Bishop Barry C. Knestout was appointed the 13th bishop of Richmond by Pope Francis on Dec. 5, 2017, and installed at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, on Jan. 12, 2018.
In his first three years as shepherd of Richmond, the bishop visited every parish in the diocese at least once. In a May 2019 column, the bishop wrote, “One of the things with which these visits has provided me is a deepening appreciation and understanding of how pastors, staff and parishioners use their time, talent, energy and resources to enhance the life of the parish and its members.”
Throughout his first five years in Richmond, Bishop Knestout has journeyed with the faithful. Here are some highlights:
Leading through COVID
With the health and safety of the faithful a priority in the Diocese of Richmond, several restrictions for gatherings were implemented in parishes and schools after the COVID-19 pandemic was announced in March 2020. In an effort to help the Body of Christ stay connected at a time when people could not physically be together, Bishop Knestout celebrated the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, livestreamed each week, through June 2021. Events such as ordinations and prayer services were also livestreamed during this time.
Atoning for sins of the Church
On Sept. 14, 2018, Bishop Knestout published his pastoral letter, “From Tragedy to Hope,” in which he outlined steps he would take to begin reparations for clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. That evening, he celebrated a Mass of Atonement at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, which was followed by regional Masses of Atonement and listening sessions. A comprehensive timeline of the diocese’s response to the abuse crisis is available at richmonddiocese.org/diocese-response.
Since his installation, Bishop Knestout has ordained 13 priests and 34 permanent deacons. At the time of publication, two transitional deacons ordained in May 2022 were anticipating ordination to the priesthood in 2023. Additionally, the bishop has celebrated World Day for Consecrated Life annually at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
In November 2018, more than a year after a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville turned deadly, Bishop Knestout joined leaders of Virginia’s LARCUM (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Methodist) Conference to pray for peace. It was his first meeting with the conference and his first opportunity to sign the LARCUM covenant. The diocese remains active within the conference.
Migrant, Haiti and prison ministries
In August 2019, Bishop Knestout celebrated Mass at a Cheriton migrant camp on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, during which several individuals received sacraments of initiation. Volunteers involved with the Eastern Shore Migrant Ministry continue to support migrants. The bishop met with inmates at Henrico County Jail in July 2018 and has regularly participated in Haiti Commission meetings since his installation. The twinning relationship between the Diocese of Richmond and the Diocese of Hinche continues to flourish under his pastoral care.
Bishop Knestout continues to visit Catholic schools across the Diocese of Richmond to celebrate Mass and bless new or renovated learning spaces and chapels. He has attended the Diocesan Youth Conference and College Summit every year, and has visited various work sites and celebrated Mass during the annual Diocesan Work Camp in Wise County.
Bishop Knestout often gives thanks for the diocese’s cultural diversity by celebrating Mass for various groups that compose the collective voice of the local Church of Richmond and by attending cultural events.
Bishop Knestout said early in his service in Richmond that he wanted to ensure the continuation of the diocesan Office for Black Catholics. In November 2018, he met with Black Catholic leaders and priests who serve Black parishes to discuss how to achieve that goal. In December 2018, Deacon Charles Williams was named director and led the office until his death in January 2022. In July 2022, Msgr. Walter Barrett Jr. was appointed interim director of that office. He was succeeded by Father Tochi Iwuji in December 2022.
Meeting with the lay faithful
Bishop Knestout embraced the voices of the faithful when he implemented the Diocesan Pastoral Council and met with the group for the first time in August 2019. The council provides consultation to the bishop on matters of policy, pastoral initiatives and pastoral planning. The first annual Heralds of Faith event for catechists was held at Our Lady of Nazareth, Roanoke, in September 2021. The event was held in Virginia Beach in October 2022, and an event for the Central Vicariate is planned for 2023. Additionally, Bishop Knestout has commissioned as lay ecclesial ministers 35 people who have completed formation through the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Institute since his installation.
Bishop Knestout continues to be immersed in pro-life activities as bishop of Richmond. He has regularly joined 40 Days for Life vigils to pray the rosary. He has participated in the Virginia March for Life since its inauguration in April 2019 and has regularly attended the national March for Life in Washington. In February 2022, Bishop Knestout celebrated Mass with Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington for Virginia’s first annual Defending Life Day, which brought together more than 300 Virginians to encourage legislators to defend life from the moment of conception to natural death.