Parishioners pay homage on Tucson Bishop's final night

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tuesday night's special evening Vesper prayer service was a chance for southern Arizonans to say goodbye to a man they've come to know for more than 15 years.

It was a quite historic and rare event. Wednesday's installation will welcome in just the seventh Bishop in the history of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

Tuesday's service was a night full of new things, even for a Diocese that has been around more than 120 years.

There were new guests inside the Cathedral, with a new sound filling the air.

A new hymn was composed by the Diocese's director of music, Carlos Zapien. He arranged it for his 42-member choir, in special recognition of this moment.

It was sung with a purpose.

"Music has a power that sometimes words cannot give. Music can lift up the spirit," Zapien said.

It was uplifting for even those traveling from the farthest of reaches of the church. The Diocese serves an area just under 43,000 square miles, and an estimated 382,123 Catholics in southern Arizona.

Michelle Umbower drove roughly three-and-a-half hours from Yuma. She's the business manager for the Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish.

It's a drive that she said she's made a hundred times over to visit Tucson and the Diocese.

"In my sleep," Umbower said.

This time - it was a different feeling.

"We're going to see change," she said.

On Wednesday, that change will be in the form of a legacy passed from one to another. New Bishop Edward Weisenburger will be installed.

But on Tuesday night, retired Bishop Gerald Kicanas occupied that Bishop chair one final time, giving a chance for Umbower to reflect on the old leader.

"One of the things I marveled about him is he remembered our name. No matter where we are. He remembers my kids name even when they were little," she said. "I just find that remarkable. He knows the hairs on our head. He knows who we are. He's an incredibly blessed man. It's kind of bittersweet."

Umbower will be in attendance at the invite-only installation.

"We're part of history like this. To be able to see the transformation that's happening in our church, these things don't come around - I've never been to an installation mass. I don't know if I'll ever get to again. But it's pretty extraordinary to be able to be a part of that."

But she is also ready for the journey, both back to Yuma and beyond.

"I think that's probably what's different about this trip, knowing that when I go home things will be different," she said with a smile. "We'll be on a new embarkment with a new Bishop."

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