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  • Oct
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New parish marks Blessed John Paul II feast

Posted By October 27, 2011 | 12:34 pm | Lead Story #2


By Tanya Connor

SOUTHBRIDGE – The first – and only – parish in the diocese named for Blessed John Paul II celebrated his first feast day Friday.
At the vigil Mass in English and Spanish in Notre Dame Church, Bishop McManus sounded some of the late pope’s themes and urged parishioners to ask his prayers for unity.
The Oct. 22 feast can be celebrated by institutions which have as their patron Blessed John Paul II, who solemnly inaugurated his pontificate Oct. 22, 1978; died April 2, 2005 and was beatified May 1, 2011.
Blessed John Paul II Parish here was formed July 1 from St. Hedwig, St. Mary and Notre Dame of the Sacred Heart parishes. The latter was formed from Notre Dame and Sacred Heart of Jesus parishes in 2010. Notre Dame Church is now the main worship site.
Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop McManus were Father Peter J. Joyce, pastor; Father Nelson J. Rivera, associate pastor, and Father David B. Galonek, a Southbridge native now pastor of St. Mary Parish in Brookfield and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in West Brookfield. Deacons Teodoro Camacho and Thomas Skonieczny assisted. Msgr. Robert K. Johnson was master of ceremonies.
The Blessed John Paul II Parish English and Spanish choirs, led by director of music Brandon Vennink, sang. A song about saints included the verse: “All praise for Blessed John Paul, who said, ‘Be not afraid.’ To share the love of Jesus is why we have been made. He traveled many places to share this news of grace. And brought the Gospel message to ev’ry land and place.”
Parishioner Blanca Martinez said she was wearing yellow, one of the colors of the Vatican flag, for the occasion, as was her friend Elvia Ovalle.
The Mass “was amazing,” said Andrew Umanzor, a seventh-grader at the parish’s school, Trinity Catholic Academy. “I could just feel the energy. Just being able to bring up the wine and see the bishop and to know the pope was an actual messenger of God. And I’m very proud to be in his parish.”
Michelle LeBoeuf also expressed appreciation for the parish – and its priests.
“It was beautiful,” she said of the Mass. “And I hope the bishop got a clear indication of how much we appreciate Father Peter and Father Nelson. They have been great about uniting our parish.” That indication came in a lengthy standing ovation the congregation gave the priests when Bishop McManus thanked them.
“I feel our parish is coming together very nicely,” Miss LeBoeuf said. “We have our Polish, French, Italian. There are Irish here, and your Spanish, of course, and we are learning to embrace each other’s cultures.”
After thanking the priests and choir, Bishop McManus had said it would be naive not to think the new parish will not face many challenges. But, as its people celebrated their patron’s feast, he urged them to remember the late pope’s refrains: “Do not be afraid” and “Open wide your hearts to Christ.”
“Every day I remember this parish in my prayers,” he said.
In his homily he had noted that the pope he preached about is their patron and urged them to ask his prayers daily.
“Pray for this parish,” he said. “Pray for the gift of unity. … The great sin against the Catholic faith is the sin of disunity. Blessed John Paul II, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Bishop McManus also recounted scenes from Pope John Paul II’s election, life and death.
“Just 33 years ago, Oct. 16, 1978, it all began with a puff of white smoke over St. Peter’s Basilica,” he said. The new pope stepped out onto the balcony and announced, “Open wide the doors of your heart to Christ.”
Twenty-six years later he practiced what he preached for the final time, saying simply, “Amen,” and peacefully drifting off into the loving arms of Christ, the bishop said.
During his life the pope was described as “man of the century,” a superstar, and “the world’s only credible moral authority,” Bishop McManus said. But he said he thinks “holy father” best captures Blessed John Paul II’s heart and soul. In a confused world “we looked to him for spiritual and moral guidance and he did not fail us,” he said.
He said the pope was a tireless preacher, when convenient and inconvenient. He defended the dignity of everyone: the unborn, the elderly, the marginalized “and even the convict on death row, even the one who tried to take his life.” The world’s youth would call to him, “John Paul II, we love you,” to which he responded, smiling, “Yes, and John Paul II loves you.”
He died as the Church was celebrating Easter, Christ’s victory over sin and death. His last Good Friday he couldn’t go to the Colosseum to pray the Stations of the Cross, so he sat alone holding a cross, Bishop McManus said. At the 12th station “the pope clasped the crucifix to his chest with an energy he could barely muster,” showing that those who share in Christ’s victory must share in his Passion.
“He was the real thing,” Bishop McManus said. “That is what people want to see in us.” He said the pope exhorted: “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to live … to die … to love your neighbor.”