DURING his spiritually soaring Mass of Installation yesterday, Philadelphia's down-to-earth new archbishop took time to say that he knows things are less than heavenly here at the moment.
"This Church in Philadelphia faces very serious challenges these days," said Archbishop Charles Chaput, who takes over a diocese reeling from charges of priests sexually abusing children while the church hierarchy covered up the crimes.
"There's no quick fix to problems that are so difficult, and none of us here today, except the Lord Himself, is a miracle worker," Chaput said at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul.
But, he said, "What we do in the coming months and years to respond to these challenges - that will define who we really are."
Although conservative on the issues of gay marriage and abortion rights (he's against both), Chaput's visible joy in connecting with regular folks, his warmth, his plain talk (and lots of it), his "attaboy!" clapping of both hands on the shoulders of his "brother bishops" and his humor qualify him to captain the Archdiocese through its perfect storm.
After his three-hour Installation, Chaput hugged and handshook his way up the aisle, then sat on a wooden stool by the cathedral's front doors schmoozing with hundreds of his new closest friends, while guitar and conga players rocked the vestibule with infectiously rhythmic hymns.
Theresa Romanowski, dressed in traditional Polish garb, was thrilled when Chaput asked her, "Are you from Poland?"
No, Romanowski told him. She's from St. Adalbert - a Polish parish in Port Richmond.
"I have a strong feeling," the excited Romanowski confided to this Daily News reporter, "he'll be the best archbishop."
The musicians - who spent the pre-Installation hours playing in front of the cathedral to counter protesters who were carrying photos of children allegedly abused by priests - were among 200 Neocathecumenical church members who bused in from North Jersey and New York to meet the new archbishop.
"At 8 o'clock on Saturday nights, when so many kids are in discotheques, our kids are in church," said Miguel Munoz, who came with his wife, Maria Del Pilar, and their two children.
Munoz rejoiced when Chaput posed for cellphone photos with all of them. "We are the church and the church is alive," Munoz said happily, "and we had to show him that we support him."
Former Daily News publisher Brian Tierney arrived after the service began and whispered, "Turns out, you can't have a late lunch at the Palm and get here on time."
Tierney stood solemnly at the rear of the church, then sprang to the aid of Monsignor Michael Carroll, the Archdiocese's director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs, who'd suddenly collapsed.
As paramedics rushed over, Tierney vigorously fanned him with a program, explaining that it was important to make sure cool air coming through the open side door reached him. Philadelphia Fire Department medics soon arrived. Carroll recovered.