CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Catholics in central Virginia are welcoming the new leader of the church's Richmond diocese.

The bishop is bringing a message to the faithful to look beyond the center of their community and reach out to those on the edges. It's a message Bishop Barry Knestout says believers here in Charlottesville can apply in response to the racism and hatred seen on display in the city last summer.

Bishop Knestout is now the first leader of the Richmond Catholic diocese to celebrate mass at the University of Virginia chapel.

“The bishop is our chief shepherd, and the church gathers around the Bishop - where the Bishop is, there is the church,” says Father Joseph Barranger of St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish.

Hundreds of Catholic faithful filled the chapel's pews on Tuesday, January 23, to hear from Knestout on his first visit to Charlottesville since being installed as the 13th bishop earlier in January.

“It's a huge joy,” says Elizabeth Hofer, a fourth-year student at UVA. “This was probably the most crowded daily mass we've had in probably ever at the chapel.”

After the summer’s violent events, this visit was of particular importance.

“I think it's important to see and to meet and to greet those who are that important component of this church's life,” says Bishop Knestout.

The bishop delivered a message inspired from Pope Francis, urging believers to look beyond the center of the church community to the periphery.

“To always go out to those who are in need, those who have any kind of need, or those who are vulnerable, those who are a little distant from the center,” says Bishop Knestout.

It's a lesson he says can help people in Charlottesville respond to hate.

“Racism is a very serious sin and that all of us have a duty and responsibility to work to overcome that and to see each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord,” says Bishop Knestout.

Bishop Knestout's goal was to foster love and respect across racial lines.

“It's an encouragement for us to get to know the teaching of our own church better when it comes to race relations and respect for and the dignity of all human persons,” says Barranger.

Maria Villar-Villar says she has high hopes for the new bishop as he leads the church in Virginia.

“I think it gives people kind of an oasis, a bastion of hope that not everything in this world is doom and gloom,” says Villar-Villar, who lives in Albemarle County. “There is hope, there is redemption.

The diocese covers nearly all of Virginia - from Hampton Roads to Roanoke - with more than 222,000 active members.

The bishop will hold mass at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Church of the Incarnation in Charlottesville.