NEW CANAAN -- The Very Rev. Frank J. Caggiano, the Diocese of Bridgeport's new leader, crossed the wide marble altar at St. Aloysius Church here on Christmas morning, challenging a standing-room-only audience to do what the Lord did and serve others.
"The challenge of Christmas is to take all that we believe and live it 365 days a year ... do it for the poor and the sick and the lonely and the unemployed. Do it for those who feel life isn't worth living anymore," Caggiano said during a crisp, quick, engaging homily punctuated by humor and his clear Brooklyn accent.
One of 82 parishes that span across the diocese with an estimated 430,000 Catholics -- encompassing all of Fairfield County -- St. Aloysius was welcoming Caggiano for the first time since the bishop was installed in September, and the new bishop was clearly impressed with the reception.
He called the choir "head and shoulders" above any he has heard and said he looked forward to praying with the large, active congregation for years to come.
An estimated 1,200 faithful attended the mid-morning Mass in a sanctuary flush with white and red poinsettias. At least a dozen evergreen trees adorned with white lights glistened against stained-glass windows on the altar.
Outside, a bitter cold protected a dusting of snow from the sun through three morning Masses, including the one over which Caggiano presided.
Earlier, at midnight, Caggiano celebrated a Christmas Eve Mass at St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport, and from New Canaan he would travel to Brooklyn, to spend time with his family.
Monsignor William Scheyd, spiritual leader at St. Aloysius, called it a blessing to have the new bishop there, and parishioners agreed.
"I feel good vibes from him," said Jacquelin Harmody, of New Canaan. "He was excellent, inspiring and engaging."
Patrick O'Connor, formerly of New Canaan and now of Brooklyn, called Caggiano genuine and humble.
"It is such a gift he gave us," O'Connor said. "He's going to bring people back to the church."
His mother, Barbara O'Connor, called Caggiano a breath of fresh air, not unlike Pope Francis, who in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on Christmas was delivering his first Christmas Mass as pope.
The unconventional pope, in a recent CNN survey, had the support of 88 percent of Americans, for a style that includes hugging the sick, cracking jokes and keeping his message simple.
Caggiano, in his 10-minute sermon, proved he could keep it simple, too, and made mention of the new pope in his message. Read Full Article
"As Pope Francis has made it so clear, there are so many in our mist who live in the shadows of life," Caggiano said, hammering home the need for everyone to reach out to those in need.
The bishop also showed his humor, saying that while Christmas is a time when many receive presents as signs of how much we love one another, he had yet to get around to opening his.
"I will let you know," he said, to laughter.
Caggiano opened his homily by talking about first falling in love with the mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories in 1994.
"There is nothing better than a mystery," he said. "It's like a puzzle that has many pieces, and trying to figure out how all the pieces come together."
Some mysteries, he said, are easier to figure out than others. Some, he added, can only be figured out with the heart.
"The mystery of Christmas is that God emptied himself of glory so you and I may one day be like God," Caggiano said. "It is a mystery beyond all telling."
That, he said, is what brought people to church on Christmas.
"To celebrate an awesome mystery ... a mystery you and I hold dear," he said. "We have come to celebrate the festival of the wild, reckless, generous love of God. His love to the world was made concrete ... by entering into world as fragile, innocent baby."
Annmarie Galgano, a St. Aloysius choir member from South Salem, N.Y., said it was very exciting to hear the new bishop on one of the holiest days of the year.
"There is a different air. It's nice," she said.
Caggiano is the first of two new Roman Catholic leaders in the region. The Hartford diocese, which encompasses every part of the state except Fairfield County, recently welcomed The Rev. Leonard Blair, formerly the bishop of Toledo, Ohio, as its new archbishop.