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Bishop Nelson J. Perez Presents at The First Friday Club


On Thursday, November 30th, we went to the First Friday Club of Cleveland, conducted at the City Club, to be addressed by Bishop Nelson J. Perez, the new (as of Sept. 5th) Bishop of Cleveland.

The City Club was quite packed and we shared a table with Ms. Carol Kovach, Editor of the "Northeast Ohio Catholic Magazine" as well as Ms. Anita Simko and Mr. Bob Tayek who would be holding the microphones during the Q and A. We thought about a question that we could ask Bishop Perez and with Mr. Tayek's help, we crafted one about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops electing Bishop Perez to be the chairperson of its Committee on Cultural Diversity.

Prior to his introduction, we were pleased that outgoing First Friday Club secretary Ms. Cheryl Zelenka (who we make our reservations with) was warmly acknowledged for her three years of service.

Bishop Perez was introduced by our dear friend Sister Rita Mary Harwood, Director of the Parishlife Ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, who said that it was both easy and challenging to talk about Bishop Perez. It was certainly easy because he is a pastor who wants to work with people and was "not stuffy" but it was challenging because within the short time of 12 weeks he has been all over the Diocese and it seems like everyone has gotten to know him and really loves him and he loves them too.  

Sister Rita thus came to the conclusion that not only do we have a "smiling Pope" but we have a "smiling Bishop" too. She recalled a couple of special moments like Bishop Perez enjoying pizza with a student at a local high school and him offering comfort to an undocumented person facing deportation. She put special emphasis on his visit to the correctional institute at Grafton which was highly appreciated by the inmates who dubbed him the "Bishop of the Streets of Cleveland.

She concluded her introduction by recalling that before the appointment of Bishop Perez, she and other prayed that their Bishop be a "shepherd Bishop" and that Bishop Perez was indeed a wonderful answer to their prayers.

We, ourselves, had met the Bishop once before at a gathering at Cleveland City Hall and certainly agree with Sister Rita that he was "not stuffy" but, in fact, very warm and obviously very humane. On this day, we were fortunate enough to be able to shake hands with him and he recalled meeting us earlier. Bishop Perez took a moment to introduce us to his administrative assistant, Ms. Lisa Leonarides who delights in working with him. him.

In his address on this day, Bishop Perez thanked those connected with the Church as well as those not so directly connected who have welcomed him so warmly. He reminded us that the "Feast of St. Andrew" was taking place on this day and how inspired he was by the courageous acts of the apostles because without them "we wouldn't be here."  Likewise he praised Pope Francis and the two Popes who preceded him for being so committed to spreading the Catholic faith.

He urged the audience to not be afraid to wisely share with others the beautiful teachings of the Catholic Church. In a humorous parable (he often interjected humor into his speech), he said to do otherwise would be like creating a beautiful banner upholding one's faith and then only displaying it in the school gym where it would only be seen by already committed followers; instead why not hang it on a billboard where all would have the opportunity to view it?

To be sure, as we earlier inferred, the Bishop acknowledged that wisdom must be shown in the course of giving testimony and it was very important that a Christian meet others where they are at (as he did at the correctional institute in Grafton) and speak with compassion instead of stridency.

When it was time for us to ask our question about Bishop Perez' service on the Cultural Diversity Committee, he said that it was very important that the Church be all-inclusive and that all groups be recognized. Sure, diversity can create tension on occasion as well as joy but that's been the case throughout history and we've managed so far.

Bishop Perez' eyes twinkled as he said that after 2,000 years, "we're still a work in progress" and the audience (including ourselves) laughed and applauded in agreement.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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