Maclearie Park became a place of prayer Sept. 8 as hundreds from the Cohort 19 parishes gathered for an outdoor Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connell. Jeff Bruno photo
Maclearie Park became a place of prayer Sept. 8 as hundreds from the Cohort 19 parishes gathered for an outdoor Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connell. Jeff Bruno photo

Those traveling the busy Route 35 thoroughfare that fronts Belmar’s Maclearie Park would have been hard-pressed not to notice the hundreds gathered Sept. 8 near Shark River.

“Watching the cars going by, seeing us here as a Catholic community joined together – what a great witness,” said Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. “What a good reminder of the power of faith to unite people.”

Photo Gallery: Bishop celebrates Mass for faithful from Cohort 19 parishes

More than 700 faithful from Monmouth County’s Cohort 19 gathered for the outdoor celebration of morning Mass with Bishop O’Connell. The Mass was hosted by St. Teresa of Calcutta, Bradley Beach; St. Rose, Belmar; St. Catharine-St. Margaret, Spring Lake; St. Mark, Sea Girt; and Holy Innocents, Neptune, which recently joined the Cohort. St. Denis Parish, Manasquan, also participated given that the parish is in the same deanery as the Cohort parishes.

The Mass reflected its theme, “Gathered As One," and the collaborative spirit that existed among the faithful from each Cohort parish as the Readings were proclaimed in English and Spanish, the youth participated as altar servers and ambassadors, and the music was provided by choir members and musicians from the Cohort parishes.

“You can’t find a better backdrop,” observed Maria Kelly, noting the outdoor setting, the temporary altar that was set up for the Mass and the iconic “Gathered as One” banner that was hand-sewn by Irene Gallagher of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish.

“It just felt good to hear the beautiful music of different origins, to see the ushers and the altar servers all together. They were from different parishes but it felt like a unified group,” said Kelly, adding how pleased she was to attend the Mass with six other family members, all of whom have membership in one of three Cohort parishes – St. Mark, St. Rose and St. Catharine-St. Margaret.

Vibrant Celebration

The Bishop’s words about community dovetailed into his reflection on the day’s Readings, namely on the crowds that followed Jesus in his lifetime and the way he challenged them to follow his teachings. Drawing from the Gospel of Luke 14:25-33, the Bishop shared how Jesus puts “commitment to God first” when addressing his followers, challenging them to “get their priorities set” by turning their backs on their families, and renouncing their possessions in order to become his disciples.

“Did Jesus really say that?” the Bishop asked. “That people must hate their family before they can follow them and renounce their possessions … What’s going on is that there is something deeper and more profound beneath the surface,” he said.

“That something,” the Bishop continued, “is that to really follow him, you must carry the cross. Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t come without cost. Think about the crowd that is following Jesus. Some are just curious seekers. Some had huge expectations of what the Messiah would bring: wealth, power and the rest. But you know that wasn’t the plan. The crowd didn’t count on the cross.”

What Luke’s Gospel accomplishes, Bishop O’Connell said, is to show that Jesus “puts commitment to God first,” asking his followers to “get their priorities set” and meet the challenges head on, mindful of the fact that “if you carry the cross, one day that cross will carry you.”

Meaningful and Moving

The morning of prayer, music and fellowship offered many participants the chance to reflect on the shared sense of community that has been building since the parishes came together as a Cohort as part the diocesan Faith in Our Future initiative, which had as its goal to strengthen parishes across the Diocese.

One of the fruits of Cohort 19’s working together has been the annual outdoor Mass, which started in 2017 and was first held on the grounds near the Belmar Gazebo. Because of inclement weather, last year’s Mass was moved to St. Rose Church. Those in attendance and helping out, including the Knights of Columbus Council and members of the Borough police department handled the event seamlessly, said Tom Mullooly, Cohort Chairman.

“You try to plan how many people will show up and you hope for the best with the weather but you never know,” Mullooly said, noting that there were cloudy skies in the morning and the weather had looked a bit threatening but all went well.

Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor of St. Rose Parish and one of the concelebrating priests, commended everyone for their support, most especially Mullooly and the Borough of Belmar. “’Gathered As One’ is the theme that we gave this Mass when we started it three years ago, and I think that says it all,” he said.

Modesta Arias of St. Mark Parish, who proclaimed the Second Reading in Spanish, spoke about the solidarity of the faithful in coming together from different parishes.

“It was wonderful,” Arias said. “I hope that they keep this [Mass] every year.”