LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Nearly 3,000 people of the Archdiocese of Louisville, including hundreds of clergy and religious, welcomed their new shepherd, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, as he became the 10th bishop and fifth archbishop to lead the historic region of central Kentucky March 30.

Fabre, the first Black prelate to head the archdiocese, succeeds now-retired Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, 75, who served as archbishop of Louisville from 2007 until February, when Pope Francis accepted his resignation and named Fabre his successor.

The Mass of installation, celebrated at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville, began with a reading of the apostolic mandate by the papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

The nuncio, akin to an ambassador, brought laughter to the ceremony by noting the difficulty of pronouncing “Louisville” correctly, along with other areas where Fabre has served — New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, all of which are in Louisiana.

More seriously, he told the congregation and those watching the livestream, “A new era begins.”

He offered gratitude for the service of Kurtz, for his time as bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee, his service in the Archdiocese of Louisville and as a national leader in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including as conference president 2013–2016.

“Thank you for decades of dedicated service,” Pierre told him.

To Fabre, he said, “You have big shoes to fill.”

He encouraged the new archbishop to be close to the people of God and went on to quote part of Pope Francis’ opening speech from the International Conference on the Priesthood Feb. 17.

“Closeness to the people of God, a closeness that, enriched by those other forms of closeness, invites and indeed demands that we imitate the Lord’s own ‘style,'” the nuncio quoted.

“That style is one of closeness, compassion and tenderness, in which we act not as judges, but as good Samaritans who acknowledge the wounds of our people, their silent sufferings, the self-denial and sacrifices made by so many fathers and mothers to support their families, who acknowledge, too, the effects of violence, corruption and indifference that, in their wake, seek to stifle all hope,” Pierre continued, still quoting the pope.

“A style of closeness that allows us to pour balm upon wounds and to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord. It is imperative to remember that the people of God are hoping to find shepherds in the style of Jesus.”

Pierre concluded by invoking the intercession of St. Joseph and Mary.

Following his speech, the nuncio presented the mandate to Fabre, who showed it to the priests, bishops and cardinals on the platform that served as the sanctuary and then stepped down into the congregation to share it with the assembly.

His formal installation concluded as Kurtz and the nuncio guided him to the bishop’s chair — the cathedra — where he received his crosier, a staff of polished wood.

During his homily, Fabre picked up the nuncio’s joke and pronounced Louisville as “Lou-ah-vul” with a laugh, saying, “I practiced and I got it! … May all problems be so easily solved.”

He went on to highlight a theme he also underscored the night before at vespers: Unity in Jesus Christ.

He asked the congregation to keep “our eyes focused on him; focused on the things that unite us instead of the things that divide us.”

He was answered with applause.

He added that the Archdiocese of Louisville is “rich in cultural diversity” and asked that people stand together “because we are in this together.”

His message was reflected in the day’s prayer and music, which spanned cultures, languages and time periods. Languages included were Vietnamese, French Creole, Tagalog, Korean, German, Malayalam (a language spoken in southwestern India), Swahili and Spanish.

Following Mass, hundreds of people lined up to welcome the new archbishop. He received well-wishers for about two hours in the lobby of the convention center.

McAllister is editor of The Record, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville.