Santa Rosa Diocese's incoming bishop offered a simple message to a packed sanctuary at St. Eugene's Cathedral Sunday about his hopes and plans as he prepares to ascend to the post.
"I want us to help each other get to heaven," said Robert Vasa, 59, who has served as Bishop of Baker Diocese in eastern Oregon since 2000.
That "ultimate purpose" will guide him as he travels throughout the 165,000 person North Coast-area diocese and learns the names of the parishioners that Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly called him to serve, Vasa said.
"Nothing else really matters," he said.
The message from the Nebraska-born bishop resonated with many of the Catholics who flocked to the Montgomery Drive cathedral to meet him.
Vasa's homily was general in nature as Vasa told the congregation he was committed to doing God's will. It was "down-to-earth" and left many hopeful about what he will do for the diocese, said Mary Ponseti of Santa Rosa, who echoed many people's thoughts after Mass.
"He's a person I could have in the kitchen while I cook, but he's also stern in his beliefs," said Ponseti, 77, who belongs to Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church on St. Francis Road in Santa Rosa.
Vasa, pronounced "Vasha," earned his reputation as a hard-line Catholic through his outspoken stance against pre-marital sex and homosexuality at a time when some Catholic congregations are taking a softer approach to such issues.
Vasa gained national attention when he stripped Bend's St. Charles Medical Center of its church sponsorship because hospital doctors performed tubal ligation.
However his stern approach to Catholic doctrine was welcome to many who filled the sanctuary on Sunday.
"He doesn't want to bend (Church law) according to our times," said Marty McCormick, 53, a mortgage banker from Windsor.
Politics shouldn't influence religious laws, said McCormick, a father of 10 children who attended St. Eugene's school.
"It's tough to be Catholic," McCormick said.
Vasa will work as an assistant bishop, called coadjutor bishop, with outgoing Bishop Daniel Walsh until Walsh retires later this year.
Sunday's Mass drew bishops from Honolulu to Salt Lake City and brought parishioners from other churches that belong to the diocese, which includes 42 parishes in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
As people filed into the church before Mass began, the Northern California Knights of Columbus lined up in their plumed hats in green, yellow, purple and white feathers. They raised their swords as the bishops entered the room.
Emily Pham, 12, a sixth-grader at St. Eugene's, waited in her altar server's uniform.
"It feels special to serve today," she said.
Santa Rosa Junior College
Sonoma State University
Alexander Valley Union (Healdsburg)
Alexander Valley School
Bellevue Union (Santa Rosa)
Meadow View School
Taylor Mountain School
Eagle Creek Community Day School
Johanna Echols-Hansen Continuation High School
Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified (Cotati/Rohnert Park)
El Camino High School
Evergreen Elementary School
Hahn (Marguerite) Elementary School
Lawrence E. Jones Middle School
Monte Visa Elementary School
Page (Thomas) Academy
Rancho Cotate High School
Rohnert (Waldo) Intermediate School
Technology High School
Technology Middle School
Phoenix High School
Fort Ross School
Buena Vista High
Gravenstein Union (Sebastopol)
Gravenstein Community Day School
Harmony Union (Occidental)
Salmon Creek Charter
Healdsburg Charter School, Fitch Mountain/HES Campuses
Healdsburg Elementary School, Fitch Mountain/HES Campuses
Healdsburg Junior High
Marce Becerra Academy
Liberty Primary/Elementary School
Monte Rio Union
Monte Rio School
Oak Grove Union (West Santa Rosa/Sebastopol)
Oak Grove Elementary
Petaluma City Schools
Live Oak Charter
Santa Rosa City Schools
Castle Preschool and Afterschool
Brook Haven School
Park Side School
REACH Charter School
Twin Hills Union (Sebastopol)
Apple Blossom School
Orchard View School
Twin Hills Middle
Two Rock Union (Petaluma)
Two Rock School
Waugh School District (Petaluma)
Corona Creek School
Westside Union District (Healdsburg)
Westside Union Elementary
West Sonoma County Union High (Forestville/Sebastopol)
El Molino High
WSCUHSD Community Day School
Windsor Unified (Windsor)
Cali Calmecac Language Academy
Mattie Washburn Elementary
Windsor Creek Elementary
Windsor Oaks Academy
Village Charter School, Santa Rosa
Greenacres School (Sebastopol)
Journey High School (Sebastopol)
New Horizons School (Santa Rosa)
Plumfield Academy (Sebastopol)
Anderson Valley Unified
Fort Bragg Unified
Leggett Valley including Whale Gulch
Point Arena/Arena Schools
Upper Lake Elementary
Upper Lake High
LCOE schools (Hance and Creativity)