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Utahns bid Bishop Niederauer farewell

Over 1,000 Catholics attend final S.L. Mass

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More than 1,000 Utah Catholics said goodbye to Bishop George H. Niederauer on Sunday, as he celebrated a farewell Mass in the Cathedral of the Madeleine before taking his new position as archbishop of San Francisco.

Just over 11 years ago, in January 1995, he became the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, during a joyous two days of investiture services. When he began his ministry in Utah, the state's Catholics numbered around 80,000, and today they are about 120,000.

On Sunday, Bishop Niederauer presided over a Mass that was a showpiece of reverent drama. As bishop, priests, deacons and other clergy walked up the cathedral's long aisle, they were flanked by members of the service organization, the Knights of Columbus. The knights stood with drawn swords upraised and wore colorful capes and plumed headgear. At different parts of the service, the choir sang in Latin and English.

"It has been my great joy to serve the Lord these past 11 years," Bishop Niederauer said. He added he would always be grateful for the congregation and their support.

The bishop was dressed in a glossy golden cloak, an emerald-colored cross on a silver chain around his neck. At times he wore his golden bishop's miter and at others, a scarlet skullcap. At different points, he carried a crosier, the shepherd's staff, and swung an incense-smoking censer.

The first reading from the Gospel was a section of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, in which he talked about becoming all things to all men in order to save some.

The second reading continued the idea of service, with a selection from Mark about Jesus visiting the home of the brothers Simon and Andrew. He cured many, and people were searching for him. Jesus told Simon they should go to nearby villages where Jesus could preach, as that was why he had come.

Speaking of modern suffering, Bishop Niederauer said, "What is God's answer to all that suffering? . . . God's answer is so personal it is a person — Jesus, his His son."

Suffering cannot sum up a life any more than pleasure can, the bishop added.

Speaking of his own feelings, Bishop Niederauer said it has been his privilege and joy to serve in Utah. He thanked his friends in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who "welcomed me and encouraged me."

Addressing the hundreds in the cathedral, 331 E. South Temple, he added, "Like Paul, you and I are called to be all things to all people." Giving of oneself is all that matters, he said, and that can happen in Salt Lake City or San Francisco.

Following Mass, a reception honored Bishop Niederauer at the Grand America Hotel, 555 S. Main. He sat on a stool in the Imperial Ballroom, shaking hands and chatting with well-wishers.

While scores of people waited in line to say goodbye, others, who had already greeted him, milled about eating treats. Asked how many people were expected, an assistant to the bishop said, "Well, I think they planned on about 1,400."

One woman standing in line, who did not wish to be identified by name, said she wanted to wish Bishop Niederauer good luck. She wanted to tell him that he should have the "best graces," she said.

"He has been a really enjoyable human being and bishop," she added.

Carmelo and Cely Punzalan, originally from the Philippines and now residents of Taylorsville, stood nearby, waiting their turn.

"We owe to Bishop George the flowering and blossoming of the first Filipino Catholic Mass in Utah," Punzalan said. The Mass starts at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 670 S. 1100 East.

"We will never forget him," he added. He said he hopes Bishop Niederauer will someday become a cardinal. "We will be praying for him all the time," Punzalan added.

Also in line was Burt Stringfellow, carrying a plaque he intended to present to Bishop Niederauer. It thanked him for his "loyal support of Families Against Mandatory Minimums and justice for all humanity."

E-mail: bau@desnews.com