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SOUTH END -- Standing near the altar, a statue of St. Patrick gazed down upon hundreds of potted shamrocks, emerald green, and the many parishioners who had come to celebrate the feast day of the archdiocese's patron saint, March 17, during a noon Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
The display set a distinctly Irish tone, one that was only bolstered by a Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, that was celebrated in both English and Irish and an opening procession that featured bagpipers and a harpist. Irish hymns were sung throughout the Mass.
Bishop Mark O'Connell, bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston's North Region, served as the homilist for the Mass, and in his homily he recalled the history of St. Patrick.
Born in Britain, St. Patrick was abducted and forced into slavery at the age of 16. He was brought to Ireland where he was made to tend to pigs until he was able to escape six years later.
It was during those six years that "Patrick found his faith and developed a deep prayer life and relationship with God," said Bishop O'Connell.
He returned home to his family following his escape and became a priest. Yet, he felt compelled to go back to Ireland "to rescue others by bringing to them the Catholic faith."
"We are here today because he was such an effective teacher and evangelist that he converted the whole country," said Bishop O'Connell.
There is a pattern in his story that we can follow, said the bishop. St. Patrick found his faith in captivity, and it was through God that he was able to escape that captivity. He later returned to Ireland to rescue others, bringing God to them.
"Where are you on this equation? Are you held captive in some form or way or are you free from whatever bound you in the past by the grace of God and therefore ready to assist those less fortunate like St. Patrick did?" said the bishop.
By captive, he clarified, I mean "something we cannot get control over, limits our choices and essentially enslaves us."
"I think of huge swaths of people who are refugees with no freedom held captive by their race and circumstances. I think of the poor and homeless held captive by their inability to support their families. I think of undocumented immigrants who cannot control the separation of their families," he said.
There are more personal examples of captivity as well, he continued.
"How many people in our families are held captive by their dependence upon drugs or alcohol? How many of us are held captive by the sinfulness and hatred in our hearts? How many of us are paralyzed by fear? How many of us are held captive by our own busyness or by laziness?" asked Bishop O'Connell.
St. Patrick was able to find God during his captivity, and through prayer he found his escape, the bishop said. "Instead of waiting for whatever it is that binds us go free on its own accord, let us find the Lord amid our pain, for Jesus opens his arms to us upon the cross."
Yet, he noted that it is important to remember that St. Patrick used his faith to evangelize and thus rescue countless others.
"So many of us have come through difficulties of many sorts to be able to now look back -- should we not look back through faith and open ourselves and our arms to those who remain where we were?" Bishop O'Connell said.
Following the bishop's homily, the prayer of the faithful was proclaimed in both English and Irish by students from Catholic Memorial High School's Irish Studies program. Cardinal O'Malley then blessed the shamrocks, which were given out to attendees following the Mass.
Mike Driscoll, a senior at Catholic Memorial, was one of the six students who prayed in Irish during the Prayer of the Faithful.
He was a little nervous, he said, as it was his first time speaking in Irish "in front of a big crowd, but I feel like it went well and it got the points across."
A reception was held in the cathedral hall at the end of the Mass, which featured Irish music, dancing, and Irish soda bread.
Michael Fitzsimons, a Civil Defence Officer for County Meath in Ireland, was in the Boston area to take part in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, March 19, in South Boston.
He, alongside other members of his brigade, also attended the Mass at the cathedral.
Looking around at the numerous attendees of Irish descent around him, Fitzsimons noted it was "interesting" that "so many people of Irish heritage treasure it here so much."
He said the Mass was "lovely," and noted he was glad to have attended.