the Lord.’ That gift of being, of I’m-here-for-you, is a very special thing,” Botero said.

“He created a very active community,” said María Ángela Paguada, a lector at St. Kieran. She remembered how the bishop would sometimes apologize for not speaking Spanish very well. “But I have always understood him quite well. He also made sure that his community understood him well.”

After Sunday Mass June 30, Bishop Peter Baldacchino got a surprise. Parishioners had arranged for him to ride on a fire truck.

Photographer: ROCIO GRANADOS | LVC

After Sunday Mass June 30, Bishop Peter Baldacchino got a surprise. Parishioners had arranged for him to ride on a fire truck.

Bishop Peter Baldacchino plays with a small soccer ball given to him by a parishioner from St. Kieran during the farewell celebration.

Photographer: ROCIO GRANADOS | LVC

Bishop Peter Baldacchino plays with a small soccer ball given to him by a parishioner from St. Kieran during the farewell celebration.

Rosa and Manuel Álvarez said Bishop Baldacchino had been, for them, “an invaluable spiritual guide.”

He arrived during a family tragedy, when their son had been diagnosed with cancer. He died three years ago at age 24.

“He helped us accept God’s will, to find that peace. He guided us through this very difficult process and helped us move forward, and gave us faith and hope,” Rosa said.

“When my son died, I remember perfectly that (the bishop) looked at me and said, ‘he’s ready.’ For me, that’s what sustains me when I think about (my son),” said Manuel.


YOUNG PEOPLE

The bishop also focused on young people and young couples.

Daniel Torres and his wife, Andrea Romero, were married in May. They began attending St. Kieran after moving to Miami from Maryland for work, about a year ago.

“It was a great blessing to have known Bishop Peter. He helped us a lot throughout the entire process (of marriage preparation),” said Torres, noting that the bishop himself taught them the premarital course. “He grew very fond of us. He took us practically by the hand. I don’t know if it’s because he saw we were young.”

Bishop Baldacchino’s desire to attract more parishioners to St. Kieran also led him to arrange with a Miami commissioner for the city’s free trolley to stop at the church every day, said García.

The bishop went along with the Legion of Mary on each of the 15 stops of their Christmas “posadas.” He also accompanied them on their “door to door” visits on Saturdays, when they make the rounds of the community on the trolley.

“The bishop gives a special invitation at each house where we knock so that they’ll open the door, and he welcomes them and provides an opening for those who need a sacrament, a Mass, or to come closer to God,” said Legion member Ana María Méndez.

She noted that his homilies are occasions of catechesis. “He’s a person who keeps us alert, tells us not to fall asleep, and makes the truth very clear. When we learned he was leaving, it was very hard, but we put everything in prayer, that it might be the best for him.”

Bishop Peter Baldacchino walks with his St. Kieran parishioners to the Knights of Columbus Council 1726 Hall, located around the corner from the church. That’s where they hosted the farewell celebration for their pastor as he leaves for his new assignment as Las Cruces’ new bishop.

Photographer: ROCIO GRANADOS | LVC

Bishop Peter Baldacchino walks with his St. Kieran parishioners to the Knights of Columbus Council 1726 Hall, located around the corner from the church. That’s where they hosted the farewell celebration for their pastor as he leaves for his new assignment as Las Cruces’ new bishop.


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