Lawrence Catholics celebrate annual Fiesta

From a raised altar in Campagnone Common with worshipers from the city’s parishes and schools Sept. 19, Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley celebrated the seventh annual Lawrence Catholic Fiesta.

“We are delighted to be here — it is a lovely tradition and we are happy to be a part of it,” said the archbishop as he donned his vestments under one of the trees that formed a circle around the site of the Mass.

The Catholic Fiesta of Lawrence was started in 1998 by Father William F. Waters, OSA, who is now at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Methuen, said Gail A. Murphy, the festival’s music director since its inception.

Father [Waters] wanted to have an event to celebrate the unity in the midst of the diversity of the Catholic community in the city,” she said.

Father Waters said this year’s theme, “Being Resourceful in Rebuilding the Church,” was consistent with that Sunday’s Gospel, which was the story of the resourceful steward.

To symbolize the theme, during the service, four schoolgirls, Rosemary Kawam, 11; Chenny Alvarez, 14; Michelle Fernandez, 13; Jacqueline Lajara, 13; proceeded down the main aisle, climbed the stairs of the altar stage and presented the archbishop a model of a church filled with written intentions from their classmates.

“Archbishop O’Malley, on behalf of the children of Lawrence, we would like to present you with the many different ways we will rebuild the Church of Lawrence,” said Kawam.

Another important element of the Mass was its return to an outdoor venue. Though the Fiesta has always been held on the town common, organizers decided to hold it inside St. Mary-Immaculada Concepcion Church last year

Last year after being held inside last year, he said. “This is the Common, and it is where we celebrate what we have in common.”

The cantor for the Mass, Rosaura Vasquez, said it was great to be back on the common again.

“Outdoors feels better, because you are in the middle of nature with the trees, the wind and the beautiful sky,” she said.

Vasquez, who is also a cantor for St. Patrick Church, said she has led the singing at the Mass for three years. She got her start when she and other members of her church’s choir attended a rehearsal for the combined choir.

Vazquez said at the practice, Murphy asked anyone who know the words to “Kryie” to sign along with her. Vasquez joined in, and when she was done Murphy looked at her and said, “It’s a good thing you know it, because you are going to be singing it.”

Murphy said the Lawrence Collaborative Combined Choir has members for all seven churches in the city, but next year, after the reconfiguration, it will be three churches.

The choir has roughly 20 members and a seven-piece band, she said.

For the festival the choir performed seven songs, in English and Spanish. Murphy said her favorite, “The Prayer of St. Francis,” takes on a special character in Spanish. “It flows and sounds differently, but you recognize it and know the song.”

The head of the liturgical committee, Frances A. Morcos, said there were nine foreign languages used during the service, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Lithuanian and Polish. Morcos, herself, read Arabic General Intercession.

Like Morcos, Thomas M. Cuddy said he has been on the liturgical committee for five years. Cuddy’s job is to make sure the Mass and festival goes off without a hitch. Throughout the morning, he was moving from task to task; from setting up the altar, the chairs, the refreshments to lighting the incense and lining up the schoolgirls who made the presentation to the archbishop.

Father Bill said it amazed him that at 8 a.m. the grounds were empty, and that by Noon the entire area had been transformed.

Cuddy said the work and preparation weigh him down so much that every year he promises himself it is his last, but he always comes back.