By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — Bishop Robert J. Baker of Jacksonville, Fla., was introduced to the Diocese of Charleston by his predecessor, Bishop David B. Thompson, in a Tuesday morning press conference held at the Cathedral center.
In his opening remarks, Bishop Thompson said, “The Church of Charleston, welcomes you, Bishop Baker, as a gift from God, elegantly wrapped with many spiritual graces and natural gifts and all for us. We thank God and our Holy Father for you, and we are so grateful to you for being willing to come among us as our shepherd and friend.”
He continued, “Bishop Baker, we pledge to you from this moment onward our love and loyalty, our friendship and prayers, our support and obedience. We are blessed to call you our Bishop.”
Bishop Thompson told his successor, “You will be blessed to be the Bishop of Charleston in its clergy, in those vowed to consecrated life, and in its devoted and ever-increasing laity. Bishop Baker, the Faithful of Charleston have made me proud and grateful to be their Bishop; they will do no less for you. As I commend them to your care, I bless them and thank them for almost a decade of graceful accomplishments and holy love.”
After his introduction, Bishop Baker thanked Bishop Thompson for his warm welcome to Charleston and his gracious hospitality. “How blessed have the people of the diocese been to have had you lead them, and I ask you now to pray for me that I may emulate your devoted and faith-filled leadership in the days and months and years ahead.”
Bishop Baker said that he comes to the Diocese of Charleston as a parish priest and as a pastor in a large city parish. “I have been blessed to know from the personal experience of parish life, at Christ the King Parish in Jacksonville, Fla., and other parishes where I have served, that parish life is at the heart of the life of the Church. It is where we are welcomed into the faith community through baptism, nourished by sacramental life and the Word of God, and sent forth into eternity. I am proud of have spend most of my priesthood as a parish priest and pastor.”
The new bishop told of how he was settling back into parish life this past week when the news came from the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, of his appointment as Bishop of Charleston by the Holy Father.
“It is with humble gratitude that I accept the trust our Holy Father has placed in me, and I now look forward with anticipation, joy, and confidence in the Lord to serving the dedicated priests, religious, and lay men and women of the historic Diocese of Charleston,” said Bishop Baker.
He explained that this was also not his initial contact with the diocese. Several years ago, one of his parishioners from the cathedral parish in St. Augustine organized a relief convoy to help victims of Hurricane Hugo.
“I am now honored to now be part of your faith journey as your new bishop, and it is an honor to be following in the very capable footsteps of Bishop Thompson,” said Bishop Baker. “On your behalf I thank him sincerely for his kind and courageous leadership which has inspired so many. With God’s grace, I will attempt to build on the great foundations of personal service he has left me; and they are many.”
On a personal note, the new bishop thanked Bishop Thompson for his kindness, hospitality, and advice. “You have been a great help to me since we first met by telephone last week, and I will continue to rely on your wisdom and advice and encouragement and prayers in the coming months.”
In closing, Bishop Baker extended, “my warm greetings, my love, and my prayers to all the wonderful people of all faiths in the great state of South Carolina. Please pray for me as I assume the mantle of leadership among you as Bishop and Pastor of the Diocese of Charleston, and as your brother and your friend.”
In answering questions from the media after their prepared statements, Bishop Baker said he was “in a state of shock” when he received the news about his appointment. He said that although the appointment was a surprise, it was nonetheless a great honor. “I will serve the Lord in whatever way needed,” the Bishop told the assembled press representatives.
Asked what his current role would be until his ordination, Bishop Baker said that the diocesan consultors would soon meet and elect a temporary administrator for the diocese. He said he would spend the interim preparing for the ceremony and “learning more about the priests, religious and lay people of the state of South Carolina.”
Describing his feelings today, the Bishop said he had celebrated Mass earlier in the morning and that occasion is always “the high point of my day.” He said that everything he does is in the context of prayer. “Prayer is the center of my life.” Bishop Baker also said he has a “great desire to take up this challenge” of serving as a prelate.
In answering a question concerning the needs of the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop Baker responded that they are “similar to the ones of the diocese I came from.” The number one need listed was vocations.
In addition, the Bishop said he would work with pastors to support them in their ministries, along with the diocesan staff in service to the parishes.
Bishop Thompson was then asked his thoughts about retirement, and replied that he would first of all: “Rejoice and be glad.” He said Bishop Baker is known as a people person and compassionate man, and that he will work diligently to support him in whatever he does; to be loyal to him, obey him and to love him and serve him.
The Bishop also said he is very happy to be out of my car and out of the air, as “the traveling has been enormous here in South Carolina.”
In closing, Bishop Baker said that he would rely heavily on Bishop Thompson for advice in the days ahead, as he will be traveling back and forth between Florida and South Carolina for the next month and a half.
“There are many similarities between St. Augustine and Charleston. I feel much at home in this diocese.”