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They came from near and far to receive his blessing and to hear words of hope from the new leader of the Archdiocese of Boston.
An estimated 1,200 people crowded into St. Patrick Church in Lawrence on Aug. 3 to attend Archbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley’s first public Mass since his July 30 installation. He chose the 2 p.m. Spanish Mass to celebrate with the people.
The archbishop spoke entirely in Spanish throughout the Mass, except at the end when he thanked English-speaking congregants for coming.
Father Paul O’Brien, pastor at St. Patrick, said he found out only on Thursday that Archbishop O’Malley was coming to his parish.
"We were surprised no one knew what he was doing for our first Mass," Father O'Brien said. "This is very unique for people because often times the news from Lawrence is negative and to have something so happy is a point of pride."
In coming to St. Patrick, Archbishop O’Malley chose a diverse community of faith. Founded in 1872 to tend to the spiritual needs of Irish Catholics, in the last several years the parish has opened its doors to welcome the newer Catholic immigrant communities, celebrating weekly Masses in Spanish and English as well as semi-monthly Masses in Vietnamese. Though they celebrate Masses in their respective languages, the three ethnic communities get together for prayer and social events throughout the year. The archbishop’s visit was evidence of that. In addition to Hispanics, there were many English-speakers in the church who followed the Mass using the Lectionary and sang hymns in Spanish from a song sheet given to them as they entered the church.
Father O’Brien said they did not plan anything special for the Mass, which is attended by about 350 people every week.
"This Mass is a wonderful Mass every week. We're always prepared for a large crowd," he said.
Nancy Cormier had already attended Mass that Sunday when she heard over breakfast that Archbishop O’Malley was coming to St. Patrick at 2 p.m.
"I told my husband, 'Eat quick, I want to go home, do some things and go to church again,'" she said.
"I feel fortunate to be here," Cormier said. "I think this is a historic event and I wanted to be here. He brings a renewed faith to the Church. He is very peaceful and has a humble voice. It gives you the feeling like when your Mom says ,'It's going to be okay,' and it is going to be okay," Cormier said.
Mayor Michael Sullivan, who grew up in St. Patrick Parish, said the bishop’s visit “is a wonderful day for Lawrence and the archdiocese.”
"The message he's trying to bring is a message of healing, and the Catholic Church is trying to help," Mayor Sullivan said before the Mass. "I'm excited to hear what he has to say and to see the reaction of people."
As Archbishop O’Malley entered the church, some parishioners commented how much he resembled St. Patrick because of his stature, white beard, mitre and green vestments. Underneath his vestments, he wore his brown Franciscan habit and sandals.
He walked in the procession with one hand over his heart and his crosier, or staff, in the other. Once at the altar, he folded his hands as he sang the entrance hymn, “Estamos Buscando” (“We are searching for a revival”).
Joining him at the altar were Paul Specht and Silvio Menendez, permanent deacons at St. Patrick. The Mass was concelebrated by Father O’Brien; parochial vicar Father FranciscoAnzoategui; Father Christopher Kirwan Jr., weekend assistant at St. Patrick; Father Paul MacManus, pastor of Asuncion de la Virgen Maria Church; and Father Emilson Aguirre, of Holy Rosary Church, all in Lawrence.
The hymns were played to the beat of congas and bass guitar and, although he did not clap, the archbishop sang along with the congregation and his fellow priests.
Archbishop O’Malley listened to the Gospel proclaimed by Deacon Menendez, with his eyes closed, swaying slowly, holding on to his staff.
He began his homily with some comedy, Spanish-style.
"Like [Mexican comedian] Cantiflas used to say, 'May I cut in?'" Archbishop O'Malley asked the audience, who broke into laughter.
"People are wondering how I got here so fast," he said. "It was like I contacted Walter Mercado," the archbishop said, referring to a fortune teller popular on Spanish-language television known for dressing up like Liberace.
In his homily, Archbishop O’Malley spoke of the day’s reading from Exodus in which God sent the Israelites manna from heaven.
"That talks about our spiritual journey," Archbishop O'Malley said. "Nothing is improvised. He knew exactly what to do... Manna is the bread eaten at the Eucharist. It's our journey towards the promised land."
The archbishop said the United States has the most obese people in the world, but there is still a spiritual hunger.
"Neither sex nor drugs will satisfy that spiritual hunger," Archbishop O'Malley said, and quoting St. Augustine, "My soul will not rest until it rests in you."
He noted that Catholics are not known for memorizing Bible chapters and verses, but he assured the congregation, “This is one of the most important ones in the Bible.”
"Here, the Lord talks about the greatest gift given to us, the Eucharist," he said. "Jesus is the word made flesh, it's the manna that came down from heaven. There will always be pain, problems and disappointments in our Church. We have to suffer, but we have manna. Our Lord Who loves us very much gave of Himself so that we can have Him in our hearts," he said.
Referencing another miracle recounted in the Bible, the parting of the Red Sea, Archbishop O’Malley said “For us, the Red Sea represents the baptismal waters that lead us to our spiritual journey. It’s where we drown our sins and miseries to make a new life.”
Although he did not directly address the sexual abuse scandal in the Church of Boston, the issue was among the Prayers of the Faithful read by Deacon Menendez. Prayers were also offered for war-torn countries like Liberia and the Holy Land, and for the poor and the oppressed. After the prayers, Archbishop O’Malley led the congregation in reciting the ‘Hail Mary.’
After the Mass ended, Father O’Brien told the archbishop in Spanish, “this is a gift that surely we’ll never forget... Our heart’s home and our house of prayer is indeed your house,” Father O’Brien said.
As he rose to speak, the archbishop received a thunderous standing ovation.
"Thank you for your wonderful welcome. I'm happy to be here. This was a beautiful Eucharist," Archbishop O'Malley said. He then addressed the English-speaking parishioners. "I'm very happy to be here in Lawrence. I know the Lord has blessed you and will continue to bless you."
As he left the church the crowd followed the archbishop to the front steps where he stood, blessing men, women, and children and signing copies of The Pilot, which featured stories on his installation, and posing for photos.
Claudia Harney and her husband Richard, of Peabody, brought their son, Kevin, who is confined to a wheel chair.
"We feel he's a blessed priest," Mrs. Harney said.
John and Gail O’Rourke of Andover had watched the archbishop’s installation on television and wanted to see him in person.
"This is probably a once in a lifetime change," Gail O'Rourke said. "I was overwhelmed. He is such a wonderful man. He made me feel so good and gives us hope for everything."