Whistles and full-throated cheers are rare at St. Mary Cathedral.
At the close of Archbishop John G. Vlazny's farewell Mass Sunday, the man who led Catholics in western Oregon for more than 15 years received a standing ovation, with worshipers bending the rules of propriety for sheer love of the man.
Archbishop Vlazny leaves office April 2 when Archbishop Alexander Sample will be installed as spiritual leader of the Archbishop of Portland.
Archbishop Vlazny lauded newly-named Pope Francis for asking the people of the world to bless and pray for him shortly after appearing on the balcony above the piazza at St. Peter's Basilica. At one point Sunday, the archbishop asked worshipers to pray for him, too.
The Northwest Portland cathedral was full, with the faithful sitting even in the balcony. "This Mass is a sign of our esteem and love for him," said Msgr. Patrick Brennan, pastor of the cathedral. The priest allowed it's only a "kind-of" farewell, because the retired archbishop will be living in Beaverton.
"I am hoping he will grace us with his presence," Msgr. Brennan told the congregation. Archbishop Vlazny is slated to continue presiding at confirmations around western Oregon, giving a hand to Archbishop Sample and retired Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner.
Archbishop Vlazny said he received an email from Archbishop Sample, who was celebrating his own farewell Mass Sunday at St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette, Mich. After a few thankful and wistful comments during the homily, Archbishop Vlazny got down to preaching on scripture, which he's done as a priest for more than 50 years. Speaking about the story of Lazarus in John's gospel, he admitted that the man Jesus raised from the dead did die later, of course.
"But in today's miracle story is a great promise," the archbishop said. "Even though we die, we will be raised."
The archbishop told the crowd that the world has long been caught up in death — including abortion, warfare, murder, suicide, and unsafe work places. Christ's victory, which will be celebrated during Holy Week, is based on love and overcomes all kinds of death, the archbishop explained.
"It's a victory in which we are invited to share," he said, adding that "love conquers all." The life and death of each one of us will show God's love, too, the archbishop said. He warned listeners that modern people seem so concerned about wealth and entertainment that they neglect their trek toward eternal life.
"Our life together here is a prelude to our life with God," he told the cathedral full of worshipers, many of them friends who had traveled from all over the region.
As a farewell gift, parishioners from the cathedral donated for a stained-glass window to be created for the small chapel in the archbishop's retirement residence in Beaverton. The note announcing the gift thanked Archbishop Vlazny for "leadership, guidance and pastoral care."
As is typical, Archbishop Vlazny was thinking of others as the Mass ended. He urged the people to pray for the cathedral's choir, which would be singing for a busy Holy Week and then for the installation of Archbishop Sample on April 2.
At a simple reception with coffee and cake, Archbishop Vlazny stood and greeted a long line of well-wishers. It took more than an hour, but his joy didn't appear to flag.