By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
WORCESTER – The revived Italian festival outside a closed Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Aug. 18-21 seemed to be partly about reviving parishioners.
As Mass was about to start under a tent in the parking lot Sunday, Michael Scaglione said he saw people who haven’t been involved in recent years. He was a member of the committee organizing the “Worcester Italian Festival 2016 of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Ann Parish.”
Festival chairman Nicholas Maruca said he saw friends and family members who don’t normally go to a Sunday Mass. The festival gave parishioners who aren’t as active some inspiration to become involved again, he said.
Msgr. F. Stephen Pedone said at Mass that it was so nice to see so many people from the sister parishes of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Loreto. He said it is a privilege to be pastor of both. He has recommended that Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners attend Mass at Our Lady of
Loreto since Mount Carmel’s church building was closed May 1 for safety reasons.
The parish and diocese requested that the city’s Historical Commission grant a demolition waiver to raze the church without having to wait a year. The Commission turned down the request and city officials said the parish had to take steps to make the building safe.
Msgr. Pedone has been saying for some time that the number of parishioners and the offertory collection has dropped significantly and a fund drive several years ago fell far short of the goal.
But some people are seeking to get the church reopened. They formed The Mount Carmel Preservation Society, which Msgr. Pedone said has until June to raise $200,000 to repay the loan the parish received from the diocese to do the emergency repair work. He said that, to reopen the church, the Society would also have to raise enough to fix the church and operate the parish.
With the necessary occupancy permit from city and permission from Bishop McManus, he would then agree to celebrate a Sunday Mass there, he wrote in Sunday’s parish bulletin.
After the Society appealed to the Vatican, Msgr. Pedone reiterated that Bishop McManus has not officially closed the parish or merged it with Our Lady of Loreto.
“We need to revive our parishioners, just to remind them what it’s all about,” Mr. Maruca said Sunday. “And we’re hoping that the Diocese doesn’t give up on us and gives us some time so we can regroup, so we can once again become the powerful parish that we’ve always been.”
He said the only way to do that is keep Mount Carmel’s church building, which is “more than the house of God for us; it represents hard work … family … hope.…
“What this festival does … it ties the community to this parish,” he said. “It’s hope; it energizes us.”
He said that many people at the festival said they want to be involved again.
What followup is planned with those people?
“It’s all going to start with Mass,” Mr. Maruca said. “They come to Mass – they get involved.” Mass inside “our church.”
Reopening the church and operating the parish requires money. Mr. Maruca said what was raised at the festival would go to a general bank account for the parish. Wednesday he said it looked like that amount would be about $70,000 after bills are all paid.
Money was raised through rent from vendors’ booths and from the parish’s raffle baskets, bar and homemade Italian cookies, Mr. Maruca said.
Sunday Marie Cecchini, 74, was at one of those cookie tables with her mother, Rose Turco, 96. She said they’ve both been members of the parish all their lives, and that parishioners did a wonderful job with the cookies.
Amoret Zamarro Beiter, co-chair of fundraising for The Mount Carmel Preservation Society, said their table was raising money to fix the church. They were selling and raffling items and had a sign-up sheet for parishioners to say they will go to Mass there if the church is reopened.
Mr. Maruca said their table, which was rent-free, was the only one for which money raised was earmarked for a specific project.
Mr. Scaglione said the parish festival committee, whose objective is to put on the festival, is separate from the Preservation Society, which is more geared to preserving the church and parish.
Since May, the Society has raised about $90,000 and no money will not be given to anyone until the church is fixed, Mrs. Zamarro Beiter said. The Society’s website Preserveourladyofmountcarmel.org says they have $82,000 in pledges.
The pledges will be collected when the Society knows that the church will be reopened, said Elaine Bafaro, another member of the Society’s board of directors.
“We want to put together a strategic plan for sustainability of the parish,” she said. “So it’s ‘fix the building; save the parish.’”
In his homily Msgr. Pedone encouraged people to be involved – with Christ.
“There is no such thing as being a part-time Catholic.… We can never be part-time disciples of Jesus Christ. Hopefully we can count ourselves among Jesus’ committed disciples. Time is not on our side when it comes to salvation.”
He said people think “everybody gets to heaven” and “I’m a good person; God will be lucky to have me.” But, he said, “getting to heaven is not that easy.” People get let off the hook so many times that they think that will happen when it comes to heaven too.
“We may occasionally eat with the Lord at Mass, but that does not mean we have come to know him,” he said. “Yes, there are deathbed confessions and conversions, but we know better than to expect friendship without effort.… We need to develop our friendship with God before it’s too late.”
“I love the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, because it’s the love of the Catholic Church and the fellowship of our Catholic community,” Domenic Mercurio Jr. said following the procession after Mass. “It also blends with the love of my Italian heritage. In Italy this is what they do” (process through the streets with the Blessed Mother’s statue).
“It’s been an amazing four days,” festival committee member Mr. Scaglione said.
“The turnout has been tremendous. Everybody was … excited and involved. They came together out of a sense of heritage and community and faith. We can’t wait until next year.… It’s tradition. We’ve got to keep it going.”
The festival used to last five or six days, and over time shrunk and disappeared, though there was a procession for the July 16 feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, he said. Last year they re-started the multi-day festival, he said. They changed the date to August because people were away around July 16, and it seemed a better time to hold the festival, he said.
“We want to capture as many interested parties as we can,” he said. “We want people to share in that joy and our common faith.”