JOHNSTON — The gentle spring afternoon of Sunday, April 22, was the perfect backdrop for a Mass in which to celebrate and honor the Jubilee anniversaries of the religious priests, brothers and sisters serving in the diocese.
The Mass was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, along with St. Rocco Pastor Father Angelo Carusi, and assisted by Deacon Robert Troia. The simultaneous celebration of Good Shepherd and Vocation Sunday meshed seamlessly with the Mass for Jubiliarians. The religious who were being honored have been, in many ways, good shepherds for those they have ministered to, and living witnesses of the grace of religious vocations within the Church.
Sister Elizabeth Castro, H.M.S.P., director of the diocesan Office of Religious, coordinated the celebration. At the end of Mass, she thanked Bishop Evans, Father Carusi, St. Rocco Director of Liturgical Music Christopher Caramello and the congregation for being present. Sister Elizabeth thanked the jubilarians by saying in part, “we wish you many blessings as we celebrate your dedication to the Church.” The choir included singers from St. Rocco, St. Augustine in Providence, The Prout School, and St. Matthew Parish in Cranston.
Pope Francis recently published a message for Vocation Sunday in which he stated that each vocation has three components: listening, discerning, and living. Several of the jubiliarians indicated that these components are also integral to their lives.
Father Peter P. Polo, c.s., who is marking 50 years as a member of the Scalabrinian Congregation, serves as chaplain at the Scalabrini Villa in North Kingstown. He shared that the significance of this celebration for him was one of simple gratitude.
“Gratitude that I made it, and I can continue,” he said, and his wise advice to those who may be called to a religious or priestly vocation is “to remove fear. Be a person of hope and faith, not of fear.”
Sister Helen McPeak, a Holy Union Sister for 65, said the day for her was a celebration of the joy of these years.
“It has been a wonderful opportunity to show the face of God and to be present to people,” she said, adding that those who might be discerning a vocation to religious life should pray and “make contact with somebody you have confidence in and who inspires you.”
Brother Frederick Bouchard, a member of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, was honored for his 65 years of service to the Church.
“Well it’s a surprise that I’m here! The Lord’s been good to me,” he laughed, sharing that his greatest appreciation is the spirituality of his religious community. “It is satisfying to work for the Lord.”
Brother Louis Laperle, also a Brother of the Sacred Heart, was celebrating a monumental 70 years as a religious. In those years he served four times in Africa as a missionary.
He said his many years of service included teaching, lots of pastoral work and being faithful to God through the practice of patience and endurance.
During the Mass, the jubiliarians settled in reserved pews, with family members, friends and St. Rocco parishioners seated throughout the church in support of them. Organ music filled the beautifully ornate interior of the church as the Mass commenced.
In his homily, Bishop Evans reminded everyone that giving witness with our lives demands more than simply professing our faith with our lips.
“We need to practice what we preach,” he said. “This is a difficult task, especially in a world that simply has turned a deaf ear to the demanding teachings of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not an easy religion.”
Bishop Evans asked, “Who among us in imitation of the Good Shepherd today in the Gospel would willingly lay down his life for those entrusted to our care? In a special way, and by special consecration, you men and women, religious sisters, brothers and priests — you have done this in an outstanding way.”
Towards the end of his homily he reminded the jubilarians how much their ministry has inspired countless others through those special years.
“Whatever the charism of your mission has been; teaching, health care, or social or moral reform, or a life of cloistered prayer or community life, your example and fidelity and perseverance has been an inspiration to so many others.”
During the Mass, despite the sounding of a fire alarm in the church at that time, the jubilarians also renewed their religious vows, stating in part: “Trusting in God’s love and fidelity, I renew my dedication to God through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I renew the gift of my life in community and in mission to extend God’s reign of justice, love and peace in the world.”
The jubilarians, unphased by the screeching alarm, continued their prayerful focus on Holy Mass, not letting the sound deter their joyful renewal of vows; proof once again that their love of the Lord and his Church remains steadfast despite any obstacle life may send their way.
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