An enduring event within the religious community in my native Woonsocket has been the annual Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service offered at the city’s Holy Family Church, (this year, on Sunday, November 18, at 3 p.m.).
Father Edward St. Goddard, a fellow alumnus of St. Bernard Seminary in Rochester, N.Y., and pastor of the South Main Street church, has long been involved in interfaith and intrafaith activities throughout the state.
This year, Father St. Goddard has assembled an impressive list of clergy, religious and laity to participate in this prayerful and song-filled scriptural reflection. A reading from the Hebrew Scriptures will be presented by Rabbi Amy Levin, noted for her intrafaith enterprises as well as her leadership among the Rhode Island Jewish community in their committed work for social justice.
Imam Farid Ansari, representing the Islamic tradition, Rev. Dr. Sammy Vaughn, leader of Woonsocket’s black community of faith, Jesuit Father Gerald Finnegan, pastor of Woonsocket’s mother church, St. Charles Borromeo (1845), will be joined by Uniate, Orthodox, Polish National, Lutheran, Congregational, Baptist, Quaker, and Episcopal clergy and a church filled with religious and laity as they praise God for his abundant blessings on our religious traditions and our nation. Bishop Louis E. Gelineau, who now lives in Northern Rhode Island, will share his thoughts on the Gospel reading.
Father St. Goddard requested that I lead a Litany of Thanksgiving at the conclusion of the ceremony, which has given me pause to reflect on my own sense of gratitude. First, I am definitely grateful that Pope Benedict XVI is our Holy Father. His Holiness has both the Catholic belief and the human insight to recognize that the disconnect between the sacred and the secular, between faith and reason, is the paramount challenge of our day.
As the pontiff wrote when announcing the Year of Faith, “Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.”
Yes, the old “unitary cultural matrix,” i.e., the basic Christian worldview, the Judaeo-Christian tradition, which readers can recall from their youth, has disappeared to be unhappily replaced by pluralism, inclusiveness, relativism and individualism wherein one opinion is as good as another and every lifestyle is equally valid. The recent revision of the text of the liturgy throughout the English speaking world is another boon for the Catholic community for which I am genuinely grateful. After 46 years of offering Mass daily I am unapologetically riveted to the text in the Roman Missal doing my best to hand on each cadence, each turn of phrase, in the respectful and elegant manner the new edition intends.
My broader mandate, however, is to consider what blessings this Woonsocket gathering might especially celebrate at this Thanksgiving season. The city of Woonsocket has a population of 43,000 persons, yet the city counts only 10,000 property taxpayers. This indicates a city abounding in rental properties (triple deckers), senior citizen high-rises (thank you, Freddy St. Germain), and multiple forms of subsidized housing (the newest for homeless veterans).
Woonsocket is happily a city that has responded to the needs of its limited income citizens in many practical ways. On weekday mornings an astonishing number line up at St. Charles Borromeo Parish hall to receive their share of farm fresh vegetables one day and practical home items another day. Queen of Martyrs Parish maintains Our Lady’s Pantry and St. Joseph Parish offers abundant food items as well. All Saints Parish maintains a facility for the Office of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry to offer counseling, education, and direction to various clients.
Because He Lives, a popular meal site for almost a generation, currently operates out of All Saints Parish. There are, of course, many Twelve Step programs conducted throughout the city. The secular community has also effectively responded to the needs of Woonsocket’s citizens. NeighborWorks deals with affordable housing; Family Resources Community Action provides employment and family services as well as a much-needed shelter for the homeless as does Harvest Community Church during the winter. Mental health and substance abuse are addressed at the Northern R.I. Community Services. CCF – Connecting for Children and Families attends to the needs of younger citizens.
The Woonsocket Housing Authority is advertising more reasonable rents as well. Church and state working together to promote the common good is something for which every community should be grateful.