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Roxane B. Salonen, Published June 21 2013

Living Faith: Bird’s-eye view heightens welcome of new bishop

My first glimpse of the Fargo Diocese’s new bishop didn’t come at the moment or in the way I’d expected.

Sitting in the choir loft of Sts. Anne & Joachim church at Tuesday night’s solemn vespers service, my eyes were fixed on the far-off altar, my ears, tuned into the rich harmonies of choral prelude music.

In my auditory trance, I missed his approach. Suddenly there he was, just feet away and adorned in simple black. He smiled humbly, easily, while offering words of gratitude to choir members for their melodic contributions.

As I watched his gracious gestures, I felt certain that by his appointment – the first among those named by Pope Francis – we’ve been blessed.

And by “we” I mean not just Catholics but everyone in this prairie land, for though Bishop Folda has come to shepherd Christians, in a sense, he’s here for all.

Last year, another rare chance brought me to Denver to the installation Mass of our former bishop, Samuel Aquila, as archbishop there.

One of my favorite moments then was witnessing representatives of the wider community – colorfully-dressed members of Spanish-speaking sectors and other civil, cultural and religious leaders in suits and robes – meeting the new archbishop on the altar, welcoming him to his new home.

Similarly, at the vespers event Tuesday night, local leaders of civil, cultural and religious groups stepped up to meet our new shepherd; among them was a city commissioner, Jewish rabbi, several Protestant pastors, and leaders of two American Indian tribes – one of which offered him an honorary star quilt stitched in blue.

My bird’s-eye perch seemed particularly fitting for one who loves music. It offered a truly rich sensory bath and chance to observe things otherwise missed, like the baby toddling in the side aisle, a hand on his mother’s knee to balance, hers draped with Rosary beads.

I was also able to observe the precision of the musicians who waited, breath on pause, for the cues of cantors and choral leaders.

Just below the loft, television cameras swooned, capturing clips for the world to see. And to my right, inches away, photographers scuttled in cramped quarters, searching for lenses and angles, trying to avoid brushing brass.

From that high place, too, came a stunning show of streaming light bouncing off colorful stained glass in glorious fashion.

The event produced an impressive visual feast as robed clergy in black, white and magenta, and religious sisters in gray, blue and black habits – along with the rest of the multi-colored assembly – processed and prayed.

And I’m almost certain that as the incense rose, its aroma intensified while winding upward, like the prayers it signifies as it reaches for heaven.

I’ve heard it argued that simple is better and pomp can keep us from seeing God. While it’s true God will take us just as we are, what I brought from these events was not a lack of the divine, but a wondrous reminder of the harmonic and holy for which we all hunger.

And lest anyone lose sight of what’s most important, Bishop Folda redirected, saying we must bring it all back to Christ.

In his closing comments, he called upon his motto, “Verbum Caro Factum Est,” challenging everyone to reflect on the message “both ancient and new as it’s ever been,” that “the word was made flesh and dwells among us.”

“As your bishop I look forward to joining everyone here in walking with Christ, building with Christ and proclaiming Christ to all,” he said.

“I cannot think of a more wonderful privilege or a more joyful adventure,” he added. “May the Lord be always with us, may he dwell among us, and may he bless us with his grace and his peace, Amen.”

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com