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WEYMOUTH -- On the same day that people packed the closed St. Albert the Great Church for a prayer service, around 250 people gathered at the amphitheater next to Weymouth town hall for a Mass to help bring healing and unity to the town's Catholic community.
Meeting on common ground, members of the Weymouth Catholic cluster gathered on Sept. 26 for the Mass, which each of the cluster's four remaining parishes helped plan. All the priests and deacons from Weymouth were in attendance.
It was a warm, sunny day with a cool breeze, and most people set up their lawn chairs in the shade. Behind the altar hung two banners that read "We are one body, one body in Christ" and "And we never stand alone."
In his homily, Msgr. Peter T. Martocchio, who is in residence at St. Jerome in Weymouth, cited two reasons that healing is needed in Weymouth -- St. Albert's closing on Sept. 1 and the resignation of Immaculate Conception's pastor, Father Paul E. Miceli, on Sept. 27.
"I believe that it is of primary importance that we recognize the feelings that many are experiencing in both parishes -- feelings of sorrow, confusion and outright anger," Msgr. Martocchio said in his homily. "We are mourning the death of a parish and the loss of a good pastor."
He acknowledged the pain of reconfiguration and offered support, encouragement and prayers to the good people who are hurt by the process. He hoped support would help people to gradually move beyond their pain, he said.
"Unfortunately, many think that the role of the Church is to make my life easier, that the Church must change the teachings of Christ and make them more palatable when I find them difficult to live by," Msgr. Martocchio said. "Christ did not come to take away our pain, sorrow, disappointment, the cross. He came to stand by us, help us to carry those hurts."
The Church is not perfect because its members are humans, capable of sin, he said.
"I can accept a flawed Church because Christ never promised that the Church would be perfect or only made up of saints. On the contrary, from its earliest days we see how weak and human were its leaders -- Peter, Thomas, Judas to mention a few," he said.
Msgr. Martocchio invited the congregation to look at reconfiguration as a new beginning and not allow the process to cause fragmenting of the people of Weymouth.
"It is imperative that we have a greater spirit of cooperation -- sharing our resources, our personnel, our ideas, our faith, our enthusiasm, our love of God and one another based in genuine humility," he said.
Msgr. Martocchio's homily was followed by a standing ovation.
Less than three miles away from the town hall, people gathered at St. Albert's, continuing the protest of the parish's suppression on Sept. 1. Parishioners are holding what they call an "eternal vigil," in an effort to convince the archdiocese to reopen the church. Cars drove by, beeping in support of keeping the parish open, and almost all the cars in the parking lot had a bumper sticker that read "Keep St. Albert's open."
The 11:00 a.m. prayer service on Sept. 26 was packed, according to Colin Riley. He and other members of the parish council have written a proposal to the archdiocese that suggests raising the money needed to support five parishes in Weymouth. Each parish should contribute instead of St. Albert's taking on the whole burden, he said.
The archdiocese has not responded to the proposal but did send two representatives to talk with parishioners last week. Future meetings are planned, according to Riley.
"This parish is still open even though the archbishop has suppressed us," he said. "We can improve together. We can move forward together, but if you're closing us, we can't."
Under Church law, the parish ceased to exist as of noon, Sept. 1.
But people who attended Weymouth's Mass of unity have a different perspective on moving forward. Many said they wished to bring Catholics of Weymouth together and show support to former St. Albert's parishioners.
"We could all be in that same boat, so we just need to stick together," said J. J. Donovan, a parishioner at St. Jerome for six years. "There's a lot of hurting people in Weymouth."
Deacon Stephen M. Buttrick, ordained on Sept. 18 and assigned to Immaculate Conception, was a parishioner at St. Albert's for many years.
"I know their pain because I'm feeling it and going through it," he said.
While he gives the people at the vigil credit for not giving up, he encouraged them to find new parishes in Weymouth. Many former parishioners of St. Albert's already have, he said.
One of those, Laura Jennette, was a parishioner at St. Albert's for 20 years. She now attends Immaculate Conception.
She was sad about St. Albert's closing but for other parishioners, not for herself, she said.
"I can find God and His Son Jesus anywhere I go," Jennette said.
Faith must be put in God, not a building, agreed Ruthann Sinibaldi, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception who helped plan the Mass of healing.
"The Church is not based in a building," she said.
This summer all five parishes in Weymouth were asked to participate in the planning of the Mass of healing, but the parish council at St. Albert's declined, Sinibaldi said. Parishioners there had known the church would be closing since May.
All were welcome at the Mass, she said.
Sister Marie Cicchese, CSJ said she saw members from every parish at the Mass of healing, including some who attended 9:00 a.m. Mass at Immaculate Conception that morning. She has lived in the community for 54 years and attended Immaculate Conception School.
Donna Dudic, a parishioner at Sacred Heart for the last 20 years, said the churches in Weymouth have done several joint missions over the last few years, especially during Lent.
"I think they should do it more often," she said. "I like the idea that we all came together because we come from the same town."