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Bishop James D. Conley

Bishop James D. Conley greets nuns after he takes canonical possession of the Diocese of Lincoln on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ.

More than 250 archbishops, bishops, abbots and priests from Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and beyond joined the faithful in filling to overflowing Lincoln’s Cathedral of the Risen Christ as Bishop James D. Conley was installed as the Diocese of Lincoln's ninth bishop Tuesday.

Conley, 57, follows retiring Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who led the diocese for 20 years.

In reading a letter from Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Carlo Maria Vigano noted Conley has an “apostolic zeal.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput used similar words in describing his friend and former auxiliary bishop in the Denver Diocese.

“He is a man of warmth and intelligence, a great mentor of young adults, and equally at home in college forums and local parishes,” Chaput, now archbishop of the Philadelphia Diocese, wrote in a statement. “He has a keen love for people and ideas and vivid zeal for the faith.”

Tuesday’s ceremony, while filled with religious tradition, reverence and grandeur, offered glimpses into the humor and graciousness of the new bishop.

“I moved from Denver to Nebraska on Nov. 6 -- exactly two weeks ago today,” Conley said. “And in that time, I’ve experienced my first Husker victory and my first Runza sandwich. Both were pretty awesome.

“I’ve also already eaten more kolaches than I care to admit.

“But with those things behind me, I think it is fair to say that I am now a Nebraskan,” Conley said as he began his homily.

While introducing himself to the diocese, Conley briefly talked about his conversion to Catholicism while attending the University of Kansas and how it was his time in a rural monastery in France and later farming in north central Kansas, where he learned to pray.

“Those are the places where I learned to hear the voice of the Lord. The rhythms of the rural life are at the heart of my own spiritual life. So I’m grateful to the Lord, who has brought me to Lincoln,” Conley said.

He quoted Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” in which she finds her passion in the great spaces of the plains.

“The passion of our lives as Christians must be Jesus Christ,” Conley said. “But the plains are vast and beautiful, where the providence of God is evident. Willa Cather was right -- and very wise.”

Conley also praised his predecessors, Bruskewitz and the bishop before him, Bishop Glennon Patrick Flavin. And he talked of lessons learned from Pope John Paul II.

Although many in attendance Tuesday came to honor Conley, the bishop said the focus of the Mass was not his installation, but remained the focus of every Catholic Mass -- the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the altar.”

Conley talked of a church that needs to flourish in order for Pope Benedict’s call for a “new evangelization” to take hold.

“If we are to truly build a culture of life -- holiness must begin with us,” Conley said. “And, if we want the New Evangelization to take root, it starts on our knees with the conversion in our hearts.”

Change is inevitable, Conley said. “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often,” he said, quoting Cardinal John Henry Newman.

“Perhaps some of you are wondering what change you might see in the Diocese of Lincoln,” Conley said. “This diocese has a rich Catholic history, solid and strong. I look forward to continuing the good work of my predecessors, especially Bishop Bruskewitz and Bishop Flavin, who have provided stellar episcopal leadership for over 40 years."

But the church must change -- “in order to remain the same,” Conley said.

“Christ is the same today, yesterday and forever. As the church faces new challenges and addresses new needs, we will need to work together to continue the new evangelization in the Diocese of Lincoln. The church is constantly renewing herself so that, in the words of Saint Augustine, she remains ‘ever ancient and ever new.’”

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Reach Erin Andersen at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com.

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