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SOUTH END -- It is the work done by this year's 113 Cheverus Award Recipients and others like them that keeps the Archdiocese of Boston from coming to a "grinding halt," Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley said at a Dec. 4 vespers service to present the awards.
"Your loving service is born of a deep faith and a sense of discipleship, that today we want to recognize and hold up as a role model for our young Catholics," he said.
Held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the vespers service saw hundreds gather to watch friends and family receive the Cheverus Medal.
Since 2008, the archdiocese's bicentennial year, one-third of the parishes of the archdiocese are annually asked to nominate a parishioner for the award. A criterion given to pastors suggests that the nominee be a layperson who has served the parish over an extended period of time and has done so in a "quiet, unassuming, and, perhaps, unrecognized way."
Award recipients can also include deacons and religious nominated by regional bishops and episcopal vicars and individuals selected by Cardinal O'Malley personally.
The medal is named after Bishop Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, the first bishop of the then Diocese of Boston.
Bishop Cheverus led the diocese from 1808 until his return to France in 1824, and his likeness is featured on one side of the oval-shaped silver medal. On the reverse side is his coat of arms and his motto, "Diligamus nos invicem," ("Let us love one another").
In his homily, the cardinal thanked awardees for their "years of faithful service."
"Your service has made a difference, and today we simply want to say thank you to God for giving us such brothers and sisters in the household of the faith," he said.
"We want to say thank you to you and your families for the many hours of generous service that you have given in our parishes, our schools, our diocesan agencies, serving the poor in soup kitchens and prisons, passing on the faith through programs of evangelization, and myriad works of mercy," the cardinal continued.
He also spoke of the importance of Advent, noting that the vespers service fell on the second Sunday of Advent.
During this time of year, he said, we invite Jesus into our lives and into our hearts.
"Advent is such an important time for the Church because it's a spiritual preparation for Christmas, so we can rescue Christmas from being just a sentimental and materialistic secular celebration," said Cardinal O'Malley.
"Let us all work together to live this Advent as a time of spiritual renewal and hospitality -- hospitality to receive our brothers and sisters, hospitality to receive Christ into our hearts," he said.
Following the homily, awardees were called up one-by-one to receive their Cheverus Award Medal from the Cardinal who draped the medal's red ribbon around each recipient's neck, clasped their hand and offered brief words of congratulations.
Sister Linda Bessom, SND, one of this year's Cheverus Medal recipients, told The Pilot following the service that she felt "astounded and amazed" when she heard she was to receive the award.
She explained it was Bishop Mark O'Connell who nominated her for the award after learning of her work with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
The Coalition focuses both attempting to prevent homelessness, and providing assistance to those already homeless.
Sister Linda works in the Coalition's Lynn office, and said when she accepted the award, her mind was not only with her fellow sisters and coworkers, but also with the countless individuals she helps through her work.
"I just thought of so many people, my eyes just welled up with tears, because I was doing it on behalf of all of my brothers and sisters," she said.
"I'm so blessed to meet God in the most vulnerable every day," she said.
Another awardee, Ernest Linek, also said the award was unexpected.
"When I got the letter from the cardinal, I was just shocked," said Linek. "I didn't think I deserved it."
He said he has been doing work for the archdiocese's Pastoral Planning Advisory Board for almost four years, and was honored to have received the Cheverus Award Medal.
"I wouldn't have missed (the awards service) for anything. Coming down here was just a true honor," he said.
Jose Miguel Arango, a parishioner of Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine in East Boston, received an award as well.
Speaking in Spanish with translation by the shrine's rector, Father Marcelo Boschi, Arango said that he feels grateful to be able to do God's work each day at the shrine. In serving the community, Arango said, he feels "like an instrument from God."