William E. Lori takes reins of Baltimore diocese

William E. Lori became the 16th archbishop of Baltimore in a solemn ceremony Wednesday that included a nod to the nation's oldest Roman Catholic diocese and a look forward to the challenges of the 21st century.

Lori, 60, set the tone for his tenure with strong words, calling marriage between a man and a woman "a bedrock institution for the common good of society."

His statement drew thunderous applause from a crowd of about 2,000 attending his installation at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. He said he will not "shrink from entering the public square … to teach the values that flow from reason and faith."

Jan Wetherell of Baltimore said he could not agree more.

"I'm very thankful we have such a faithful archbishop for this diocese, a man who is zealous in his faith and who obviously believes in standing up for life, for the family, and for leading our fellow man to Christ," he said. "He'll stand up for the truth at a time when the truth is so often ridiculed and rejected."

Tom Erickson, who has known Lori for more than 30 years, arrived from his home in Midland, Mich., and lauded the timing of the appointment.

"We are facing one of the greatest challenges in the history of the church — and of our nation — in that mandates from the Health and Human Services administration are challenging [Americans'] fundamental First Amendment rights," he said, referring to a federal policy that Catholic institutions provide employees with health care coverage, including contraceptive services. "If they're able to chink away at us, they can come after anybody."

Crowds began arriving hours before the 2 p.m. service. Emily Schreiber, 17, of Perry Hall, stood in line with her mother, Laura Schreiber, an hour before spectators were allowed in, her red Mercy High School blazer bedecked with pins and medals representing her academic achievements. Schreiber, Mercy's student council president, had been chosen by her principal to carry the school banner in a procession leading the archbishop-to-be into the cathedral.

"I love my Catholic faith, and being able to be here for the naming of the new archbishop is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she said.

Deacon Jamie Garcia, who will be ordained a priest on July 9, said he was looking forward to Lori's tenure. In a reference to Lori's motto — "Charity in Truth" — Garcia said, "The archbishop will guide us with a charitable hand. This archdiocese needs someone who's charitable and someone who speaks the truth."

The ceremony began with a procession of priests, bishops and eight cardinals. It drew many state and local officials, though Gov. Martin O'Malley was attending another event with the U.S. secretary of the interior. Also attending were Lori's relatives, friends from his most recent assignment, in Bridgeport, Conn., and about 70 students, each carrying a banner representing one of the area's parochial schools.

Kevin Villeda, an eighth-grader at Archbishop Borders School, led the students. "Everything about this makes me feel so honored that they selected me," he said.

In one of his last official acts, Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, who has led the archdiocese since 2007, passed the traditional bishop's cross, worn by his predecessors dating to 1789, to his successor.

"This prized cross is a great gift of faith and a symbol of the freedom Maryland has enjoyed and I hope will continue," said O'Brien. He leaves for Rome Thursday for his new position as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, which ministers to Christians and those of other faiths in historical Palestine.

"A new, grace-filled chapter begins today for America's most historic diocese," O'Brien said.

Lori thanked his predecessors and promised to build a vibrant future on their legacy. He vowed to remain forceful in articulating the church's position on many issues. His charge is "not only to bring the Gospel into the public square, but to defend the right to do so," he said.

Miguel and Isabelle Sainz of Baltimore said they empathize with the archbishop. "He is coming to a difficult city with a lot of difficult things to do," she said.

Her husband, a deacon at St. Mary's Church in Govans, added, "He won't be bored here. That's for sure."

Lori said he was grateful for people's sympathy and their prayers. "I feel hopeful about this archdiocese," he said. "It is a great, strong and living archdiocese."

In a bow to the diversity of area Catholics, Lori called for some Scriptural readings and hymns in Spanish, and the universal prayers intoned after the gospel were spoken in eight languages.

Throughout the day, Lori thanked his parents, Francis and Margaret Lori, who traveled to the event from Louisville, Ky. His mother said both she and her son knew he would be a priest from the time he was 7.

"I am so happy and so grateful for his vocation," she said.

Several times throughout the lengthy service, Lori showed his sense of humor. At the end of the Mass, he asked for a few more minutes to offer his personal thanks — and promised brevity.

"If we go much longer, this will count for Sunday," he said.