Meadville Tribune

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February 18, 2013

Erie Catholic Diocese Bishop Persico visits local church

MEADVILLE — It’s a simple message that stands the test of time, according to the Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie.

“It’s doing the basics — the sacraments and preaching the word of God,” Persico said Sunday following the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church. “Those are the two essential pieces. Those give us life and purpose as Catholics.”

Persico was in Meadville to celebrate the Mass in honor of the parish’s 150th anniversary year.

Installed as the 10th bishop of the Erie Roman Catholic Diocese on Oct. 1, 2012, he was named bishop last year by Pope Benedict XVI after then-Bishop Donald Trautman announced his retirement.

Though in a new role and a new location within the Roman Catholic Church, Persico said he feels at home in northwestern Pennsylvania due to the warm welcome he’s received from both clergy and parishioners.

“I feel very much at home because of them,” he said at a reception in his honor at St. Brigid’s Social Hall following Sunday’s Mass, which was attended by about 275 people. The parish has approximately 600 families.

The Erie Diocese held one major surprise for Persico, who came to Erie from St. James parish of New Alexandria in the Greensburg Diocese in southwestern Pennsylvania. 

“How big it is,” he said with a laugh. “It’s 117 churches, but it’s 10,000 square miles — that’s a lot of traveling.”

The Erie Diocese has 9,936 square miles and covers 13 counties in northwestern Pennsylvania, including Crawford.

Asked if consolidation of parishes within the Erie Diocese is possible in the coming years, Bishop Persico it was conceivable, but not a certainty.

“All things are possible,” he said. “I know we have to have a serious look at things. It will be essential to be reviewed. We have fewer priests these days to staff these parishes.”

However, the bishop stopped short of saying consolidation will happen, noting he must talk to the people of the diocese “to hear what they have to say.”

“I have to be able to have an understanding of the diocese — the length and breadth of it — to be able to have a better understanding,” he said.

Last week’s resignation announcement by Pope Benedict XVI, who will leave office at the end of the month, caught everyone by surprise, Persico said.

“It shook up a lot of people,” he said. “It was never expected. But in hindsight, you could see the Holy Father was just not strong. He was getting older and slower. I’m sure it was a sacrifice for him to continue on.”

Persico isn’t surprised by the interest in the pope’s decision to step down.

“People are interested in church and what they do (to select a new pope),” he said.

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