A crowd of friends, family and associates packed St. Joseph Cathedral as full as COVID-19 regulations would allow. They came to pay their respects to Bishop Edward U. Kmiec who passed away July 11 at the age of 84. Dozens of priests, eight bishops and one cardinal concelebrated the Mass for their brother and shepherd who led the Diocese of Buffalo from 2004-2012.
"Bishop Kmiec died with Christ and rose with Him to new life. May He now share with him eternal glory," said Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, apostolic administrator of the Buffalo Diocese, in his welcoming address. "In life Bishop Kmiec cherished the Gospel of Christ in his office of preaching and teaching. May Christ now greet him with these words of eternal life: Come blessed of my Father. In baptism, Bishop Kmiec received the sign of the cross. May he now share in Christ victory over sin and death."
Msgr. David LiPuma, who had served as Bishop Kmiec's priest secretary and master of ceremonies at Masses during his eight-year tenure in Buffalo, explained his choice of readings for the Mass during his homily. Typically, a priest would have details of his funeral written down, but Msgr. LiPuma, despite his exhaustive search, could not find the bishop's preferred choices. So, Msgr. LiPuma chose readings that he thought adequately suited his dear friend and spiritual father.
The first reading, Isaiah 25:6-9, as read by Sister Regina Murphy, SSMN, chancellor of the diocese, spoke of the lord of hosts providing a "feast of rich food and choice wines." These are the things Bishop Kmiec enjoyed. Revelation 21:1-5a, 6b-7, as read by Dennis Walczyk, retired director of Catholic Charities, describes a "new heaven and a new earth." John 21:15-19 read by Deacon Timothy Chriswell, director of the Permanent Diaconate, depicts the three times Peter declared his love for Jesus.
"Anyone who knows Bishop Kmiec knows that he enjoyed a good meal," Msgr. LiPuma said. "It was a joy for everyone who had the opportunity to dine with Bishop Kmiec because he loved conversation. He loved people. He could talk to anyone about anything - sports, airplanes, cruise ships, golf and yes, of course, theology. ... We would often be the last to leave any diocesan events. He would often start speaking to the servers and the maintenance people as they were breaking down the chairs and the tables. It didn't matter who you were or what you did for a living, everyone was treated with the same love and respect - charity and service."
Msgr. LiPuma said he chose the Gospel reading from John, not because Bishop Kmiec doubted Jesus, but because he proclaimed him love over and over again.
"Bishop Kmiec was often quoted as saying, 'This is not the cruise I signed up for.' He always said all he ever wanted was to be a parish priest on the Jersey shore. But God had other plans for him. I believe at least three times Jesus called Bishop Kmiec to greater responsibility in pastoral leadership. 'Edward, do you love me?' And he replied, 'Yes Lord, you know that I love You.' And Jesus said to him, 'Take care of the people of Trenton and give them a shepherd's care.' And he did, with charity and service. Then 10 years later, Jesus said a second time, 'Bishop Ed, do you love me?' And he responded, 'Yes Lord, you know that I love You.' And Jesus said, 'Go to the people of Nashville, Tennessee and give them a shepherd's care.' And he did, with charity and service. Then 12 years later, Much to Bishop Kmiec's surprise, Jesus said a third time, 'Bishop Ed, do you love me?' And he replied, 'Lord, you know everything. You know that I love You.' And Jesus said, 'Go to Buffalo and give them a shepherd's care.' And he did, with charity and service.
"Bishop Kmiec is truly a model for all of us of obedience to God and to the Church," Msgr. LiPuma continued. "He never asked for any assignment and simply said yes to wherever he was assigned trusting in God's providence. he was a faith filled successor to the apostles, dedicated to daily prayer, the rosary, and most importantly, the celebration of daily Eucharist."
In closing, Msgr. LiPuma gave advice to all those who attended the funeral to follow Bishop Kmiec's episcopal motto "Charity and service" and as he tells all the priests he ordains, "be kind."
"With all that is going on today in our church, our country, and our world, the best thing we can do today is to leave this cathedral and honor the legacy and memory of our beloved Bishop Kmiec by simply being kind to all those we meet along the way. In order to bring healing and trust and peace to our Church and our country and indeed our world, we all need to be more forgiving, more compassionate, more understanding, more accepting, to look beyond our differences and to pray for unity and peace to honor the dignity of every human life, to live the motto of 'charity and service,' especially for those who live on the margins of life, those who have no voice, and those who need to know that they are loved unconditionally by our merciful and gracious God."
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, from the Archdiocese of New York, closed the Mass with reassuring words that all will join with their friend in the future.
"Trusting in God's word, we pray together for Bishop Kmiec, and now we come to this last farewell. there is sadness in parting, but we take comfort, comfort in the hope that one day we shall see him again and enjoy his friendship. Although this congregation may disperse in sorrow, the mercy of God will gather us together again in the joy of His kingdom. So, we console one another in faith of Jesus Christ," he said.
Bishop Kmiec's casket was placed behind the tabernacle of the cathedral next to Bishops John Timon, Stephen Ryan and Edward Head.