Indians have this “characteristic smile” says newly ordained Bishop of Columbus,Ohio

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Pastor Earl K. Fernandes being ordained and installed May 31, 2022, as first Indian-American Bishop in U.S. at Columbus, Ohio. Photo: videograb YouTube

In a June 29, 2022 interview with the National Catholic Register, the newly ordained Bishop, Father Earl K. Fernandes, an Indian-American, said “You have to be creative to be holy today.”

He became the first Indian-American to head an American Roman Catholic Diocese May 31, 2022, when he was officially ordained and installed in a mass. The Vatican had announced that Pope Francis had chosen him to be the next Bishop of of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio.

When Archbishop Christophe Pierre called him as early as March 2, Fernandes recalls, “ I got this burning sensation in my stomach,” even before he heard that the Pope had chosen him for the position. “I swiveled in my chair, and I looked up at the picture of my parents with me after my first Mass, and then I swiveled again and I looked at my crucifix. I said, “Okay, I accept,” he told the Register. He could not tell anyone until the formal announcement from the Vatican a month later.

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The Columbus Diocese oversees a population of more than 270,000, significantly larger than his previous assignment.

The 49 year-old pastor from Cincinnati, who was born and  brought up in Toledo, Ohio, spoke after the Vatican’s public announcement a month later, about  his experiences of racial discrimination, and expanded on his ‘synodal’ approach in his new role, the Catholic News Agency reported April 2.

“The pope wants a synodal Church, a Church that walks together. I look forward to walking together with the people, the priests, the deacons, and religious — actually, the whole people of God — in the Diocese of Columbus,” CAN quoted Fernandes saying.

Bishop Earl K. Fernandes after his ordination and installation wearing the head dress appropriate for his new position as 13th Bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Columbus, Ohio. Photo: videograb from Youtube

When the National Catholic Register asked him about his smile and whether he had this joy for his whole life, Bishop Fernandes responded, “I would say so. If you meet Indian people, we have this characteristic smile. But there’s also a joy in knowing that I’m being loved by God. I grew up in a wonderful family. There’s the joy of being called to the priesthood, the joy of consecrating the Blessed Sacrament, and then seeing the Lord upon the altar and him gazing upon me and being able to gaze upon him, and the joy of receiving him into my soul.”

During his ordination on May 31, a ceremony that lasted more than 3 hours going by the YouTube video posted on the Web, the church pews were filled to capacity, and all the clergy was in attendance.

Several of the front pews were occupied by attendees of Indian origin at what was a historic occasion for them. Following speeches by many church officials, Fernandes was sworn in as the 13th Bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Columbus, Ohio, dressed in his gold robe embellished with red brocade stripes. He knelt to receive the blessings of the senior church officials.

He also performed several rituals during the solemn ceremony.

ishop Earl K. Fernandes conducting rituals during his ordination and installation May 31, 2022, as the 13th Bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Columbus. Photo: videograb YouTube

Bishop Earl Kenneth Fernandes was born in Toledo to Sydney Oswald and Thelma Fernandes, immigrants from Goa and Mangalore respectively, who came to the U.S. from Mumbai, then Bombay, in 1971. He is the fourth of five sons of the couple. One of his siblings is a deacon at St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Ukrainian Church in Rossford, Ohio, according to Wikipedia. His father was a doctor who often offered free medical care to patients, and prayed often during his spare time. His mother is a devout Catholic.

Bishop Fernandes has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Toledo, and also studied physiology at the University of Salford, U.K. He felt the calling of the church during a visit to Rome. After two years studying medicine, he left to follow that calling. He was ordained as a deacon on Sept. 29, 2001. He has a master’s degree in theology and divinity.

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