Mercer County parishes replicate Station Churches tradition
By Mary Stadnyk | News Editor [[In-content Ad]]
Throughout the weeks of Lent, Bob Murphy spent quite a bit of time traveling around Mercer County with a particular goal in mind: to visit a different church each evening.
Murphy, who is a member of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, enjoyed participating in the county’s adapted version of Station Churches which was designed to provide an opportunity for Catholics to visit parishes where they joined in the celebration of evening Mass, took tours, and learned about their rich and varied histories and communities. The Station Churches of Mercer County initiative was created as part of the Lenten observance for the Year of Faith.
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“This has been an enlightening and religious experience for me,” because even though the parishes are different “we are all the same,” Murphy said, “and that’s because it is in our parishes where we come together to celebrate our faith.”
“The Station Churches program has been marvelous,” Murphy said.
Msgr. Vincent Gartland, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, said that 14 parishes joined in the Station Churches of Mercer County initiative which was modeled after the Station Churches of Rome, a tradition that dates back as far as the late first and early second century. It had been the practice of the Bishop of Rome to celebrate the liturgies of the Church year in various churches throughout the city. As time passed, many changes were made to the schedule and it was during Lent when the various stations were organized so that the Masses would be in different areas of the city.
Msgr. Gartland recalled being introduced to the Station Churches practice during his 2008 sabbatical at the North American College in Rome.
“We journeyed throughout the streets of Rome early every morning during Lent to a different church for the celebration of a 7 a.m. Mass,” he said.
“I found it to be a wonderful experience and thought it would be good to duplicate it here in Trenton.”
The overall response to the initiative was very positive, Msgr. Gartland said, adding that it offered “a great opportunity during this Year of Faith to show that we are one Church working together to enrich our faith and to allow our parishioners to meet one another and show them that the parishes are working collaboratively with one another,” he said. “Although each parish has its own history and personality and each church building may be quite different, we as Catholics are still one Church working to build up the Body of Christ in Mercer County during this Year of Faith.”
Father Jeffrey Lee, episcopal vicar of Mercer County and pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton, added that he saw the initiative as a way to showcase the “great diversity in how we live and express our catholicity.” Within Mercer County, there are parishes located in urban, suburban and rural settings; there are multi-cultural parishes and there are parishes that differ greatly in socioeconomic terms, he said.
“I am grateful to the other pastors and parish staffs for their willingness to advance the idea of Station Churches as a way to observe Lent during this Year of Faith,” said Father Lee. “I hope that this is something that we are able to continue and develop in years to come.”
Following her March 19 visit to St. Joachim Church, which is a worship site of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton, Penny Bowen-Lewis, a member of Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton, remarked on how much she liked seeing and learning about many of the area parishes “that I had never been to” and meeting other parishioners.
“I’ve made new friends in the past few weeks,” Bowen-Lewis said.
Peter Okajima took his time admiring the statuary during his first visit to St. Anthony of Padua Church, Hightstown, March 5.
“This is my first time here and I’m happy to be here,” said Okajima, a member of nearby St. David the King Parish, West Windsor.
The idea of the Station Churches “is wonderful because it gives us an opportunity to expand our experiences of different parishes, but at the same time, we are reminded that we are one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.”
The Mercer County Station Churches initiative began with the first Mass celebrated Feb. 19 in Sacred Heart, Trenton, and ended with the Chrism Mass celebrated March 25 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Other parishes that participated included: Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony, Hamilton; Blessed Sacrament- Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton; St. Raphael-Holy Angels, Hamilton; St. George, Titusville; Incarnation-St. James, Ewing; St. Anthony of Padua, Hightstown; St. James, Pennington; St. Michael, Trenton; St. Ann, Lawrenceville; St. David the King, West Windsor; Our Lady of the Angels, Trenton, and St. Hedwig, Trenton.