By Catholic News Service
Pope Francis has named Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama to head the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.
He succeeds Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, who last October was named to head the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, where he was installed Dec. 6.
Bishop Zarama, 58, has been an Atlanta auxiliary bishop since 2009. A native of Colombia, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1993.
The appointment was announced in Washington July 5 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Bishop Zarama will be installed as Raleigh’s sixth bishop Aug. 29 at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral.
“I am here to serve and love everybody and to help them understand we are a family,” the bishop said at a July 5 news conference at Raleigh diocesan headquarters. He admitted to being “very nervous” about his new job, adding that how Pope Francis chose him for the post, “I have no idea.”
He said he is asked often how many languages he speaks and he joked that he speaks “one and a half — Spanish and half English.”
His only “agenda right now,” he told reporters, is “to know the diocese, to know the priests, to know the people and the challenges. How will we serve them?”
“The South is a beautiful place to be and the most beautiful thing to see is how the people are hungry for the truth and that is the mission we have in front of us,” Bishop Zarama said. “How we can respond and help them to know Jesus and know how much Jesus loves them.”
Asked about the immigration issue, the bishop urged everyone “to remember the story of the history of this country, how this country was formed. Sometimes we forget that we are coming from families who came from Ireland, from Africa, from Italy, from Germany.”
Immigrants came to this country because “they wanted it and needed it,” he said, and the United States “opened for them an opportunity.” Today’s immigrants face those same struggles and they need the same opportunities previous generations of immigrants found, he continued, and yet new immigrants “feel that they are not welcome.”
If “we don’t remember our past, it is hard to understand what it is going on with people from different countries” wanting that opportunity, Bishop Zarama said, so the question is “how we can approach them and serve them and help them to find that at least in the church they have a place where they can be and feel at home.”
Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said in a statement that Pope Francis “has honored the Archdiocese of Atlanta with the gift of Bishop Luis R. Zarama to become the new bishop of Raleigh,” “How fortunate that the local church is to receive such a devoted and generous servant minister.”
“The Holy Father has chosen well even though his decision takes a deeply beloved brother and friend from our midst,” he added.
Archbishop Gregory said he joined with Bishop-designate Bernard E. Shlesinger, named an auxiliary bishop for Atlanta in May, and all the clergy, religious and laypeople of the archdiocese “in assuring Bishop Zarama of our prayers and warmest best wishes.” Bishop-designate Shlesinger, of Alexandria, Va., is a Raleigh diocesan priest.
“I am proud to call him a brother bishop and good friend,” Bishop Burbidge said of Bishop Zarama, whom he described as “a holy, faithful and joyful bishop.”
Bishop Zarama is “known and respected for his pastoral skills, administrative abilities, zeal and kindness,” Bishop Burbidge said. “I have assured Bishop Zarama that he will be truly blessed with the support of such good priests, consecrated religious, deacons, seminarians, colleagues and lay faithful in the Diocese of Raleigh.”
Luis Rafael Zarama was born in Pasto, Colombia, Nov. 28, 1958. He attended the Conciliar Seminary in Pasto, where he graduated from high school. He attended Marian University, also in Pasto, earning a degree in philosophy and theology. He studied at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogota, Colombia, where he earned a degree in canon law. He was a philosophy and theology professor at the Carmelites School, the Learning School and the Colombia Military School for 11 years.
He was a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta Nov. 27, 1993. Then-Father Zarama’s first assignment was as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Atlanta. He also was a member of the Vocations Committee.
He was the first Hispanic priest in the archdiocese to be named pastor of St. Mark Catholic Church in Clarksville, Georgia, and St. Helena Mission in Clayton, Georgia.
He became an American citizen July 4, 2000. He was named vicar general of the archdiocese in April 2006. A year later Pope Benedict XVI named him a monsignor.
In 2008 he was appointed to serve as the judicial vicar for the Atlanta Archdiocese’s Metropolitan Tribunal. In July 2009, Pope Benedict named him an auxiliary bishop of Atlanta. His episcopal ordination was Sept. 29, 2009.
The Diocese of Raleigh covers 32,000 square miles. Out of a total population of over 4.8 million, there are just over 231,000 Catholics.