WEST WARWICK— St. Joseph Church parishioners proved that they truly know the meaning of loving thy neighbor as they continue to welcome those displaced from Sacred Heart Parish.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin concelebrated the 8:30 a.m Mass with the two Providence Street pastors, Fathers Charles Downing and Richard Bucci, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, on Sunday at St. Joseph Church. While Sacred Heart suffered much damage from the recent flood, St. Joseph, located just up the hill, was not affected.
During the Mass, the bishop thanked both priests for being strong shepherds for their parishes and expressed his gratitude to the hospitable St. Joseph community.
“I want to thank members of St. Joseph for the very warm welcome,” he said. “Your hospitality has been a wonderful Christian example. Our prayer is that God will give all of you peace, especially those affected by flood in the region. The Lord will give you all new hope.”
During his homily, the bishop said that he has authorized diocesan assistance that will provide ongoing and long-term aid for those who are affected for months to come. He also encouraged that parishes throughout the diocese take up a second collection to assist flood victims.
Since the flooding began, the Catholic Church has provided $25,000 in assistance to those affected by the flooding for immediate needs such as clothing and food. Thanks to funds made available from the Diocesan Assistance Fund, the diocese’s West Warwick satellite office has been able to offer clothing and food assistance in the form of gift cards as well as vouchers for local laundromats.
“Please know that you are in my thoughts, on my heart,” the bishop said. “I walk with you during these difficult times.”
Jill and Luke Razza, parishioners of Sacred Heart Church, said that they felt uplifted after attending Mass at St. Joseph Church.
“It’s so emotional and so heartwarming. He [Father Downing] is such a wonderful priest, very welcoming, and he means it right from here,” Jill Razza said pointing to her heart. “It was really a wonderful experience. The bishop was also very inspiring. We need more Catholics like that.”
Sacred Heart parishioner Margaret Balasco, of Coventry, said that although she received a warm welcome from parishioners at St. Joseph, she is eager to return to her home parish.
“We miss it,” said Balasco. “We have been going to church at Sacred Heart since I came here from Italy 20 years ago. You are feeling welcomed, but you miss home.”
St. Joseph pastor, Father Charles Downing, said that the parishioners of Sacred Heart always have an open invitation to attend Mass and parish events and added that it is possible that Sacred Heart could reopen in a month.
“Sacred Heart parishioners are very gracious people,” he said. “The church was as full as Easter Mass.”
At a reception following the Mass, parishioners from both West Warwick parishes, including Robert Ritoli and his wife Frances, thanked the pastors and the bishop for their dedication to helping those in need.
“Everybody in this area has been touched by the flood in one way or another,” said Robert Ritoli. “The show of support here was very nice and very beneficial to many of the people. We are looking forward to the reopening of our parish.”
During troubling times, the bishop told the blended parishes to look to the Resurrection for hope, courage, and peace.
“We draw our life from Christ. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing,” he said. “This is a moment for us to renew our faith to strengthen our relationship with Christ-especially in the aftermath of the flood. Please be assured of my prayers for you and all of those affected throughout the state.”
In an effort to continue to help those affected by the flood, St. Joseph Church and the parish youth group are collecting sheets, towels, toiletries, pillows, bed linens, and cleaning supplies. People in need of items can stop by Saturday, April 17, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.. and Sunday, April 18, from 1-3 p.m., and take what they need. For more information, call 821-4072.