JOY TO THE WORLD
I began my Christmas eve journey at an overflowing Church with well over 1200 men, women and especially children at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church in Spring Hill. One of the three largest parishes in the diocese, Cabrini serves an across the generations population of Catholics in Hernando County. During the proclamation of the Gospel the children acted out a pageant. Then I shared with them my absolute best Christmas story which you will never be able to read here but hopefully will sometime attend a children’s Mass on Christmas eve somewhere before I pass on.
Thanks to Father Richard Jankowski for inviting me and allowing me the honor to begin my own celebration of the Birth of the Lord Jesus at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini.
The migrants of eastern Pasco and Hillsborough counties probably come as close to the nomadic shepherds of today’s Gospel account as anyone. On the move, living in make-shift housing conditions, uncertain of the future, these brothers and sisters greeted the news once again that Christ has come and Christ is here and Christ will come again with their usual simple faith and love. A full Church at St. Rita in Dade City awaited the arrival of Father David Toups and myself for an eight-thirty p.m. Mass in Spanish. Quite different from the children’s Mass that preceded it for me and very different from Midnight Mass at the Cathedral which followed, this celebration of La Navidad del Señor was again quite special.
Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude found the usual full house. The Cathedral has a superb choir and music program and celebrates the Eucharistic Liturgy very well. I always feel so humbled and lucky as I process in each time I celebrate Mass in my Cathedral Church. There are a group of wonderful high school and college students who serve the bishop’s Masses at the Cathedral and here is what we looked like at 1:30am.
After exactly five hours sleep, Father David Toups who drove and assisted me on this Christmas eve and morning and I were up and at it one final time. It has been mu custom to celebrate Christmas and Easter Sunday Mass in one of the Correctional Facilities (aka, “jails and prisons”) located in the diocese. Today we drove to the Women’s Correctional Facility at Riverview for a ten o’clock Mass. It was extraordinary. About fifty women attended plus maybe fifteen women and men from Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Sun City Center who minister at the facility on a regular basis. And they were ready. With a choir of four leaders we sang our hearts out both of traditional carols and the Mass parts. Other inmates did the readings and all were proud of whatever part they could take in the Mass. I preached to them about Christmas as a special day of hope – for them and for the world. They were so grateful for our presence on Christmas and for the opportunity to attend the Mass. There are no pictures as cameras are not allowed inside and if they had been, I would have secured the written permission of each inmate to take and show their pictures. But the mind and memory is the best album and I will long remember my Christmas of 2008.
Here are two pictures of the creche at St. Francis X. Cabrini parish in Spring Hill and St. Rita in Dade City.