Sunday, February 25, 2007

"Comfort" for the Crescent City

The second month of 2007 is almost out, and only at its end will the US see its first episcopal ordination of the year.

Six months after the nation's hierarchy converged on New Orleans to celebrate a triple jubilee, the circuit returns to town on Wednesday for the ordination of Auxiliary Bishop-elect Shelton Fabre.

At 43, Fabre (pronounced "FOB") becomes the youngest American bishop. Before his December appointment, no US priest had been elevated to the episcopacy short of his 45th birthday since 2001; since 1990, Fabre is but the fifth named in his early forties.

Until now a pastor and high school chaplain in his native diocese of Baton Rouge, the bishop-elect is staying put until the last possible moment; he's spending one final weekend with his parishioners before leaving for New Orleans later today. He'll serve as a co-vicar general of the archdiocese alongside current auxiliary Roger Morin, and will pastor a parish in the Big Easy, where the church continues a significant rebuilding following 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

For Baton Rouge, it's been an effusive, bittersweet farewell. At a vespers service last month in its cathedral, the diocesan paper reported that Bishop Robert Muench and priests in attendance each crossed Fabre with holy water, and one cleric said that "tears could be seen streaming down his face." His confreres have praised him as a "tremendous pastor," a uniting figure beloved by people and priests alike in the diverse and sprawling diocese, some of whom have referred to him as "our Fabre."

In a notable move, the diocese is loaning Fabre the funds for his episcopal vestments. His pectoral cross and crozier are presents from the hometown crowd, but the rest he'll have to repay from the customary ordination gifts.

The first alum of the American College Louvain to be named a US bishop since 1999, Fabre is the first African-American priest Benedict XVI has tapped to share in the fullness of the priesthood. He joins nine active and five retired black bishops in the US hierarchy, one of whom -- Bishop John Ricard SSJ of Pensacola-Tallahassee -- is his father's first cousin. Ricard, Muench and New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes will serve as principal consecrators at the ordination, to be held in the Crescent City's historic Cathedral-Basilica of St Louis, at which both of Fabre's parents will be present.

For his motto, the bishop-elect has chosen a favorite exhortation, taken from the prophet Isaiah: "Comfort My People."

Marie Constantin/The Catholic Commentator
PHOTO 2: Deacon Paul J Sullivan/The Catholic Commentator