Bishop-elect Barbosa 'happy and humbled' at his appointment

Watch the press conference below..

BRAINTREE -- Pope Francis appointed Father Cristiano Barbosa to be a new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston on Dec. 9, making him the first bishop of Brazilian descent in the history of the archdiocese and one of only two in the U.S.

"I am happy and humbled," Bishop-designate Barbosa, 47, said at a Dec. 9 press conference with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, held at the archdiocese's Pastoral Center in Braintree. "But I feel the weight of this responsibility and mission, and I'm grateful to the Holy Father and Cardinal Seán, and the sensibility of the church to this growing population."

Cardinal O'Malley said that, second only to the Hispanic community, the Portuguese-speaking community -- which includes Brazilians, Cape Verdeans, Azoreans, and continental Portuguese -- is the largest non-English-speaking group in the archdiocese. There are 100,000 Brazilians in Massachusetts, making them "the fastest-growing demographic" in the state, the cardinal said.

"The Holy Father's naming of a Brazilian bishop to this position is a very significant moment in the history of our archdiocese," he said.

In the last 10 years, the Brazilian population of Massachusetts has increased by 30 percent. A third of all Brazilians in Massachusetts are under the age of 25.

Bishop-designate Barbosa said that the large number of young Brazilians presents both a great opportunity and a great challenge for the archdiocese.

"You see young families, kids, teenagers, young adults" in the Brazilian community, he said. "But we know that the large majority of them are not coming to church. It's a challenge not only to minister to them, to give them what they need, but also to minister to the generation that is growing here."

He said that second and third-generation Brazilians in the U.S. "pray in Portuguese, but think in English" and are vulnerable to leaving the church. He sees a "great need" for all baptized Catholics "to be truly present to everyone in the service of all humankind and creation."

"We as a church are called to create a culture of encounter," he said, "of attentive listening to what others are saying to us."

Since July, Bishop-designate Barbosa has served as episcopal vicar for the Central Region, which comprises Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, and Winthrop. An auxiliary bishop and a regional episcopal vicar share many of the same responsibilities, including assisting the cardinal in pastoral and administrative matters and celebrating confirmations. Bishop-designate Barbosa is also the archdiocesan Secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship.

Bishop-designate Barbosa was born in Brazil in 1976, meaning he will be one of the youngest bishops in the U.S. following his episcopal ordination at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Feb. 3, 2024. He became a priest in 2007 and moved to Boston in 2008 to get his doctorate in sacred theology from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He served in parishes in Cambridge and Lowell.

Throughout the archdiocese, he said he saw "communities made up of people who themselves are the descendants of generations of immigrants, refugees and those who have been enslaved."

He planned to return to Brazil after getting his doctorate, but after working with Boston's diverse communities, he decided to stay.

"I came to realize that we have been weaving, as people of God, a tapestry of faith, hope, and love that reveals the beauty of the Archdiocese of Boston," he said.

He also has a licentiate of philosophy from the Universidade de Sagrado CoraÇÃo and a master's degree in psychology from the Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Minas Gerais, both in Brazil.

The first Brazilian-born Catholic bishop in the U.S. was Edgar Moreira da Cunha, who became an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark in 2003. Bishop da Cunha currently serves as the Bishop of Fall River. He spoke to Bishop-designate Barbosa on the phone on Dec. 9.

At the press conference, along with messages in English and Portuguese, Bishop-designate Barbosa delivered a message in Spanish to the archdiocese's Hispanic community, which he described as a "tapestry" representing many nationalities and cultures.

"I love that I can celebrate with them," he said, "and hopefully, I will learn and perfect my Spanish. I'm really eager to work with them and be with them."

Bishop-designate Barbosa learned of his new appointment while driving on I-95. The caller on the phone told him to pull over, and when he heard the news, he called Cardinal O'Malley. It was 1 a.m. in Rome, where the cardinal was at the time, but he was awake and told Bishop-designate Barbosa to remain calm.

"It's quite a revolution in a man's life" to become a bishop, Cardinal O'Malley said at the press conference. "You're living in a fishbowl made out of a magnifying glass. There are so many expectations and obligations, but I feel that Cristiano knows how much support he has from his brother priests, from the bishops in the archdiocese, and the people who have come to know him so well."

Bishop-designated Barbosa said that "mission and evangelization" are the two words that must be at the forefront of the archdiocese's work. Once he is ordained as a bishop, he plans to make his motto "That they all may be one," a quote from Jesus's Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John.

"The mission at our doorstep is the most challenging one," Cardinal O'Malley said, "and we are very very grateful that Father Cristiano said yes to this mission."

Watch the press conference

December 9, 2023 Archdiocese of Boston Press Conference on Vimeo.