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Bishop John O. Barres brings message of optimism, faith to Red Mass in Diocese of Wilmington

Joining the 32nd annual Red Mass in 2019 are, from left, Fathers Anthony Pileggi and Christopher Coffiey, Msgr. Joseph Rebman, Bishops John O. Barres and W. Francis Malooly, Msgr. Steven Hurley and Father John Mink. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

An overjoyed Bishop Malooly wasted little time at the start of the Oct. 7 Red Mass welcoming back Bishop John O. Barres, the former Wilmington priest who now leads the eighth largest diocese in the United States.

Bishop Barres, who heads the Rockville Centre, N.Y., diocese, was back in town at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine Church to deliver the homily for members of the legal community at the 32nd annual Mass sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Wilmington.

The bishop joked that Bishop Barres, a monsignor and chancellor of the Wilmington diocese under Bishop Malooly, was in charge of giving the bishop a tour of the area in his first three months on the job in 2008. It was a year later that Bishop Barres was named bishop of Allentown, Pa., and eventually to the post in Rockville Centre.

Bishop Barres said he was happy to be back among nearly 200 congregants at the service. He singled out concelebrants Msgrs. Joseph Rebman and Steven Hurley and Father John Mink among others and also cited former colleagues Msgrs. Thomas Cini and Clement Lemon. Concelebrants also included Fathers Christopher Coffiey and Anthony Pileggi. Father Joseph W. McQuaide IV served as master of ceremonies.

“It’s very moving just to look out and see all of you,” Bishop Barres said. “I’ve missed you and you’ve always been a point of reference to me.”

The bishop spoke in his homily about overcoming the troubles the church has endured and he also highlighted the October canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman.

The bishop referred to his recent pastoral letter in which he recalled baseball’s “Amazing Mets” and their unlikely rise to World Series champions in 1969. The team is being honored in his diocese and all around baseball on the 50th anniversary of the unlikely champions who just several years earlier had been one the worst teams in Major League Baseball history.

“They beat the unbeatable Orioles,” Bishop Barres said with a nod to Baltimore native and noted Orioles fan Bishop Malooly.

Bishop Barres likens the sports experience to the tremendous challenges of the church today, in need of “a building up of character.”

“No one is expecting the Catholic church in the United States and around the world to experience a new and beautiful era of vibrant Catholic evangelization,” the bishop said. “But to borrow from (the late Mets pitcher) Tug McGraw, ‘Ya Gotta Believe.’ We have to believe as Catholics.”

The bishop also cited this month’s canonization of John Henry Newman, theologian and cardinal who converted from Anglicanism.

“He knew the Holy Spirit leads the people of God through history,” Bishop Barres said. “His intellect was immersed in the past. He went back to the fathers of the church. At the same time, he was prescient, grounded and flowing into the future. There will be a rediscovery of Cardinal Newman’s style.”

Bishop Barres asked the gathering to consider the gift of life.

“Life is incredibly short and incredibly fragile,” the bishop said. “Things we obsess with now will be meaningless.”

The Red Mass is celebrated for judges, prosecutors, attorneys, law school professors, students and government officials. The Mass requests guidance from the Holy Spirit for all who seek justice and offer them the opportunity to reflect upon their God-given power and responsibility in the legal profession. It is celebrated annually throughout the United States.

The term Red Mass refers not only to the red vestments worn by royal judges, participating in the pope’s tribunal, but also to the traditional use of the color red as representation of the Holy Spirit.