Monday, July 27, 2009


For your early Monday, a story not seen in a half-century: this morning, the Pope has given an auxiliary bishop to the "Capital of the South."

As the Atlanta church's stunning growth in recent years gains ever-wider notice, B16 has tapped its vicar-general, Msgr Luis Zarama (right), 50, to aid Archbishop Wilton Gregory, until now the lone active bishop in the 69-county (22,000-square mile) North Georgia fold, its Catholic presence more than quintupled since 1990.

Born in Colombia, the bishop-elect emigrated to the States shortly before being ordained a priest for Atlanta at 35 in 1993; he became a US citizen in 2000. A canonist by training, Zarama was quickly pressed into chancery work alongside full-time parish assignments; in 2000, then-Archbishop John Donohue named the cleric assistant director of vocations, with secondary responsibilities at the Tribunal. Within months of Gregory's 2005 arrival, the new archbishop tapped Zarama as one of his two vicars-general -- the first Hispanic given a top archdiocesan post.

Spun off in 1956 from the then-statewide diocese of Savannah and elevated to metropolitan rank just six years later, Atlanta's only known one auxiliary prior to this morning's move: in 1966, then-Msgr Joseph Bernardin was the hand-picked choice of founding Archbishop Paul Hallinan, who came to know the 37 year-old appointee as his chancellor in Charleston and sought Bernardin's elevation due to illness. Two years later, Bernardin was transferred to Washington as full-time general secretary of the then-newborn National Conference of Catholic Bishops, subsequently to wind up as cardinal-archbishop of Chicago... where one of his proteges would eventually become archbishop of Atlanta.

While the Hotlanta church has exploded from a Catholic contingent 50,000 at the time of Bernardin's ordination to -- officially -- close to 800,000 today, Peachtree Street explains that the on-record number fails to account for "many thousands of Spanish-speaking Catholics" who reside in the archdiocese but, as is common among Latino immigrants, haven't registered in its parishes. Regardless, the appointment of an auxiliary to it can be taken as a further Roman nod to the historic rise of Southern Catholicism... with even more likely to come.

The customary 10am press conference has been called; more as it happens. In the meantime, though, one last bit of historical context: Zarama's episcopal ordination will be the first ever to take place in the North Georgia church.

SVILUPPO: The ordination will take place on 29 September (the feast of the Archangels) at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

PHOTO: Michael Alexander/Georgia Bulletin