By Christina Galeone | CFP Correspondent
Making room in our lives for more prayer and almsgiving is an essential part of Lent. Those practices can also lead us to new journeys.
That’s what happened recently to Father Nicholas Desimone and his parishioners at St. Mary’s Parish in Uxbridge.
During this holy season, the Lenten journey of this Uxbridge parish led to awareness, compassion and fellowship. And all three should endure far beyond Easter. The project that has been fueled by prayer is a twinning between Our Lady of Providence Parish at St. Bernard’s Church in Worcester and St. Mary’s.
The inspiration for the twinning came when Father Desimone was helping out at a diocesan Confirmation retreat at St. Bernard’s. After the event had ended, Our Lady of Providence’s pastor, Father Jonathan J. Slavinskas, Father Desimone and others were cleaning up the gym. While they were doing so, boys from the neighborhood waited to play basketball.
“When we were finished and the boys returned to the gym, and I noticed the way in which they interacted with Father Jonathan, I began to realize two things,” Father Desimone recalled. “First, St. Bernard Church needs to exist in the Lincoln Street neighborhood as a safe place for children.… Secondly, Father Jonathan’s positive relationship with many of the children in the neighborhood is the sort of pre-evangelization that must take place … to introduce young people to Jesus Christ.”
Not long after, he realized something else as well.
“As I watched the boys from the neighborhood come streaming into the gym, and as I listened to Father Jonathan tell the difficult stories of some of his parishioners, I began to sense that the Lord was inviting me and my parish in Uxbridge to lend Father Jonathan and his parish support in any way that we could,” Father Desimone said.
“Father Jonathan and I met for supper, and we began to brainstorm ways in which our parishes could support one another. We decided that in addition to praying for each other, St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge would take up a collection each week during Lent for a different need at St. Bernard Church.”
Father Desimone said that the collections have already raised nearly $10,000 to meet those needs. Additionally, the congregation has donated an abundance of items to weekly drives. The items have included granola bars and snacks for kids in the Lincoln Street neighborhood, gift cards that Father Slavinskas can use to help buy necessities for those children, food pantry donations and gently-worn clothing for kids and adults in that community.
But before the collections, St. Mary’s parishioners learned about the people of their sister parish.
“The weekend prior to the start of Lent, I invited Father Jonathan to Uxbridge to preach at all the Masses to tell my parishioners the joys and the struggles that he faces as a pastor in Worcester,” Father Desimone said.
Those struggles include serving a community where many children are hungry, because they don’t have enough food to eat. They also don’t have the same opportunities that kids who aren’t from low-income homes have.
Father Slavinskas said he’s incredibly grateful for the support for Our Lady of Providence and its community. He’s also thankful that the twinning has increased awareness about inner-city churches – which he says are “beacons of what Christ is … comfort, peace” – and their needs.
“A lot of our inner-city parishes are mission territory. A lot of them can’t support themselves,” said Father Slavinskas, who noted that many are in walking communities, so parishioners can’t drive to other churches if the parishes are closed. He added, “These people still need Christ.”
Students at Our Lady of the Valley School – located at St. Mary’s Parish – have also happily joined the support effort. Father Desimone said that he hopes to soon bring parishioners from both churches together for a Mass at St. Bernard’s. He also hopes that his parish’s teenagers will volunteer to help people and meet other teens in that Worcester neighborhood, this summer.
In the meantime, he’s thrilled at the way this Lenten project has made a difference in the lives of members of both congregations.
“I must admit that I have never seen such a response from my parishioners,” Father Desimone said. “They have responded with enthusiasm and generosity for our sister parish in Worcester. When I run into parishioners at the supermarket or in the bank or anywhere else, they always ask about Father Jonathan and our sister parish in Worcester.”
And Father Slavinskas is equally thrilled.
“It truly is a blessing for us…,” since the community sometimes feels abandoned, he said. Father Slavinskas noted that the tremendous support Our Lady of Providence is receiving helps the parish to help the community see that “they have a church that does care for them and that’s there for them.”