By Lois Rogers, Correspondent
Hopes were high that 200 to 400 faithful from Keyport’s St. Joseph and Jesus the Lord Parishes would turn out to mark their upcoming merger with a multicultural Mass and potluck picnic Sept. 10.
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But the result exceeded all expectations as a standing-room-only crowd – estimated at 500 – filled St. Joseph Church for Mass. There, they shared a bilingual liturgy in recognition of the community of cultures that will formally unite by July 1, 2018, as part of Faith in Our Future. The potluck picnic that followed embodied the multicultural theme with an international buffet.
In a homily preached both in Spanish and English, Father Rene Pulgarin, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, who will lead the united parish, urged everyone to look to the day’s Second Reading from Romans that the “only thing you should owe anyone is love for one another, for to love the other person is to fulfill the law. … Love can cause no harm to your neighbor, and so, love is the fulfillment of the Law.”
Love, he said, will make the journey easier, not only as “we walk together and become one” but also serve as one of 18 Centers for Hispanic ministry throughout the Diocese. The parish is one of 22 centers chosen as part of the Faith in Our Future initiative to help meet the needs of increasingly diverse populations, including two for the Portuguese and two for the Haitian communities.
Father Pulgarin said the day’s event and Mass – which was concelebrated by Father Kenneth Ekdahl, pastor of Jesus the Lord Parish, and Father Daniel Price, parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish – is just the beginning of a process of walking together to meet Christ. He asked everyone to “welcome the opportunity with an open heart,” focusing on the love of Christ that unites.
“Remember, owe nothing to anyone except love. Love one another,” Father Pulgarin urged, asking the members of both parishes to come to know each other not as neighbors in faith but “brothers and sisters.”
Calling the day the “beginning of the growing Catholic family in this area,” he asked everyone to consider how it reflected the richness of the Church, which is not found in “the beauty of temples or possessions by it,” but in the sharing “of our culture, our faith and in the worship of one family composed of many pieces.”
That sentiment spilled over onto the wide campus and parking lot, where scores of volunteers worked throughout the morning to set up a picnic area ringed with games and activities for children.
Cathy Strauss, pastoral assistant minister, who was in charge of organizing the celebration, said she was delighted how both the volunteers and general attendance reflected all generations of membership at both parishes.
“What I loved about it was that it wasn’t long before both communities were getting together, dancing to the music, enjoying the food,” she said. “It was wonderful to see the smiles on the parishioners’ faces, and to see Father Rene grinning from ear to ear.”
Maximino Hernandez and his friend Maria Soler, who worship in Jesus the Lord Parish, said they felt the congregation’s warmth from the moment they entered the church.
“You can pray to Jesus at any church,” Hernandez said, “but I felt [together], we are a temple of good.”
“When we came in, people greeted us and were very nice. We feel welcome,” said Soler, who called the day a good experience and said she was especially moved by the music. “I wondered what it would be like coming to a new church. I enjoyed it very much.”
Joe Stragella, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in St. Joseph Parish, waited patiently in line to sample some Latin specialties. Stragella, who makes a point of greeting people in the languages that flourish in the Bayshore – including Spanish and Hindi – called the event “a day of unity, of people together. A day that makes people smile.”
Alissa Scarola and Shelly Iannello of St. Joseph Parish said they were especially impressed by the large turnout and appreciated the bilingual Mass.
“I’ve been to a lot of churches,” Iannello shared, “and this is very receptive. It’s wonderful to have people celebrating together.”
Father Pulgarin called the gathering a positive experience. “I do believe that the goal we set for the communities to open windows to each other was successful and [that the Mass and picnic] will take place again next year.”
“When you see people sharing and talking together and even helping to clean up the place together at the end of the day, you saw in it a wonderful embracing of change,” he added.