Archbishop Alexander Sample made a plea for unity among Catholics in western Oregon during the first in a series of regional welcome Masses.
"If we are going to evangelize the world, we have to be together," the archbishop told a congregation of 800 packed into St. Pius X Church July 16. They came from the west side of Portland and regions west of the city.
"If we are divided among ourselves, we do not bear witness to Christ," the archbishop said.
Worshipers included the priests of the region, in addition to deacons, religious and laity. The assembly listened attentively even as small children squealed and scampered.
"As your new archbishop I ask you, I beg of you, that we be that people of communio, that we be people of unity, that we be together, united in faith, united in love, united in the bonds that hold us together," Archbishop Sample said with a tone of urgency.
Using no notes and standing down in front of the people instead of in the pulpit, he asked the gathering to pray for him and for the whole local church in the face of challenges that lie ahead.
The evening began with a dinner with the priests, deacons, and deacons' wives. It ended with a large public reception as Catholics circled around the archbishop for a long time.
"He was very welcoming and all the people enjoyed his presence," says Deacon Bob Little of St. Pius. "We are happy to have him as our archbishop."
Discussing the first reading, which detailed how Moses was saved from the slaughter of Israelite children, Archbishop Sample says that God initiates plans for us from the very start. He told the story of his scrape with spinal meningitis as a child; he fell into a coma and was expected to die. When he pulled through, his godmother said God must have a purpose for the child. He thought the purpose was being a priest, but he later was surprised by being named a bishop in Michigan and floored when Pope Benedict asked him to become leader of the Archdiocese of Portland.
"Please God, let this be what you have chosen me for," said the archbishop, who has been on the job for more than three months. The congregation laughed.
"God works with us," the archbishop said. "He has a plan for us and if we open ourselves to it, he will show us the way and he will open the pathway for us and he will show us what he is asking of us. This is what we must be about in this great archdiocese."
Two more welcome Masses are set: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, at St. Joseph Parish in Salem and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15 at St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass. A public reception will be held after each Mass.