Cardinal highlights importance of grandparents at St. Anne novena

STURBRIDGE -- The presence of a cardinal at St. Anne's Shrine excited worshippers, who filled the pavilion for the closing of the 135th Annual Novena to St. Anne.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley preached at the evening Mass July 26, the feast of St. Anne and St. Joachim, Jesus' grandparents.

More than 250 people participated in the closing candlelight procession, and the cardinal stayed to greet them.

In his homily, he offered inspiration sprinkled with humor and stories while pointing out that, as disciples, we are part of Jesus' family. So, St. Anne "is also our grandmother, praying and interceding for us," the cardinal said.

Ironically, a grandmother prompted the first novena of the shrine.

"I've never known a cardinal to come to this parish," said Pauline Sey, 75, a life-long member of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish. "It was the best turnout we've had in many, many years" for any night of the novena. "When I was a kid, there used to be buses, and the procession went all the way down to Route 20."

Sey said her grandmother told her about the healing of her great-great-grandmother, Mary Houde, from which the novena sprung in 1887. Now the novena includes confessions, a rosary procession, and Mass each evening from July 18-26. There is an additional Mass with anointing of the sick the last morning.

This year, the focus was on the celebration of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which Pope Francis established last year. The theme was, "In old age they will still bear fruit" (Psalm 92:15).

Cardinal O'Malley spoke about the importance of the prayers of grandparents and elders and the importance of others visiting the elderly, setting the world free from loneliness.

Speaking of how Simeon and Anna met baby Jesus when he was presented in the Temple, the cardinal called those elderly men and women who attend daily Mass and pray in churches "our Simeons and Annas."

Cardinal O'Malley noted that in the Gospel for the feast of St. Anne and St. Joachim (Mt 13:16-17), Jesus says, "Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear" what others longed to see and hear. The cardinal said this is the blessedness of faith and spoke of praying for our families and young people to have such eyes and ears, and of being like the Holy Family.

He offered a prayer asking St. Anne to help us see what she sees -- the faces of Jesus and Mary -- and hear what she hears -- their words, and added, "then we will be blessed; we will be happy."

Cardinal O'Malley illustrated St. Anne's popularity among many groups with personal stories. After ordination, he worked with immigrants in Washington, D.C., among whom were Roma, commonly called Gypsies. He said they were a very colorful group of people, with women who were fortune tellers.

"They were also a faith-filled people" devoted to Jesus' grandmother. He said he would bless their cars before they drove to visit the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec.

He also spoke about working in the West Indies, where there was a great celebration for the feast of St. Anne. People sang French hymns and floated a statue of St. Anne teaching Mary on a boat. He teased the people that St. Anne's scroll bore letters of the Spanish alphabet; "she wasn't teaching ... French."

As usual, different ethnic communities led different nights of the novena. Vietnamese children danced. Brazilians dressed as the Blessed Mother under her different titles and formed a living replica of the shrine's Generations Statue, which depicts the Holy Family sheltered by St. Anne and Joachim. Assumptionist Father Alex Castro, pastor, presented Cardinal O'Malley with a small replica of the statue. (The Augustinians of the Assumption have staffed the parish since December 1955, Father Castro said.)

This year's novena was one of the best, said Edward Delage, of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish.

"It's so good to see the different cultures, how they celebrate Mass," said his wife, Clara. "No matter what nationality you are, it's one God. ... We are all one community. Today just brought it all together, especially with the cardinal here." She said it was her first time in the presence of a cardinal.

"And he's so personable," added her husband.

Alicia Aleman of Brookline made her first visit to the shrine July 26 "because I love St. Anne" and for her grandson, whom she asked Cardinal O'Malley to pray for. She attends both St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Brookline and Boston's Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and was glad to see the cardinal, whom she hasn't seen as frequently during the pandemic, she said.

"I think Cardinal Seán, he has a way of bringing people together," said Assumptionist Brother Daniele Caglioni, an Assumption University campus minister. Being with the cardinal was an opportunity for the Assumptionists to grow in their unity and devotion, he said.

Seeing how many people went to Communion that night, he said, "Christ is calling everyone to a deeper faith and a deeper trust and love of his Father" through his grandparents. "As a grandson myself, whose own grandparents modeled deep faith, this was a great opportunity for me to give thanks for them."

He said he calls his grandmother, who lives in Virginia, weekly.

"Every time I call, she asks when I'm going to become a priest," said the religious brother, who made his final vows Feb. 13, and hopes to be ordained one day. By praying and asking about this, his grandmother helps with his vocation, he said.