By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – Heralds of the new evangelization come in all ages and ethnicities, reflecting the diversity and universality of the Catholic community. That community – the laity, religious, deacons and priests from around the diocese – joined Bishops McManus, Reilly and Rueger at a Mass to open the Year of Faith Friday at St. Paul Cathedral.
St. Paul’s Children’s Chorus joined St. Paul’s Festival Choir in leading the music, including “Panis Angelicus.”
Damas del Sagrado Corazon (Ladies of the Sacred Heart) from St. Paul’s Hispanic community filled a couple front pews, wearing their traditional red and white. There was a Scripture reading and some singing in Spanish.
Members of the African community from St. Peter Parish and St. Andrew Mission got the congregation clapping along with them as they danced up the aisle as the Word of God was brought forward for the first reading. Employing an eastern African tradition, they sang in Swahili, “Let God’s word lead us forth,” explained Father Anthony Mpagi, their chaplain.
“I like the Mass; it was beautiful,” Minerva Rosario, of St. Joan of Arc Parish, said afterwards. “I feel so happy when I see the bishop and the community together. I feel so happy when I see all the priests I know.”
“It’s like a booster to our faith – the Mass and the homily,” said her fellow-parishioner Haydee Estremera, recalling Bishop McManus’ message about helping people who have left the Church to return.
“I thought it was just awesome – the number of people that turned out for this,” said Eve Lindquist, executive director of Visitation House, who belongs to St. Bernadette Parish in Northborough. “It’s a way of recharging us … something that’s much needed in this day and age.”
In his homily, Bishop McManus said Pope Benedict XVI solemnly opened the Year of Faith in Rome the day before by celebrating the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church’s life, and that the Worcester Diocese was doing the same that night. The bishop said that later in the Mass those present would profess the faith that comes to them from the apostles.
Fifty years ago Vatican Council II opened, with the purpose of renewing the Church’s faith, so the Church would be a light to the nations, he said. He said the council’s second purpose was to engage the joys and sorrows of the human family, to engage them with the hope that comes from believing that Jesus is Lord and that he conquered sin and death.
“We have been given this gift of faith … so that the world may be saved,” Bishop McManus said.
He noted that St. Paul told early Christians in Rome their faith was so vibrant it was heralded throughout the world (Rom1:8) and he challenged them to share it (Rom 10:8b-17). Bishop McManus quoted from the latter reading, used at the Mass, which asks how people can call on Christ if they have not believed in him, and how they can believe if they have not heard.
He said St. Francis instructed, “Preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary.”
Words “must be validated by the way we act,” Bishop McManus said, speaking of inviting fallen-away family members and others to renew their faith. He noted that people said of the early Church, “See how these Christians love one another.”
Pope Benedict XVI has said being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, but an encounter with a person, the bishop said.
“We do not pass on faith by handing a person a catechism,” as important as the catechism is, he said. “We pass on the faith” by introducing them to Christ, risen, and living and working in the Church. “We pass on the faith” by creating a time and place where God’s word is proclaimed and sacraments are celebrated. “We pass on the faith when we are recognized as a community of believers where faith is put into action precisely because ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor. 5: 14).”
Christians pass on the faith so others might meet, fall in love with and surrender to Christ, the bishop said. He said it is easy to walk away from an institution, “but it is very difficult to walk away from someone we truly love.”
Love for Christ and his Church can transform Catholics and their culture into a civilization of life and love, he said.
The Year of Faith is a privileged time for individuals and the diocesan Church to embrace the new evangelization, Bishop McManus said. He said what is new is not the content of the faith, but how it is to be passed on, and by whom: all the baptized are called to be heralds of the new evangelization.
“We cannot give what we do not have,” he said, calling for deepening, strengthening and revitalizing one’s relationship with Christ and his Church.
Christ is the reason for parishes, colleges, Catholic Charities and food pantries to exist, he said. The goal of the new evangelization is “to restore all things in Christ.”
For the Year of Faith, Bishop McManus called for turning to Mary, who said, in reference to her Son, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5) The bishop added, “May our response be … ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’”
– To watch this Mass online, visit www.worcesterdiocese.org and click on Year of Faith, then Opening Liturgy.