WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, and Coadjutor Bishop Richard G. Henning of Providence immediately succeeds him.
Bishop Tobin turned 75 April 1, the age when canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope. He had headed the statewide diocese since 2005. Pope Francis named Bishop Henning, 58, as Providence’s coadjutor Nov. 23. Before that he was auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.
The changes were publicized in Washington May 1 by Archbishop Christo Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
A Mass of Reception to welcome Bishop Henning to the diocese as coadjutor was celebrated Jan. 26 at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence. He began his homily by marveling at the magnificence of the cathedral, saying, “It’s even more beautiful to see it filled with the people of God, offering praise and worship to our Creator and Savior.”
In a May 1 statement, Bishop Tobin expressed “profound gratitude and personal peace” for Pope Francis’ acceptance of his resignation and offered a few words to “our diocesan family,” recalling “how we began our journey together” with some quotes from the homily he delivered at his installation Mass 18 years ago:
“On occasions like this we sometimes say that a bishop takes possession of a diocese. In truth, I think it’s really the other way around — a diocese takes possession of a bishop. In that spirit, today I joyfully and willingly surrender myself to you. I give you my heart and soul. I promise to work hard for you and to do the very best I can. But keenly aware of my own weakness, limitations and needs, I will also depend on your cooperation, support and prayers.”
In his statement, Bishop Tobin thanked “all the members of our diocesan church who have indeed assisted me, and supported me in so many ways during my time as your bishop. You have been so good to me!
“Thank you to the priests, deacons, consecrated women and men, our diocesan staff, and all the faithful lay members of our church! Thank you for your patience and your prayers. Any good that we have been able to accomplish during the past eighteen years is a result, first of all, of your faith, your generosity, and your hard work.”
“For the mistakes I’ve made, for my faults and failures, I am deeply sorry,” he continued. “And for those times when some individuals were offended by my words and deeds, I am truly sorry for that too. It can be very difficult to preach the Gospel of Christ, and to carry on the mission of the church in the world today, but that’s what we are called to do.
“There are many pitfalls, and it is a daily challenge to strike a perfect balance of courage and prudence; to be simultaneously “strong, loving and wise” (2 Tim 1:7) in the service of the Lord.”
Bishop Tobin urged diocesan Catholics “to remain steadfast in your faith, to be proud of the good work you are doing, and to be determined to carry on the work that Jesus has entrusted to you.”
“I will continue to pray fervently for you, especially for our wonderful new shepherd, my brother, Bishop Richard Henning, as he assumes the heavy burden of episcopal leadership,” he said and asked prayers for himself “as I begin a new chapter in my life as a disciple and priest of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Henning opened his statement with: “Praised be the name of Jesus Christ … now and forever.”
“For the last several months, I have been visiting communities across this ‘State of Hope.’ My gratitude to God for this new ministry in the Diocese of Providence has only deepened as I have come to know its clergy, religious, and people,” he said.
He said he is “particularly grateful for the time with Bishop Tobin, whose own ministry as Diocesan Bishop for 18 years offers me a powerful witness of faith and a model of selfless service to the People of God.”
He thanked the pope and Bishop Tobin “for the gift they have given to me” and expressed gratitude for the priests of the diocese as his “brothers and co-workers in the vineyard.”
“Deeply aware of my need for mercy, I entrust myself and my ministry to the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” Bishop Henning said. “May God bless the Diocese of Providence and may we all live in the “State of Hope!”
During the welcome Mass in January, Bishop Henning talked about Rhode Island’s motto – Hope. he told the congregation that once he had learned from Archbishop Pierre that Pope Francis planned to name him Providence’s coadjutor, he began Googling Rhode Island online to learn as much as he could about the state and its people.
He came across the state flag, with a large anchor owing to its nickname, The Ocean State, and its motto “Hope,” which reinforced for him that Rhode Island was indeed where God wanted him to be.
To emphasize his point for the many guests attending the Mass from out of state, especially a cadre of his fellow Long Islanders who traveled 200 miles from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Bishop Henning walked over to the lectern, where a folded state flag on a shelf below was soon unfurled and displayed for all to take in.
“To see on a state flag that ancient Christian symbol, the anchor, the symbol of hope, and not just the symbol, the word is written right there on that flag,” he said. “In my prayer I thought, ‘I’m going to live in the state of hope.’ It will be OK. It was a great comfort to me at a time with a lot of emotions.
“Hope, St. Paul teaches us, is central to the faith. Christ Jesus our hope. And I hope I am a man of hope. I hope we all are Christians who live hope,” Bishop Henning said.
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