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Vincentian charism ‘burning’ in the heart of Bishop-designate Bellisario

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Bishop-designate Andrew E. Bellisario had plenty of thank-yous to offer as he was introduced as the sixth bishop of Juneau, Alaska.

From his Depression-era parents who taught him the Catholic faith and nurtured his priestly vocation while growing up in southern California to Pope Francis, who appointed him to Juneau, Bishop-designate Bellisario focused much of his introductory comments July 11 thanking the numerous people in his life who formed his love of God and the church.

He especially thanked God for the many blessings throughout his life and ministry as a Vincentian priest.

“That’s a lot of thank-yous,” he told diocesan staff and media at St. Ann’s Hall at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary. “I hope it demonstrates that we all need love and support from so many people in our life’s journey.”

Bishop-designate Bellisario, 60, was ordained in 1984. He has spent a life in missionary service, following in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians.

His most recent ministry found him working as superior of the International Mission of the Vincentians in Alaska, based in Anchorage. Since his arrival in Alaska in 2015, he also has served Hispanic Catholics in the Anchorage Archdiocese. He is a former provincial of his the Vincentians’ Western U.S. province.

He said he had much to learn about the Diocese of Juneau and asked the faithful “to help me become the best possible bishop I can be.”

The bishop-to-be cited the words of the St. Vincent de Paul, saint who founded the congregation to evangelize poor country dwellers in France in the 17th century and taught his followers to “read the signs of the times so they can always make adjustments in how they fulfill his charism.”

He recalled seeing that charism being live out by his parents, who came to the United States from Italy and grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. He said they suffered greatly and experienced discrimination because they were from an immigrant family.

“They always taught my sister and I to care for those less fortunate than ourselves,” he recalled. “My dad always told me, ‘You have to look out for the little guy. There is no one to care for the little guy.’ I always suspected the reason he always said that was because he himself was a little guy.”

Bishop-designate Bellisario said he it has been a joy to live the charism that is “burning in my heart.”

“The call to serve the poor, vulnerable, refugees, seniors, prisoners, the sick, the addicted, the lonely, the depressed, the homeless and the forgotten is the call of the church,” he explained. “It is what we do and it is what we do together. It is that which unites us in Jesus Christ.”

In response to a question about homelessness in Juneau, which has the highest rate of unhoused people in the state, Bishop-designate Bellisario said he would do all that he could to make sure services were maintained even in the face of limited resources.

“Homelessness and the poor are something we have to have that soft spot in our heart if we are to live the mission of the church,” he said. “Exactly how we’re going to do that, we’ll discover more over time.”

He said in response to another question that he would look at ways to help people feel connected with the Catholic Church so they are not leaving for other faith communities or no religious experience at all. Evangelization requires welcoming people to the church, sins and all, he said.

“We certainly need to let people know the love of God is there for them. No one is perfect, even the church, and we will do absolutely the best.”

The bishop-designate’s episcopal ordination is set for Oct. 10.

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