GLENDALE — Msgr. Steven Aguggia, who came to serve as pastor of St. Pancras Church in the wake of the arrest and removal of the former pastor, celebrated his first Sunday Masses at the parish on Sep. 20, telling the faithful that he was there to help the church heal and to move it into the future.
“Together, as a community, we will rebuild,” he said in his homily at the 8 a.m. Mass. “We have a new start.”
The parishioners are relieved to have him.
“I’m very excited, especially that he was named rather quickly. It gives us a fresh start. We desperately need it,” Jessica Watz told The Tablet. “I’m also excited that he has already reached out to us and told us that he’s here to help.”
Parishioners attending the 8 a.m. Mass on Sunday said they’re eager to work with their new pastor.
“Everybody loves him already,” said Francesca Ferraro, who heads the church’s Padre Pio Prayer Group.
Msgr. Aguggia, who is the chancellor of the Diocese of Brooklyn, was assigned to St. Pancras by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio on Aug. 17, less than three weeks after Father Francis Hughes, who had been the pastor for five years, was arrested by the F.B.I. on July 29 and charged with one count of receipt and distribution of child pornography.
The diocese moved swiftly to remove Father Hughes from his post as pastor of St. Pancras Church, taking action the same day he was arrested. The quick action to remove an accused priest from a parish is part of the diocese’s “no tolerance” policy on sex abuse within the church.
The diocese has several protocols and systems in place to combat sexual abuse and to protect victims.
Aware that he is coming into a parish still reeling from the news, Msgr. Aguggia sought to ease the tension by assuring the parishioners that better days are ahead.
“Let’s resolve, all of us, to be open to the presence of Jesus. Together, we will make the light of Christ shine in this community,” he said.
He felt his mission is “to help heal the community and help grow the community,” he said. “Jesus is alive in this community,” he added.
Msgr. Aguggia will continue to serve as chancellor for the diocese while also serving as pastor of St. Pancras. He celebrated all of the Masses on the weekend of Sept. 19-20, except the 9:30 a.m. Polish Mass on Sunday.
Msgr. Aguggia was named pastor in mid-August and officially assumed his post in mid-September. He wrote a letter to his parishioners that was posted on the church’s website.
“I am happy to write to you as your newly appointed pastor but, honestly, saddened too, that this pastorate begins because of such devastating events that occurred in this community. There is no way to soften the blow: what happened here is beyond reprehensible. Trust has been shattered. The face of the priesthood has been marred. The community is in pain,” he wrote.
“Trust is the basis of any relationship and trust is the first thing I hope to help rebuild. I will always be upfront and transparent with the members of this parish family. Together we will grow in trust again,” the letter read in part.
Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16, which dealt with Jesus’ parable of the landowner who paid workers who arrived at a late hour the same silver coins as he paid the workers who had toiled all day, includes the famous phrase, “So will it be: the last shall be first, the first shall be last.”
The parable has an important message today, according to Msgr. Aguggia, who said people often misunderstand its meaning by incorrectly concentrating on the unfairness of the landowner in paying workers who came late at the same rate as employees who worked all day.
“The Gospel is about the generosity of the landowner,” he said, urging the congregation to see that the way God thinks and acts is different than the way people think and act.
“We are called to at least try to think more like the way God thinks and act more like the way God acts,” Msgr. Aguggia said.
It’s important to be open to God’s will, he said, using an example from his own life as a priest.
When Bishop DiMarzio told Msgr. Aguggia he was going to St. Pancras, “I have to admit, I was a little nervous,” he said.
But he realized that it was God’s will, so he decided, “I’m going to be open to it.”