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More than 1,200 welcome new bishop

Updated 12:24 am, Friday, September 20, 2013

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  • Bishop Frank Caggiano is installed as the new bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. in a Mass Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 at St. Theresa in Trumbull, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post

    Bishop Frank Caggiano is installed as the new bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. in a Mass Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 at St. Theresa in Trumbull, Conn.

    Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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TRUMBULL -- Some of his flock came from hundreds of miles away for the homily. Some came for spiritual reasons. Some came to show solidarity with their faith.

At the center of it all was the Very Rev. Frank J. Caggiano, the Diocese of Bridgeport's humble and charismatic new leader.

Caggiano, 54, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., became the diocese's fifth bishop Thursday during a Mass of Installation, filling the void created when then-Bishop William E. Lori left to become Baltimore's archbishop.

"I always felt he had a calling," said Antonia Caggiano, his older sister. "Even as a kid, he was a very spiritual person. He's very calm, very humble and compassionate."

Caggiano's sister and about a dozen relatives -- who all live within a two-block radius of one another in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where Caggiano grew up --claimed the first pew moments before the processional began.

One snapped pictures. Two others marveled at the open, airy design of St. Theresa Church in Trumbull. Others finished each other's sentences, praising Caggiano.

Then there was his cousin by marriage, Jerry Bonanno, a professional photographer with a digital camera with a zoom lens, the designated family picture taker.

"Don't forget, you're witnessing history. This is a future pope," an enthusiastic Bonanno said to the delight of his family. "Just watch."

The flock had waited 16 months for Caggiano's arrival. Inside St. Theresa Church, the faithful greeted him with fanfare, reverence and an outpouring of emotion.

The attendees included hundreds of clergy, in a long processional that started filing in more than half an hour before the Mass, in which Archbishop Henry Mansell of the Diocese of Hartford performed the Rite of Installation, and the Most Rev. Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican ambassador to the United States, read Pope Francis' letter appointing Caggiano bishop.

Most of them wore white robes with gold collars. There were also sisters in periwinkle blue habits and a contingent of bishops with miters. And leading the group, serving as honor guards, were members of the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of Malta.

More then 1,200 well-wishers arrived, some by the bus load, while others traveled hundreds of miles to attend.

They were inspired by Caggiano's homily and his offer to build bridges as part of his mission as the diocese's spiritual leader.

From the moment he uttered the first words from the pulpit, Caggiano had his audience's attention. There wasn't a sound other than his voice.

He spoke about bridges, the kind that are made of steel, that take hundreds of construction workers to build, sometimes claiming lives in the process.

First, Caggiano talked about how the Brooklyn Bridge, the largest steel suspension bridge in the world when it was completed in 1883, has the distinction of being the most bought-and-sold bridge ever, drawing good-natured laughter from the audience.

"It's hard to describe the effect the bridge had on the lives in New York City. Now, people who had been separated by a river could meet," Caggiano said. "Bridges unite and open opportunities."

Then he asked his audience to reflect on the "transformative power of spiritual bridges," saying, "our mission has much to do with building (them). God has reached out to us to build a spiritual bridge uniting us to him, uniting us each day to grow deeper into his heart and be transformed."

Then Caggiano told a story of how Bridgeport and Brooklyn are linked.

"Six days after the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, a vicious rumor emerged. Can you imagine? The rumor was that the bridge was about to collapse. The rumor caused a panic and some on the bridge were trampled to death," Caggiano said.

"That was the day one of Bridgeport's most prominent sons -- P.T. Barnum, of all people -- had the courage to take his circus elephants one by one over the Brooklyn Bridge to show the bridge would not fall."

That was the second time that Caggiano delighted his audience and proved, "I did my homework."

Up in the choir loft, which was standing-room only, a teenager nodded his head and smiled. He elbowed a girl next to him, and said, "This guy is good. Very good."

aamato@ctpost.com; 203-330-6496; twitter.com/annemamato; mgbrown@ctpost.com; 203-330-6288; twitter.com/MariAnGailBrown