Four LA priests were urged to take up the “urgent” task of evangelization as they were ordained auxiliary bishops at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in a historic three-hour-long liturgy.
“Love is the true meaning of our religion. Spreading that love to the ends of the earth is the Church’s mission,” Archbishop José H. Gomez told new Bishops Albert Bahhuth, Matthew Elshoff, Brian Nunes, and Slawomir Szkredka in his homily at the Sept. 26 Tuesday afternoon Ordination Mass. “Today, my dear bishops-elect, the Lord consecrates you to lead in that mission.”
The ceremony also marked a history-making moment in the pontificate of Pope Francis — who appointed them in July — as the first time the Argentine pontiff has appointed four auxiliary bishops at one time for any diocese.
In his homily, Archbishop Gomez described the mission entrusted to the new bishops as an “urgent” one.
“Jesus loves us for who we are, and he meets us where we are. But he never leaves us there. He calls us to follow him, to put off our old life and become children of God, to be holy as he is holy.”
“This is your mission now!” Archbishop Gomez continued. “This is the mission we all share in the Church. And you must lead us. The task before us is urgent. Jesus does not want a single soul to be lost. So many today are like sheep without a shepherd, confused about life, searching for meaning, for happiness, and love. How will they find Jesus, if we do not proclaim him?”
The Mass — attended by some 450 priests and 30 bishops — reflected the diversity of the bishops themselves, as the readings and songs were proclaimed in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Arabic. Bahhuth is from Lebanon, Szkredka is from Poland, while Nunes’ family immigrated from Hong Kong. Elshoff, the grandson of German and Hungarian immigrants, is a priest of the Capuchin Franciscan order.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio in the U.S., was scheduled to attend the ordination ceremony, but Archbishop Gomez announced he would not be attending. Pierre is set to be elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope Francis along with 20 others at a consistory ceremony in the Vatican later this week.
The Ordination Mass
After the Gospel was proclaimed, the new bishops went through the presentation of being ordained, starting with documents about Bahhuth, Elshoff, Nunes, and Szkredka from the Apostolic See, read by Father Jim Anguiano. Once the documents were read, the four new bishops held up and paraded the documents around the altar for all to see before displaying them before Archbishop Gomez to be blessed.
Next, the bishops-elect stood side by side in front of the archbishop to recite the Promise of the Elect, with Archbishop Gomez relaying a series of questions, including:
Do you resolve, for the sake of the Lord’s name, to reach out in kindness and mercy to the poor, to strangers, and to all those in need? Do you resolve, as a good shepherd, to seek out the sheep who stray and to gather them into the Lord’s fold?
With all the questions, the new bishops answered in unison: I do.
Afterward, the four bishops-elect laid down face first around the altar, prostrating themselves as Archbishop Gomez invited everyone to kneel and pray for them while the litany of saints was sung. Toward the end of the litany, some of the saints from parishes the four bishops-elect have served at — St. Finbar, St. Albert the Great, and St. Bede the Venerable — were also invoked.
Next, Archbishop Gomez, the other bishops in attendance, and the co-consecrators Auxiliary Bishop Alex Aclan and Retired Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson laid their hands on the new bishops and offered the Prayer of Ordination. As the bishop-elects kneeled in front of the altar, a line of bishops and cardinals processed and laid their hands on them one at a time.
Finally, the archbishop anointed the head of each of the bishops-elect and as they kneeled presented each with a Book of the Gospels, and their bishop rings, staffs, and miters featuring their pontifical insignias. Once they received these items one by one, the four newly ordained bishops joined the seating area of their fellow bishops and received an extended round of applause.
Bishop Elshoff said the one moment that stood out for him during the Mass was when the archbishop laid his hands on him for the consecration.
“My thought was: My prayer was to give myself to you in every way, shape, and form,” Elshoff said. “I will do whatever you ask of me.”
Bishop Elshoff, who explained that his new dark brown crosier included a relic of Blessed Father Solanus Casey, a Capuchin from Detroit who died in 1957, added that he was still used to having a new title.
“I have to look at it as a term of endearment to really appreciate what the title means,” he said. “It’s still so unique for me to hear someone say it.”
After Communion, the newly ordained bishops walked up and down every inch of the cathedral’s aisles, giving out blessings to the thousands of well-wishers, who then erupted into additional rounds of raucous applause.
Before the final blessing, newly ordained Auxiliary Bishop Szkredka gave short remarks, thanking Pope Francis, Archbishop Gomez, cardinals, bishops, and the hundreds of priests, deacons, seminarians, religious, family, and friends who had supported them not just during the ordination, but throughout their lives.
“Finally, we thank all the members of the people of God gathered here, and we humbly ask that you continue to pray for us,” Szkredka said. “Pray that as we receive God’s gifts, we may be generous in sharing God’s gifts with all, especially with the poor and the needy.”
After the Mass while giving blessings to a long line of friends, family, and admirers, Bishop Szkredka admitted to being “tired, exhausted, but extremely happy that this moment has arrived.”
“To see so many people so filled with joy, that’s a gift that gives me joy,” said the 49-year-old native of Poland. Szkredka said he shed a few tears while prostrating on the floor of the cathedral with his fellow new auxiliary bishops during the Litany of the Saints.
Following the Ordination Mass, hundreds lined up in four lines at the cathedral’s outdoor plaza to receive first blessings from the newly ordained bishops.
When the new bishops walked out into the plaza, a smattering of cheers broke out as the four — beaming as they walked with miter and staff to their place at the front of the lines — prepared to offer first blessings.
There were laughs, hugs, smiles, and those wanting to take pictures with the bishops. Either way, the bishops offered their blessings.
The Escobar family was in line to get a blessing from Bishop Elshoff, who was recently their pastor at St. Lawrence of Brindisi.
Betzy Escobar was excited that Elshoff was going to officiate her wedding to Nicholas Bustos in a few weeks and hoped his blessing would give the couple “patience and happiness.”
“And some of his love,” Betzy added.
When Ingrid Escobar lost her mother in 2019, she said Elshoff was extraordinarily supportive.
“He’s open to share your pain with you,” Ingrid said. “That’s something that I love about him. The worst time of my life was when I missed my mom, we shared the same feelings. We cried together.
“It’s something I love about him. Not all priests get that time to share with you, suffer with you, cry with you. He’s very human. It’s a huge blessing for us as a community to be here.”
Debey Dick was waiting in Bishop Bahhuth’s line because she wanted to thank him for saving her faith.
In 2003, she had been away from the Church, but decided to go to St. Finbar Church in Burbank one Sunday, where she heard an amazing sermon from Bahhuth, then the pastor at the parish. She kept going back week after week and the homilies kept speaking to her.
It led her to volunteer at the parish and to her amazement she was eventually asked to be an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. She continues to be active at her parish.
He even helped when Dick’s husband died in 2006 and baptized her grandchild when he was near death.
“He’s just always been there for us. I cannot thank him enough. I owe Bishop Bahhuth so much.”