As soon as he saw the wink from the Most Rev. Peter Baldacchino, Isaiah Gardiner broke down in tears.
For the 25-year-old, getting a wink from his longtime “father figure” meant that he should “rejoice,” not mourn that his beloved mentor was leaving the Turks and Caicos Islands after 15 years of building the Roman Catholic Church there.
“We are happy for him, but sad for us,” said Gardiner, who clutched his nation’s flag.
Gardiner was one of about 90 people who traveled from the islands to support Baldachinno as he took his vows Wednesday at a nearly three-hour ceremony to become the the 10th auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami.
“We wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” Gardiner said. “He was always there for us.”
Baldacchino, 53, firmly said “I do” in front of about 800 people at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Miami to faithfully serve God and the church. In a ceremony filled with tradition, Baldachinno lay on the floor as a sign of humility and accepted his calling in front of bishops, priests and other clergy. He thanked his supporters who came from his native Malta and from the Turks and Caicos.
Dozens of people had to wait outside because the church was filled to capacity. A large group of people, who are part of the Neocatechumenal Way, a movement within the Catholic Church, played music and danced as Baldachinno exited the church as the auxiliary bishop.
“Your presence is for me the best expression of gratitude to the Church,” he said after accepting a ring, miter and crozier.
Baldachinno was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark in 1996. Three years later, he was assigned to Our Lady of Divine Providence Mission in Turks and Caicos. His mission: to build the Catholic Church in the islands.
In February, Pope Francis named Baldachinno to assist Archbishop Thomas Wenski. The Miami archbishop said Baldachinno’s experience with different cultures on the islands will be an added benefit in South Florida.
“His experience has prepared him for the diversity of our community,” Wenski said, adding that Baldachinno speaks several languages, including English, Creole and Spanish.
Wenski said having a second in command will help him in overseeing 108 churches and missions, 57 schools and more than 1.3 million Catholics in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.
And while Baldachinno’s experience has prepared him, Wenski joked that there is one thing that Baldachinno will have to get used to: