Gathered As One • Some 1,000 people joined Bishop O'Connell for Mass on the grounds of the gazebo in Belmar the morning of Aug. 13. Joe Moore photos
Gathered As One • Some 1,000 people joined Bishop O'Connell for Mass on the grounds of the gazebo in Belmar the morning of Aug. 13. Joe Moore photos

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

With folks sitting on beach chairs, towels and on the ground, with a few perched on bicycles, nearly 1,000 faithful from around the Diocese and beyond gathered for the celebration of Mass at the gazebo on Silver Lake in Belmar with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., the morning of Aug. 13.

Photo Gallery: Mass at the Belmar Gazebo

The Mass, at which Bishop O’Connell was principal celebrant, was hosted by five Monmouth County shoreline parishes that comprise Cohort 19: St. Catharine-St. Margaret, Spring Lake; St. Rose, Belmar; St. Mark, Sea Girt; Ascension, Bradley Beach, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Avon, offered an opportunity for the gathering to pray, share camaraderie and reflect on the goals laid out in Faith In Our Future, the diocesan initiative commissioned by Bishop O’Connell in 2015 to strengthen and enliven parishes of the Diocese.

Beaming as he spoke of the large number of people who turned out for the Mass, Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor of St. Rose Parish, thought the number of people would reach between 150 and 200. But when he learned the number had approached 1,000, he thought that was “amazing!”

“I think for the parishes in Cohort 19, this Mass with our Bishop gave me and all of us, I’m sure, a new awareness, a new perspective, of the realty of what a Cohort is,” he said. “This first-ever Cohort event on Sunday, showed us how we can work together, collaborate, and most of all, pray together as parishioners. It should energize us and fill us with great faith and hope as we continue to implement our particular goals for Faith In Our Future. It will remind us that we need to ‘gather as one’ more often and realize how blessed we are with so many gifts and talents.”

As temperatures were made comfortable by the cooling breeze from the nearby Atlantic Ocean and the humidity lessened by the rainstorm from the evening before, the hours before the Mass were filled with anticipation as the throng began arriving to the gazebo grounds by 8:15 a.m., ready to prayerfully engage in what was regarded as an inaugural event.

Joining Bishop O’Connell at the specially prepared altar table that was placed inside the gazebo were the pastors of Cohort 19. Deacons assisting at the Mass and altar servers also hailed from the five parishes.

Music was provided by St. Mark Parish including members from the children’s, teen and adult choirs and a separate Spanish choir. As the congregation sang the upbeat opening hymn, “Of The Many, One,” a smiling Bishop O’Connell, clergy and servers took part in the entrance procession, making their way to the gazebo.

In welcoming remarks, Msgr. Arnister introduced Bishop O’Connell, saying that while thousands of people converge on the Jersey Shore for vacation “and especially here to ‘Bella’ Belmar, you come today, not just as a visitor, but as our shepherd, the successor of the Apostles, the Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton.

“In the name of the parishes of Cohort 19, Welcome! Bievenito!” Msgr. Arnister said.

As the Mass proceeded to unfold, the sense of the sacred was in no way compromised. The activity from the boardwalk and surrounding streets could be seen and heard, yet all in attendance remained focused and responded with the utmost reverence.

Faith In The Father

Looking to the congregation, Bishop O’Connell, in his homily, reflected on the Gospel that referred to the miracle that Jesus had performed when he fed 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fishes. Jesus’ miracles followed with his walking on water in the Sea of Galilee and then his having to convince his apostles that he was indeed the Son of God.

“Sometimes it takes a little drama to stir up faith,” Bishop O’Connell said. “Faith is not simply a set of doctrines, although they are important. Faith is not simply a dramatic miracle here and there that catches our attention. Faith is a relationship with the Lord. And like every good relationship, it has to grow and deepen -- it cannot be taken for granted.”

Bishop O’Connell spoke of how one’s relationship with the Lord also leads us to one another.

“The Lord Jesus didn’t call one apostle, he called 12. Jesus didn’t feed one person, he fed 5,000. Jesus didn’t preach to one individual, he spoke to the multitudes,” he said.

“Sometimes in our search for God, we set our expectations too high. We don’t need to. It’s not that complicated,” Bishop O’Connell said. Rather, God can be found in the “everyday moments of life.”

 “In the everyday moments, God says to us, ‘do not be afraid, it is I.’ And when we have faith in those everyday moments every day, we ready ourselves for the difficult moments, the restless moments, the tough times, the stormy seas. Faith sees us through and lifts us up when we falter.”

Many Parts, One Body

Reflecting on the Faith In Our Future initiative, Moira Higgins of St. Mark Parish said that through the Mass, she thought it was important “to see how our small shore towns can create a larger community if we work together.”

“Having the Bishop in attendance was a blessing and reflects the importance our Diocese places on the efforts of Cohort 19,” she said.

“I enjoyed every minute of the service from the concelebrated Mass to the participation by so many people, the bilingual and of course the beautiful music,” she said, mentioning that her 16-year-old daughter has been a member of the parish music ministry for 10 years.

From her property located across the street from the gazebo, Jane Davis of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, sat on a lawn chair and watched the Mass with her two daughters Teri Gilroy and Kathy Carlson.

Describing the Mass as a “wonderful event,” Davis spoke of how meaningful it was to see a cross-section of people of varying ages and cultures. What made the day especially special for Davis was when Bishop O’Connell saw the specially made “Welcome Bishop” sign that she held throughout the Mass.

“I was hoping he would see the sign, and he did,” she said with a smile.

Out-of-towners Connie Calucci of Assumption Parish, Roselle Park, and Bernadette Dwyer of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Scotch Plains, were both visiting family in the Belmar area.

“It’s a start,” Calucci said as she reflected on how the Mass was intended to bring people of area parishes together and the need for parishes to work together. “This was a wonderful event, and I plan on coming back next year.”

As a former Belmar councilwoman, Claire Deicke, a 50-year member of St. Rose Parish, was only too happy to oblige when her pastor, Msgr. Arnister, asked for her help with logistics such as securing police assistance, traffic and parking criteria and ensuring that the day would run smoothly.

“It was a very pleasant, joyful day,” said Deicke, adding that she was delighted to greet Bishop O’Connell whom she found to be “warm and engaging.”

“Meeting the Bishop was the highlight of my day,” Deicke said.

Having Faith In Their Future

Thomas Knight of St. Rose Parish said he was drawn to the Cohort Mass because “it is something new happening with the Church and I want to be tuned in regarding the changes.”

“It was great to have the Bishop lead the Mass and I found his manner to be very down to earth as well as an easy person to communicate with. I really liked it when he talked about our Lord and faith.”

Knight said that people should look for God in their daily activities because “it’s the small things that accumulate, upon our realizations that make our lives blessed from above.

“We all need to be more thankful for what we have that we don’t always realize, is a gift from our precious, kindhearted, loving, compassionate leader,” Knight continued. “The Bishop really explained faith well, in easy to understand terms. I hope everyone got the message.”