By Raymond Syms, Editor
Bishop Robert Llanos celebrated his 61st birthday last Sunday and finally ‘tied the knot’ after a two-year ‘engagement’ as Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu likened the rite of installation of Bishop Llanos to the Diocese of St John’s-Basseterre to a wedding ceremony.
Preaching the homily, the Nuncio told a filled Holy Family Cathedral at Michael’s Mount, St John’s, that the installation was like the start of “a spiritual marriage” between the bishop and the faithful of the diocese which comprises Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis, Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands.
“Your Excellency, your engagement is over (laughter from the congregation) as apostolic administrator, and you were faithful.”
The Nuncio said that usually at a wedding the families speak and invited a member of the bishop’s biological family to speak.
Bishop Llanos’ sister, Ann-Marie Delzin approached the sanctuary tentatively and was asked by the Nuncio what significant memory she has of the bishop.
She told the story of the family visiting Mayaro and a then 12-year-old Robert returning with and wanting his father to help him plant a coconut tree in their Woodbrook yard. Although hesitant at first, he finally relented and planted the tree.
Seven or eight years later there was a major fire nearby. The tree was completely burnt, but it prevented the flames from reaching the family’s wooden home.
The Nuncio preached that the incident showed “That you (Bishop Llanos) love to plant, that you love to care for what you’ve planted, and that what you’ve planted protects the house. So we expect you to plant the faith, to plant unity, to plant progress in this diocese.”
The Nuncio said that as bishop he is now the “father and spouse” who will “lead the family”, noting that growing up, Bishop Llanos’ family had a small altar in every room and that he grew up with the image of the Holy Family. “Now you have an opportunity to build a family in this diocese.”
He said the bishop had first collaborated as auxiliary bishop under Archbishop Joseph Harris and then with Archbishop Jason Gordon. The Nuncio then invited Archbishop Gordon to say a few words.
Archbishop Gordon said he knew Bishop Llanos from school days to the seminary, as a priest and now as a bishop. He said as a bishop, he was given gifts. One was a mitre to “have the mind of Christ”; the crozier, to lead with Christ as a shepherd; and a ring symbolically wedding him to the Church.
Finally, the pectoral cross to remind that “your commitment as a bishop is to endure the suffering that will come your way. Each time it comes it is Christ who is carving you, shaping you, that you may be transformed into Christ’s image. Do not be afraid of the suffering that will come as you live your life as a bishop leading this diocese.”
The Nuncio ended reflecting on each of the Sunday readings and suggested to the congregation to personalise love, using 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, replacing the word ‘love’ with ‘I’. He ended “let us embrace this vocation to love” so this diocese can be an exemplary diocese.
Children danced their way to the sanctuary to the sound of the celebratory hymn ‘Nita Mwinmbiya Bwana’ (‘Sing now to God Our Saviour’) as the Mass of Installation began. Before the liturgy, Cathedral Administrator Fr George Williams escorted the Bishop-elect to the chapel where he knelt in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
Principal concelebrants were Archbishop Nwachukwu and Metropolitan Archbishop Robert Rivas of Castries, St Lucia. Other bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) were present. Vicar General Fr Pierre Tevi-Benissan read the papal declaration appointing Bishop Llanos to the diocese, who then read his oath of fidelity.
After the signing of the documents, Archbishop Rivas presented the crozier to Bishop Llanos and vacated the cathedra (bishop’s seat), symbolically allowing Bishop Llanos to take full responsibility of the diocese.
Greetings from Governor General, AEC President
He was greeted with applause from the congregation, which included Governor General Sir Rodney Williams and Lady Williams, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, government officials, members of the diplomat corps, family and friends, and faithful from parishes across the diocese. The congregation laughed as he joked, “Now it’s too late; all of you all in trouble.”
The Mass continued with the First Reading done by Delzin and the Second Reading in Spanish by Joender Lopez of the Hispanic community. Mounted television screens offered the English translation. Deacon Robert Harvey of St Lucia proclaimed the Gospel.
Before the final blessing, Bishop Llanos thanked all who contributed to the Mass. “I look forward to working with my priests and deacons, religious and lay faithful in all these islands so that the reign of God and a civilisation of love may prevail…I pray that the Catholic Church in these islands may be a living example of fidelity to God and His Church and a light to the nations.”
Refreshments were served after the Mass, and a private function held at the Hodges Bay residence of Sir David Shoul, non-resident Ambassador to the Holy See. Governor General Williams and AEC President, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau brought greetings.
The Governor General extended congratulations and said “we pray that you will continue to serve God using the scriptures as a guide, to bring light, comfort and understanding to your flock”.
Bishop Malzaire brought greetings from an absent Cardinal Kelvin Felix of Dominica. He said though the diocese was “small in stature you are inheriting one of the most beautiful dioceses in the region” and reaping the harvest of all his predecessors.
He said that as a former Apostolic Administrator himself of the diocese “you would have discovered the beauty of the people who you will now embrace as your own flock”.
As was the case at the cathedral, the gathering sang the ‘Happy Birthday’ song as Bishop Llanos was presented with a birthday cake.