Ponce, Puerto Rico — During a five-hour celebration that was mix of solemnity and festivity, Bishop Ruben Antonio Gonzalez Medina was installed Jan. 31 as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Ponce.
He was installed in a ceremony at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral; a Communion service was celebrated at the city's Pachin Vicens Coliseum.
Before starting the entrance procession at the cathedral with Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, "Father Bishop Ruben," as he prefers to be called, joyfully sang with young musicians from the local Neocatechumenal Way Catholic community. Inside, he was greeted by his five fellow Puerto Rican bishops, more than 200 fellow priests from throughout the island, visiting priests from the Dominican Republic, government dignitaries, and an overflow crowd of the faithful.
"We are grateful to the Holy Father for this democratic gesture of the apostles' successor toward the Ponce Diocese in the person of Bishop Ruben," said Gonzalez in opening the ceremony. He also thanked and commended now-retired Bishop Felix Lazaro Martinez for his 12-year tenure as bishop of Ponce.
Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, formally installed Gonzalez.
"Having listened to the opinion of the Congregation for Bishops, venerable brother gifted with proven merit and qualities of the heart, and experienced in pastoral tasks, especially with young people, we consider you the ideal person for such service," he read from Pope Francis' apostolic letter of appointment. "Therefore, at the service of St. Peter's chair and equally diligent for the well-being of the Lord's flock, with our full apostolic authority, once separated from the previous Caguas Diocese, we appoint you bishop [of Ponce], with all rights and duties."
The installation ceremony closed with Gonzalez presenting a flower bouquet at the cathedral's main statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and individually greeting representatives from different parts of the diocese.
At the coliseum, another full-house crowd enjoyed a lively musical show while waiting for the entourage coming from the cathedral. At the request of Gonzalez, the service was to be a cultural event, as well as a religious one.
Once again, Gonzalez delivered the opening remarks, this time more relaxed and upbeat.
"Ponce has a bishop!" he exclaimed drawing loud cheers from the crowd. "He is a happy bishop, spontaneous, charitable, prudence and wise, and knows how make -- as the pope says -- trouble," he quipped smiling to a clapping crowd that understood the innuendo about himself. In July in a commentary in a national magazine the archbishop expressed a strong opinion about Puerto Rico's sovereignty that created a stir.
While speaking about the new Ponce bishop, the archbishop, once again, was not shy about his patriotic passion for his roots: "He is a bishop with great love in Christ. … He loves Puerto Rico, our motherland and, I repeat, our beloved Puerto Rican nation."
Gonzalez was the last speaker before the Communion service.
"To all the faithful of this, my new family from the Ponce Diocese, I join you as a pilgrim," he said, "who together with you wants to walk the way of the faith, living the hope of the kingdom, and to serve you with sincere love."
Gonzalez was installed nine days shy of his 67th birthday and of his 26th priestly anniversary with the Claretian order. A native Puerto Rican, he studied in Spain and Costa Rica and served as superior of the Claretian Missionaries of the Antilles and president of the Puerto Rico bishops' conference. He was named bishop of Ponce Dec. 22. At the time of his appointment he had been the bishop of Caguas for 15 years.
"I cannot deny that I am still, as most of you are, struck and astonished by this designation," he told El Visitante, newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Juan, upon being notified his appointment. "Honestly, I did not expect this new mission."
At his installation, however, he said he was ready for the challenge. Although the dioceses of Caguas and Ponce have about the same number of Catholics -- about half a million -- Ponce's geographical area is 62 percent larger, covering 789 square miles.
"Thank you to all teams who were running around these past days," said the bishop. "Tonight you will be able to rest a bit, but early tomorrow morning we restart."