It was a perfect storm for Catholics in Apalachicola Sunday, as the diocese’s bishop visited St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on, of all days, St. Patrick’s Day.
Father Gregory Parkes, bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, celebrated Mass Sunday morning, flanked by Father Paul Lambert, the Priest Secretary to the Bishop, and Father Roger Latosynski, pastor of the congregation of about 160 families.
The sanctuary was full of worshippers eager to hear from Parkes, a former banker who earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Florida State University, before his ordination, at age 35, as a priest in 1999. After serving congregations in Orlando and Celebration, Parkes was named chancellor of the Orlando diocese from 2005-12 and its vicar general from 2009-12.
One year ago this week, Pope Benedict XVI named Parkes bishop, and he was ordained in June 2012 at St. Paul's Church in Pensacola.
“Since June, I have been to 50 of the 55 parishes for either a visit or for Mass,” he told the congregation, as he stepped forward to speak from directly in front of the pews. “You might be saying to yourself ‘What took you so long to get here?’ I was saving the best for last.”
Parkes drew laughter when he addressed the most obvious question on everyone’s mind, none of whom had difficulty catching a glimpse of him.
“C’mon, fess up, you know what you’re thinking,” he chided the church gathering. “The question of course is ‘How tall are you?’”
He said one woman had told him just prior to the service that “You are the biggest bishop I’ve ever seen.”
Parkes confirmed that he was 6’8”, and noted that the diocese now had the distinction of having “the tallest bishop in the United States of America.”
The bishop opened his homily by sharing that he had learned from his Twitter feed that the newly-selected Pope Francis had celebrated Mass at the Church of St. Anna in Vatican City that morning.
“The Holy Father only preached for five minutes, and since I am very obedient and respectful for the Holy Father, (I will follow suit),” he said.
Parkes spoke on the subject of the day’s Gospel reading, from John 8:1-11, about a woman caught in act of adultery. The law proscribed that she should be stoned to death, but Jesus advised the crowd that “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” He later told the woman to “go, and sin no more.”
The bishop reminded the congregation that “God is indeed rich in love and in mercy and when we receive God’s mercy we should be filled with gratitude and joy in our hearts. But we also have to express that gratitude (with) firm intentions to not keep doing those things over and over again.
“We need the grace, the mercy and forgiveness of God,” Parkes said, and then cited a portion of the new pope’s remarks that morning, in which he had said ““God never tires of forgiving us but sometimes we tire of asking for His forgiveness.
“Perhaps in our weakness we feel unworthy to receive his love and forgiveness,” said the bishop. “Perhaps we become despondent that we can ever overcome that weakness or that sin in our lives.
“Brothers and sisters, don’t ever lose hope,” encouraged the bishop. “Always hold on to the hope that with God’s grace we can become those people God has called and created us to be, despite our weaknesses.
“It is only when we shut out God’s grace from our lives that we should lose hope of ever making progress in the spiritual life,” he said. “Praise be to God that He never grows tired of forgiving us. Let us never grow tired of asking for His forgiveness.”
The bishop administered the Eucharist, and after the service ended, greeted well-wishers on the front steps of the church. The congregation enjoyed a festive reception afterwards in the Fellowship Hall.