Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Dec
  • 8

Stopping by for a taste of the true Christmas

Posted By December 8, 2011 | 1:23 pm | Lead Story #1

Unlike other years, when visitors could stop in the church on their own, there were obvious reasons for them to go there, she said. They could listen to Christmas carols sung by the parish Brownie Troop or played on the guitar by Robert Dufault. They could see a beautifully decorated altar, and parishioner Steven Reilley dressed as St. Nicholas (not Santa Claus, mind you), who was available for picture-taking.
The parish was “trying to honor the true meaning of Christmas,” Mrs. Williams said, expressing hope that visitors might “grab on to a little bit of the Christmas spirit” in the beauty and relative quiet, before descending to the hustle and bustle of the church hall.
But there too they would find witnesses to the faith.
New this year was a ministry fair, which provided information about the parish’s prayer shawl ministry, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Haiti committee and Life Teen program, Mrs. Williams said.
“We want people to know we’re here for them,” whether or not they are parishioners, she explained. In fact, the pastor, Father Michael A. DiGeronimo, donated many of the day’s proceeds to the St. Vincent de Paul Society “to help our community through the tough winter months,” she said.
Parishioners too were invited to give from what they received. Mrs. Williams said they were offered free tables on which to sell their crafts, and, if they were successful, they were encouraged to donate some of the money to the St. Vincent de Paul Society or Haiti committee. Parishioners also donated their time, raffle items, and homemade cookies for the popular table at which buyers could pay by the pound and choose varieties to their liking, she said.
A similar arrangement, called a “cookie walk,” is popular at St. Anne’s, said Father Patrick J. Hawthorne, pastor. So is the homemade chili they nearly ran out of again this year, despite making six pots instead of the usual four, he said.
And this year Mrs. Claus oversaw a “post office,” where children could mail letters to Santa – and expect a reply in their mailbox at home. Yvette Picard, once officer in charge at the Manchaug Post Office and later postmaster in Northbridge, played Mrs. Claus, handing out papers on which youngsters could write something about themselves, things they “do to help,” and presents they would like.
But, upon arriving at St. Anne’s, “the first thing they see is the Nativity,” said Father Hawthorne. In preparing for his first Christmas here, he erected his own creche on the lawn.
“Wise men still seek him,” proclaims the accompanying sign.
“I have to admit I stole that idea from La Salette,” the pastor said of the message he’d seen at the famed Attleboro shrine. “We made our little La Salette here,” with the sign and Nativity scene spotlighted at night. “Hopefully it makes them think about what Christmas is all about.”
Parishioner Phyllis Charpentier expressed similar hopes as she played stationmaster in the church hall during the Chain of Lights. Her husband, David Charpentier, was engineer, and daughter Rose Charpentier, conductor, as their model trains wound their way over the tracks. Mingled among lollypops and train-related toys for sale were pencils with a Christian message. Mrs. Charpentier said there were rosaries and an Advent wreath and calendar elsewhere, in an attempt to incorporate the true meaning of Christmas.
Nearby, young Brendan Pacenka watched over his Lego train and village, to which he said he adds a new piece each year.
“The whole town comes,” Mrs. Charpentier said of the event the parish has been participating in for 13 years. “We’re a small parish, but we had people from Rhode Island, Natick… It’s a fundraiser for the church, but we also try to have an educational component,” with the history of Manchaug display. And promote the faith.
Of course, participating in the Chain of Lights, which Father Hawthorne called St. Anne’s big social event and a needed fundraiser, isn’t the only way the parish prepares for and celebrates Christmas.
The Mondays of Advent he’s holding Evening Prayer and offering opportunities for confession afterwards, while meditative music plays. It doesn’t matter if penitents have forgotten how to confess their sins or haven’t been to the sacrament in some time, he said.
“If it’s been a year or 50 years, still come,” he urges.
He said he’s also bringing to St. Anne’s a tradition he used in his previous two parishes: St. Joseph’s in Auburn and St. Margaret Mary in Worcester. He calls it, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It involves having the church open and decorated, with soft music playing, on Dec. 23 – for “a final pause before Christmas.”
“We just let them come into the church,” Father Hawthorne said. “We usually give them a hot chocolate on the way out, because it’s cold.” Visitors can stop in for three minutes or an hour and a half “just to make sure Jesus is in their Christmas experience.”
With shopping, wrapping, cooking and transporting children, sometimes the whole Advent goes by too fast, he said.
“I tell people, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’” he said. “You will never have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas 2011 again. So make the most of it. You don’t know what the future holds. You know what you have now, so appreciate it.”