By Daniela Altimari
Originally published on September 19, 2013 in the Hartford Courant
TRUMBULL—Frank J. Caggiano became the fifth bishop of Bridgeport Thursday in a ceremony rich with tradition and imbued with hope.
The Brooklyn-born son of Italian immigrants who once studied at Yale University delivered a message of inclusion to the more than 460,000 Catholics who live in Fairfield County, especially those who have fallen away from, or become disillusioned with, the church.
“We must remember this day and resolve to leave no one behind,” Caggiano told the hundreds of people who packed into the elegant wooden sanctuary of St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church, “to leave no one to fend for themselves, to leave no one to be tossed into the shadows of our parishes, schools, neighborhoods and homes. All have been called, all must serve, all must be strengthened in faith, hope and love.”
Crowds began arriving at the handsome stone church just off the Merritt Parkway more than an hour before the 1:30 service. Among them was Regina Berardino, a parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Fairfield. She said she was touched that Caggiano chose a date for his installation that is both his mother’s birthday and the Feast of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, Italy.
“He’s honoring his family and he’s honoring his heritage as an Italian,” Berardino said. “Somebody who pays that kind of attention to tradition – how can you not love him?”
Berardino attended the vespers service Wednesday night with Caggiano and came away impressed. “He’s soft-spoken but strong,” she said. “He wasn’t waving his finger at us. He was just so hopeful. He told us he’s going to be with us for weeks, months and years ahead.”
Caggiano succeeds William E. Lori, who left Bridgeport last year to become the archbishop of Baltimore. Lori was in attendance Thursday, as were other prominent church leaders, both past and present, including Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and his predecessor, Edward Egan, who was also a former bishop of Bridgeport and archbishop of New York. Henry J. Mansell, archbishop of Hartford, presided over the service.
Caggiano – born on Easter Sunday in 1959 to parents who had left Salerno, Italy, the year before – wove references to the Brooklyn Bridge, “the iconic symbol of the borough of my birth” into his homily.
“As we reflect and recall how bridges made with human hands can transform life – let us reflect upon the transformative power that spiritual bridges made by the hands of God can have, has had, and will continue to have in our lives,” he said.
Caggiano invoked the same image as he described his goal of reaching Catholics who have left the church. Although he did not directly address the pedophilia scandals that have tarnished the church’s leadership in recent decades, he referred to the “broken trust” between some Catholics and their spiritual leaders.
“Many struggle with broken hearts and perhaps, broken trust,” Caggiano said. “Let us resolve together on this day to invite them home, one person at a time. Let us not be afraid to listen to their concerns, to offer them anew an invitation to come and to join us – the time for them to come home is now – and together let us build a bridge of love and mercy and compassion to them.”
He also singled out the youth of the diocese, “the hope” and “the future of the church.” As part of his installation ceremony, Caggiano invited schoolchildren from each of the Bridgeport diocese’s 35 schools to attend; he greeted each one.
During his homily, the new bishop pledged to listen to young people, to harness their energy and optimism “so that, through you, every young person who is searching or struggling in life, every young person who is looking for hope and joy will find it here in the Catholic community of faith.”
The emphasis on youth drew applause from many in the audience. “We’re so excited,” said Kali DiMarco, director of religious education at St. Philip Roman Catholic Church in Norwalk. “Everything I hear is wonderful. It’s an exciting time for our church right now and he fits right into that.”
Caggiano, who studied political science at Yale before transferring to Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception, did not include any overtly political messages in his inaugural address as Bridgeport’s bishop. Lori, his predecessor, was active in public policy matters, taking a leading role in the church’s efforts against same-sex marriage and government-mandated insurance coverage for conception.
The new bishop’s emphasis was on conciliation and he returned repeatedly to the image of a bridge. “For just as earthly bridges are made up of stone and mortar,” he said, “the spiritual bridges God creates in us are made up of living spiritual stones, that’s you and me.”
He acknowledged that it won’t be easy. “The challenge before us is great,” Caggiano said. Alluding to the dominance of secularism and the power of technology, he said there are “so many competing voices that claim to lead us to happiness … and the truth, a time when technology is no longer a tool, but technology molds human life – that is the age in which you and I find ourselves.”