New leader of Bridgeport Diocese hopeful for church's future
Bishop Frank Caggiano, who will be installed as the new head of the Diocese of Bridgeport next month, has watched the video of his priesthood ordination ceremony just once.
Because he couldn’t see what was going on behind him — he wasn’t aware of his father crying during the ceremony until he did.
“I had never seen my father cry,” the bishop, 54, said at the diocese offices in Bridgeport.
Caggiano said it struck him because he wasn’t sure of the reason at first. The son of two Italian immigrants, the bishop’s father had come to Brooklyn without much. He had high hopes for his son’s future success. So when Caggiano told his parents he wanted to become a priest, “dad wasn’t too keen on the idea.”
But when he saw his son become a priest, the bishop’s mother told him his father cried because he was so happy his son was happy.
“Dad came around. He came to realize the hard lesson — we want the best for the people we love, but there is a giving up in that process. We must allow them to make their own decisions and tolerate a decision we may not agree with,” he said.
Caggiano also shared some of his father’s uncertainty.
Despite a life-long inner vocation, when he first graduated from the seminary, Caggiano went to the chapel and had a heart-to-heart with God.
“It was just me in the chapel, and I looked at the crucifix over the altar and I said, ‘Lord I will do anything for you. But this, I can’t do. Lord, I can’t do it,’” he said.
“God must have said to himself, ‘Let’s give him everything he thinks he needs,’” Caggiano said.
So for just over a year, he worked in a corporate job, earned a good salary, used a company car, and an expense account — and came to realize something.
“What I thought I needed, I did not need,” Caggiano said.
He went back to the seminary, and since then, “It’s just been a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
That experience included being ordained in the very chapel in which he first had doubt.
“It shows God has a sense of humor,” Caggiano said.
Caggiano is a nearly life-long resident of a tight-knit community in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Even though I didn’t have a natural brother, I had a group of friends that became brothers to me. We played stick ball and went to baseball games. Baseball is a great love of mine,” he said.
In addition to an extra set of brothers, because the community was so close, Caggiano said he had 49 additional mothers to his own keeping an eye on him regularly.
“It was very hard to escape,” he said, laughing.
Caggiano, whose parents are now both deceased, said “family was very important to us growing up.” He maintains a close relationship with his sister and his now-married niece, and Sunday family dinners and barbecues are frequent.
“We all come together and have some laughs. That kind of fabric of life gives its meaning,” he said. “Life is about our relationships. Great friends, great family, great colleagues.”
The bishop has called Brooklyn his home for most of his life, though he did spend five years living in Rome.
Ready for Connecticut
Despite that community tie, he said he had “no hesitation” upon learning of his new post as the head of the Diocese of Bridgeport. He replaces Bishop William E. Lori, who was transferred to lead Baltimore Catholics over a year ago. Caggiano said he returned to his lessons from the seminary.
“If it is God’s will, I’m doing everything God’s way. No matter what the challenges,” he said.
“I’m only beginning to learn. The grace of God is more powerful than any challenge. We will find a way. I come here with a tremendous amount of confidence,” he said.
Caggiano said he is also excited to grow and learn in an area so different from his hometown — with more open space, suburbia, even farmland.
“It will stretch me,” he said, adding the consolation is that he is still not too far away and he can easily make it back for visits to friends and family.
When asked about the previous challenges the Diocese of Bridgeport has faced, Caggiano said he was not familiar with all the details of the history, but said he would not rely on “news reports” as his source of information.
“I need to do my own research, and we will deal with what it actually is,” he said.
The Diocese of Bridgeport is one of several U.S. dioceses that has struggled with allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups within its clergy, as well as fiscal misconduct at a Darien parish.
As far as priorities for his leadership in the diocese, he said he believes the Diocese of Bridgeport faces the same challenges every diocese faces — one crucial one being evangelization.
“Telling people the good news of the gospel — there is a lot of indifference out there. People are overwhelmed, numb. People hear a lot of noise. We have to touch people’s hearts,” Caggiano said.
In particular, Caggiano said “young people are our hope. Our future.”
“They are living in a time where they are under challenge and attack from many different places. A lot of people sell them a bill of goods that leave many disappointed and wondering,” Caggiano said.
“The answer to that is the Lord and faith. The church as those answers,” he said.
Caggiano also said education is “very dear to my heart.”
“In my mind we have the best Catholic schools, and those schools are stable resources we have to start growing again,” Caggiano said. He added that he also hopes to support public school education as well in a collaborative form.
Caggiano also said he hopes to support the vocations within the church, whether it be a next generation of priests, current seminarians, or lay people to serve in leadership roles in local parishes.
The new leader of the diocese addressed the role of the church today and how it is viewed.
“The Catholic Church has gone through a period of difficulty in the last few years, but we are beginning to see a new chapter in the church,” he said.
That new chapter has a name and a face: Pope Francis.
Among the challenges facing parish priests are parishioners with broken hearts, feelings of alienation, and some who are just indifferent, he said.
“When it comes to individuals, it has to be one person at a time. If your heart has been broken, let me walk with you in your journey in faith. That is how healing occurs,” Caggiano said.
It is indifference that Pope Francis is having the most effect on, Caggiano said — to fight indifference, one must get a person to take a second look. “It is the work of grace, which Pope Francis has. It’s genuine. I saw it with my own eyes. There is no showmanship. It’s not scripted,” Caggiano said.
Caggiano recently visited Brazil with Pope Francis for World Youth Day.
Caggiano said one image “took his breath away” when traveling with the pope.
“A 12 or 13 year old boy stopped him on his motorcade, and whatever the boy said to him — the emotion on the pope’s face. It was red, with tears. That image is the catechism of what love means,” Caggiano said.
“That’s the opening, causing a second look,” he said.
“Pope Francis has the simplicity, the humility, the directness,” Caggiano said.
The pope has taken several unusual steps, including choosing the name “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi, a new choice by a pope, because the saint is a lover of the poor. He also has opted for a Vatican guesthouse rather than the papal apartments to live in a community environment.
Pope Francis caused many to take a “second look” when he offered comments about homosexual priests to news organizations. The Catholic church regards homosexual acts as sins.
Pope Francis said: “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?” he said. “They shouldn’t be marginalized. They’re our brothers.”
“Never forget the Lord will not always love your sins, but the Lord will always love you,” Caggiano said.
Caggiano, who has a Facebook group page, also plans on setting up a Twitter account to communicate with the diocese, which will become active the day of his installation as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport— Thursday, Sept. 19 — his mother’s birthday.
Caggiano said his mother was always thrilled with his priesthood and was a well-loved and familiar face in his Brooklyn diocese. In some cases, they were more excited to see her than him, Caggiano said.
His mother also taught him one more important lesson: how to cook.
What can he make?
“I make pasta! She taught me just enough. I’ll never starve,” he said, laughing.
More info: bridgeportdiocese.com