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IN GRANDEUR, A NEW BISHOP <br> REGAL CEREMONY INSTALLS KMIEC AS THE SHEPHERD FOR WESTERN NEW YORK'S 700,000 CATHOLICS

Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, known for his down-to-earth manner, had a joyous installation ceremony Thursday, fit for royalty.

When the pageantry wrapped up after 2 1/2 hours, Kmiec walked out of St. Joseph's Cathedral as the 13th bishop of Buffalo.

"Bishops can get pumped up, too, and dear friends I assure you I am pumped up today," Kmiec said in his first homily to a Buffalo congregation. "I've been pumped up for a couple of months now."

The ceremony -- the first installation of a bishop in the diocese since 1995 -- included a procession of about 275 priests and deacons, 43 bishops and archbishops in their soaring miters, teenagers carrying streaming orange and red banners, and the Knights of Columbus with ceremonial swords at the ready.

The music featured trumpets and operatic solos from the choir.

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the pope's representative in the United States, read Pope John Paul II's letter announcing Kmiec's appointment.

After the letter reading, Montalvo and Cardinal Edward M. Egan, archbishop of New York, walked Kmiec to the bishop's chair and presented him with a gold-plated staff, symbolic of the office.

As Kmiec sat down, the crowd of about 1,200 erupted in applause.

It was a moment nearly a year in the making, since Bishop Henry J. Mansell left in December to lead the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.

A stream of elected officials, including Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, clergy, and religious leaders from other faiths greeted the new bishop with brief exchanges at the elegant chair, known as a cathedra.

Kmiec, a son of Polish immigrants, opened his homily with a Polish salutation and got a quick response in unison from many in the pews.

"I kind of thought some of you might be able to answer me," he said with a smile.

Kmiec, 68, then gave thanks to God and to the pope for sending him to Buffalo.

"It is a humbling honor to be considered for such a pastoral responsibility and to be designated by the Holy Father himself," he said.

Kmiec had served for the last 12 years as bishop of Nashville, Tenn., a considerably smaller diocese with about 70,000 Catholics, compared with 700,000 in Western New York.

He acknowledged a "measure of consternation" about his new assignment and joked that he still had not figured out how to say "no" to the pope.

But since being named in August, Kmiec said, he has felt embraced by the people of Buffalo.

"I want you to know I'm thrilled to be here," he said. "I see in you great potential for God's work."

Kmiec quoted St. Paul, who railed against conflict and polarization, and urged priests and laity in the diocese to a "spirit of unity and harmony."

"Can we make that our characteristic as we journey forward in faith and love?" he asked.

Kmiec made a similar overture Wednesday night in a special vespers service at St. Louis Church with just him and the priests of the diocese. An estimated 350 priests attended.

"When he speaks in a crowd, he speaks like he's talking to you individually," said the Rev. David W. Bialkowski, administrator of St. John Gualbert Parish in Cheektowaga. "He was so approachable that I hope the size of our diocese doesn't change him."

Egan, who has known Kmiec for more than 40 years, saw that as unlikely.

"He's a man who has great compassion and he's totally self-sacrificing," Egan said in an interview after the installation. "He's wonderfully experienced. He learned from a real master, Bishop Ahr, who was one of the great pillars of the Catholic Church."

Kmiec served for many years in the chancery of the Diocese of Trenton, N.J. under Bishop George W. Ahr and then Bishop John C. Reiss prior to being appointed bishop of Nashville.

Bishops from as far away as Portland, Ore., and San Francisco were in attendance, as was Mansell and Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, the former chancellor in Buffalo who now heads the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

Mansell, who served for eight years in the Diocese of Buffalo, made his first return for Kmiec's installation. He said after the ceremony that his successor was fortunate to be here and that the diocese was lucky to get him.

"It's an emotional day because I really love the people of Western New York," Mansell said.

The two bishops have spoken once since Kmiec's appointment but will likely have further conversations about the diocese, Mansell said.

"Anytime I can be of help," he said. "I'm only a phone call away. He knows that."

The ceremony included a Mass. Some of Kmiec's relatives from Minnesota participated in the bearing of gifts at the altar.

And in a poignant nod to the universality of the Catholic Church, as well as its diversity in Buffalo, the prayers of the faithful were read in a variety of languages, including Polish, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean. A reception followed in the Adam's Mark Hotel.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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