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Using the Blessed Mother as their role model, more than 1,000 Catholics from the seven churches in Lawrence came together to worship on Sept. 21. Bishop Emilio S. Allué, bishop of the Merrimack Region, celebrated the Mass at St. Mary-Immaculada Concepcion Church along with 11 other priests and Deacons Jack Harrison of St. Mary and Juan Gil of Asuncion de la Virgen Maria.
The sixth annual Catholic Fiesta was celebrated under the theme, “Mary, Our Model of Peace, Service and Simplicity.”
In past years, the event has been held at Campagnone Common, but members of the steering committee thought it would be a good idea to move the celebration indoors for practical reasons, said Father Bill Waters, OSA, pastor of St. Mary.
"It's ideal to have it in a common spot that doesn't belong to anybody," Father Waters said. "However, we're always playing with the possibility of the weather."
Father Waters said one year there was the threat of rain and another year people were looking for shelter from the sun and moving away from the makeshift altar on the Bernstein stage.
"You don't want people to move away from the altar," Father Waters said. Some parishioners who have attended the liturgy for several years said they preferred having it in church rather than on the common.
"The church is the house of God. It is more appropriate to get together to pray there as a family," said Ana Martinez of Lawrence.
In contrast, Rita St. Amanda said she enjoys being in the open and raising her voice to God, and praying to the Lord as the sun shines on her face and the birds sing.
"There's something about nature that brings you closer to the Creator," St. Amand said.
Students from Central Catholic High School in Lawrence stood at the doors of the church selling buttons and handing out programs. Inside, Gayle Murphy, musical director at St. Mary, directed a choir made up of members from the city’s churches.
During the Mass, the men and women, dressed in white and black, sang hymns in English and Spanish. They included: “All Are Welcome,” “Oh Santisima (Oh Holy Woman),” “Holy Is His Name,” “Oh Maria, Madre Mia (Oh Mary, My Mother),” and “City of God.”
Bishop Allué addressed the congregation in English and Spanish. In his homily, he spoke of the role of Mary in Jesus’ life and in ours. “The Rosary is not only a prayer of intercession, but it presents to us what Mary lived and did,” Bishop Allué said.
He referred to the Gospel reading from Mark 9:30-37, in which the apostles asked Jesus to say who was the greatest among them. In response, Jesus held a child and told them to be like the toddler. “His reply was humility and service,” Bishop Allué said. “The Virgin Mary is the model of humility and service. She said, ‘Here I am, I am the servant of the Lord.’”
On Sept. 21, the Church celebrated Catechetical Sunday. After the homily, Bishop Allué called men and women who serve as catechists to stand so he could commission them.
The service also featured intercessions in Polish, Spanish, Italian, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Lithuanian, for Lawrence, which is known as the “Immigrant City.”
Prayers were offered for the pope, the new Archbishop of Boston, Seán P. O’Malley, the sick, the deceased, children, political leaders and the success of the clustering of the Lawrence parishes.
Father Waters said, in keeping with the Holy Father’s petition to honor the Blessed Mother this year, Bishop Allué wanted to focus on Mary as a theme for this year’s liturgy.
"For us in the city, as we're going about reconfiguring the clustering, it's important to have a sense of harmony, and Mary is that model of peacefulness," Waters said. "Mary is our model of service and, like children, we need to trust and be simple like she was."