Newly named Miami auxiliary bishop called 'good fit' for South Florida
Catholic News Service photo
Msgr. Peter Baldacchino smiles as he talks to a reporter Feb. 20 during a news conference in Miami after being named an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Miami. Bishop-designate Baldacchino, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., was born in Malta; he holds dual citizenship in his home country and the United States.
Catholic News Service
MIAMI — He speaks English, Spanish, Creole, Italian and Maltese. He laughs easily and loves soccer. He was born on an island and has ministered on another one for the past 15 years.
If any priest is suited to serve in Miami, it seems Msgr. Peter Baldacchino, 53, comes ready-made. And that perhaps is what Pope Francis thought when he appointed the Newark, N.J., archdiocesan priest to be Miami's 10th auxiliary bishop.
The appointment was announced at a news conference Feb. 20 at the archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Miami. Bishop-designate Baldacchino's ordination is set for March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, at St. Mary Cathedral.
"He's been in the trenches. He's not a bureaucrat," Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski said after making the announcement. "I think it reflects one of the priorities of Pope Francis but also it fits with me."
Archbishop Wenski was referring to the fact that Bishop-designate Baldacchino has spent the past 15 years as chancellor -- and one of only three priests -- in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a mission under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Newark. The chain of islands is about 90 miles north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Archbishop Wenski himself spent his entire priesthood in parish work, including 18 years as administrator of Notre Dame d'Haiti Mission in Miami.
"He is a good fit for Miami because of his life experience," Archbishop Wenski said.
He added that Miami -- with more than 1 million Catholics -- is a macrocosm of the multicultural microcosm the bishop-designate has come to know living in Turks and Caicos, whose entire population is about 37,000. Less than a third are Catholics.
"I was happy to serve in the Archdiocese of Newark; I was glad to serve in building the Roman Catholic Mission in Turks and Caicos Islands. I look forward to serving the Archdiocese of Miami," Bishop-designate Baldacchino said at the news conference.
Afterward, while being interviewed by the media, he shared a secret: He was vacuuming the carpet in the Blessed Sacrament chapel of his church -- Our Lady of Divine Providence in Providenciales, the capital of Turks and Caicos -- when he got the phone call from the papal nuncio telling him of his appointment. Archbishop Wenski's follow-up call caught him taking out the garbage.
"We do everything. We wash the plates, we wash the laundry," he explained, holding up his calloused hands.
"He's a missionary priest," said Father Emanuele De Nigris, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Hialeah who, like Bishop-designate Baldacchino, studied for the priesthood at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Newark.
Redemptoris Mater seminaries are directed by the Neocatechumenal Way, "an itinerary of Catholic formation" for individuals and families that emphasizes "missionary zeal" in spreading the Gospel in today's world -- or as Blessed John Paul II called it, the "new evangelization."
"He built the church (in Turks and Caicos) from scratch," Father De Nigris said, pointing out that in 15 years the mission territory has grown from no Catholic churches to two churches -- another one is in Grand Turk -- and one school. Weekly Mass attendance has grown from about 40 in the early years to more than 1,000 today.
Father De Nigris, who also serves as rector of the recently created Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Miami, added that Turks and Caicos is a nation of "very wealthy people and extremely poor people."
Bishop-designate Baldacchino said his appointment to Miami "opens up a lot of possibilities for evangelization."
Asked if he had any ideas about what he would do first in the archdiocese, he replied: "I am trying not to have first ideas. I'm trying to follow rather than lead at the moment. The will of God is not my will. I need to learn to submit my will to the will of God."
He called Miami a "new chapter" in his life and said, "I really look forward to the surprises that God has for me -- for us."
The bishop-designate was to remain in Miami until Feb. 23, when he will return to Turks and Caicos to sign the paperwork necessitated by his departure and pack up his belongings.
"There's not much," he said.
He will then return to Miami for good. "This is home now," he added.
Before his ordination, he will go on a weeklong retreat. Then, in Archbishop Wenski's words, "he'll hit the ground running, because we have a busy season ahead of us."