Bishop Cheri: Model ‘spirit of the living God’ to others
When Jesus informs his apostles that he will be condemned to death, crucified and raised from the dead, his startled friends begin jockeying for their presumptive places in his kingdom.
Their reaction prompts Christ to remind them that greatness does not spring from titles, power or wealth, but from service alone. “The son of man
“I wonder what ever happened to the good old, down-home service to God and others that we’ve been called to,” said Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri, reflecting on the apostles’ wake-up call in Matthew’s Gospel at the March 23 Mass marking the first anniversary of his ordination to the episcopacy.
“Aren’t we called to service? Aren’t we made for service? Don’t we realize that serving is the key to ministry?” Bishop Cheri asked. “Service is essential to our discipleship!”
Thankful for helpers
During his inaugural year as a bishop, Bishop Cheri said he learned that a major part of becoming the best possible servant leader was humbling himself to accept direction from others. Those around us help us “stir the flame” – the gifts of God – that are locked inside each of us, he said.
“When I came to this archdiocese a year ago, I was overwhelmed by the spirit of the living God that existed not only in the people that were there for my installation, but the number of people I worked with who have touched my life throughout this year and have led and guided me as a bishop,” Bishop Cheri told congregants inside St. Katharine Drexel (Holy Ghost) Church in New Orleans. “As a bishop I’ve never been told so many things ‘you gotta do,’ and I really appreciate the beautiful brothers and sisters that I’ve worked with at the chancery office.
“It’s not just my anniversary; it’s your anniversary of how you have accepted and led and guided me as a bishop,” he added.
Synod goals close to heart
Bishop Cheri recalled feeling the great weight of his episcopal call to service at his ordination as each bishop laid hands on his head and the Book of the Gospels hovered over him. He said the episcopacy had enlivened and expanded his calling as a Franciscan, adding that the “friar” in him was looking forward to working with Archbishop Aymond and others to “make real” the goals of the Ninth General Archdiocesan Synod. He said three goals, in particular, excited him because of their outreach to the disenfranchised and disaffected and their relevance to the Franciscan call to be “penitent people of mercy and forgiveness.” Those goals are:
• Nourishing more youth and young adults as servant leaders in today’s church. “I think young adults are on the crest of what it means for us to be relevant (and to be) the kind of Christ-like people we are called to be,” Bishop Cheri said.
• Encouraging Catholics of all ages to take more vocal stands on pro-life issues “from womb to tomb.” Bishop Cheri said such opportunities abound, whether it is counseling a woman contemplating an abortion; helping an at-risk teen find his way back to Christ; lovingly challenging those who focus on building “walls of separation and alienation” rather than of reconciliation; and advocating for true rehabilitation of the imprisoned.
• Stirring the flame of parish and family life in a way that moves the laity “beyond just volunteering for ministry” and toward becoming “active and alive ministers in the name of Jesus Christ” with the sole mission of giving glory to God.
“I know I am not alone in my desire to do God’s will,” Bishop Cheri said. “I have worked in several dioceses around this country, and the beauty of this archdiocese is that we have a tremendous Catholic community that has yet to reach its potential, that has yet to fully allow the power of Christ to be so within us, that we will be the kind of people that will stand at the cross and for the cross in the lives of people around us.”
Flock thankful for shepherd
Before the Mass’ conclusion, several congregants came forward to offer Bishop Cheri words of encouragement. Cynthia Cheri-Woolridge, Bishop Cheri’s first cousin, noted that Bishop Harold Perry would be proud to see someone he mentored as a young priest follow in his footsteps, while Sister of the Holy Family Greta Jupiter recalled Bishop Cheri’s kinship with her fellow women religious, who were among his first teachers.
Henri Reed, a former parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in New Orleans, thanked Bishop Cheri for encouraging more African-American
“You brought to our services hope,” Reed recalled. “Even though we had Bishop Perry (as our pastor), you were a young man with a kind of spirit and a kind of walk-and-dance that we had not witnessed before! I am grateful that our Lord allowed you to be a part of us, to come work with us, and now lead us as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans.”
Funmilayo Smallwood spoke of the Bishop Cheri’s transformative effect on her faith life when he was pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church.
“I’m still a work in progress,” Smallwood said. “It’s because of your leadership that God is directing me to where I am today. May the God of love continue to be with you, from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, and that you continue to inspire women and men to be the best that they can be!”
Franciscan Brother Benedict Kelley thanked Bishop Cheri, his mentor and friend of 16 years, for supporting his own vocation and that of a young Nigerian seminarian who had traveled to New Orleans to attend the Mass.
“To be able to walk behind this man in whatever he does – to be corrected by him, to be taught by him, to be encouraged by him – has been a wonderful, wonderful thing,” Brother Benedict said. “I want to thank you for being a perfect example of what a Franciscan friar is.”