Stained glass window at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, Waimauma. Photo courtesy of John Christian
This day before Pentecost was quite a day for me. The morning began with a large confirmation at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Wimauma where I confirmed 64 young people, almost all of whom were Mexican. Readers who are unaware of local geography in the Diocese of St. Petersburg need to know that southeastern Hillsborough county is home to many migrant workers who live in the camps or low cost housing. This part of what is too often thought of as “Tampa” is agricultural and thus the presence of our largely Mexican brothers and sisters. Most of the confirmation was done in Spanish although the generation I confirmed was clearly more comfortable in English than Spanish. However, the sponsors with their hands on the confirmands’ shoulders seemed very grateful to hear the words spoken in Spanish. Over the fifteen years I think my spoken Spanish has improved even if it remains a challenge to extemporize.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is probably our second largest concentration of Hispanics in the diocese, following only St. Lawrence parish in Tampa which has the highest concentration of Hispanics per square mile than anywhere else in our five counties. Father Demetrio Lorden, a native Spaniard, has been the pastor in Wimauma for slightly longer than a decade and he spends himself for his people. Any ceremony there must leave the Anglo propensity for good order at the vestibule door but I love celebrating the liturgy and confirmation before this very lively and grateful community of people. The music was good, the children were all over the place which was also fine, and the young people well prepared to receive the sacrament.
Where serendipity or Divine Providence comes into play is that by some application of the unexplained, at four o’clock this afternoon I said Mass at Old St. Mary’s parish in downtown St. Petersburg for the Vigil of Pentecost and then I officially blessed and inaugurated a lovely new shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here the congregation was totally Anglo. It seemed to me appropriate, however accidental, to dedicate a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Vigil of Pentecost. While Scripture is silent on whether or not Mary or any other women were present at the Last Supper, the same scriptures are very clear that she was present with the apostles in the Upper Room for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Having given birth to Jesus at the moment of the Incarnation, she was present for the birth of the new body of Christ which came about on Pentecost in the form of the Church. The Church is the new body of Christ. I think I was able to meld the Pentecost reality with the presence of Mary both on that occasion and in our new Shrine to her under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe in my homily which I will share with you below. You can form your own opinions about my success or failure.
The shrine was a gift of Federal Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich in honor of the late Monsignor John McNulty who was diocesan director of Pro-Life Activity for years and her parents, one of whom was an active parishioner of St. Mary’s while the other, her mother was loyal and dedicated to St. Paul’s. The judge’s desire was to place the shrine in such a manner on Church property that it could easily be seen from the adjacent and huge ALL CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL just to the west. A parent worried about the birth of a child or the health of a child could go to the windows facing east and toward the Church, see the Shrine to the patroness of pro-life causes and seek her intercession with Jesus on behalf of their child. It works. I wish to thank Father Cletus Watson and the Third Order Franciscan Friars who staff St. Mary’s for their toleration of this project in their property. For myself, in addition to the Judge’s pro-life concept, I wanted a place in Pinellas county (St. Petersburg and Clearwater among many communities) where anyone could come at any hour of the day or night and pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe. I hope and pray that it will be a place of short pilgrimage for all who seek her assistance.
The Prayer of Blessing of a Shrine Photo Courtesy of Vivi Iglesias
So today was devoted to the Mother of the Redeemer under the banner of the Patroness of the Americas, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. All in all, a high gear run up to tomorrow’s Solemnity of Pentecost. Happy Birthday to we Catholics who have for millenia acknowledged that the Church was born when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and they began their missionary effort.
The Shrine in the rear of Old St. Mary's, downtown St. Petersurg - Photo courtesy of Vivi Iglesias
THE VIGIL OF PENTECOST AND THE BLESSING OF THE SHRINE TO OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
St. Mary’s, St. Petersburg June 11, 2011
This evening the Church gathers in Vigil before the celebration of the solemnity of Pentecost, the birthday of our Church, the day on which all lethargy and lifelessness was cast aside with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Christ. In some ways it is a shame that this most important moment in the life of the Church does not usually get the attention accorded Christmas or Easter. In other places, families are not gathering to celebrate this Feast and the limited confines of space in our Churches is not challenged by overflow crowds who stand twice a year but not tonight or tomorrow. Pentecost, the moment of making for the Church will this year come and go with only limited attention paid to it. It is a shame because it is indeed the birthday of the Church.
Among the apostles, the waiting game is over with the coming of the Spirit. From the Ascension to the moment of coming of the Spirit, Acts and the Gospels infer that they remained together in prayer, waiting for the next shoe to drop. When they signed up to follow Jesus, they surely did not expect Him to die an ignominious death. But then, despite his predictions, they did not expect him to rise from the dead either. In those precious days between Easter and the Ascension, he several times told them that he would send the Spirit, the Paraclete, who would mission them to spread the Gospel throughout the world. He told them that He would need first to ascend to the Father before the Spirit would come. They listened but they were never quite sure.
Then with the roar of the wind and with the symbol of fire God visited the earth once again, this time in the form the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity and in a few short moments, they had both the gifts needed for and the mission to preach Christ to all. There was among them, however, one person who never doubted, who waited with equanimity and patience, because she had already been gifted with the Spirit. Her name, Mary. Luke in Acts tell us that prior to the day of Pentecost, “persevering with one mind in prayer and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” the apostles were graced by her presence. She who had given life and breath to Jesus prayed for the coming of the same Spirit so that the Church, the remaining body of her Son on earth, might be born.
Integral and essential in God’s plan for the birth of His Son on earth, Mary remained integral and essential to God’s plan for the birth of his Church. Amazingly all this took place in the same room in which Jesus Himself gave birth to the Eucharist. Thus in this place she was to give birth to the new evangelization and through her presence and prayers bless its beginnings.
This afternoon here in this Church which carries Mary’s name, we shall shortly dedicate and bless a new shrine to her under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is the patroness of the Americas, two vast continents which none of the Apostles could have even dreamt about much less visited. Here on the premises of St. Mary’s her image from the tiny village of Tepeyac, outside of present Mexico City, will welcome all who come to do precisely what she was doing at the moment of Pentecost – praying. They will come to pray to Mary to ask her Son for help in their sorrows and sufferings. They will come to pray to Mary to ask her Son to help our generation and those who follow to have the same respect for human life which God had in choosing to send his only begotten Son to live among us not as a person of wealth and privilege, but the simple son of a carpenter and his wife.
The image that this afternoon we dedicate to the glory of God and the memory of his earthly mother is that which appeared on Juan Diego’s cloak, an image and appearance originally rejected as a hoax by his bishop, but which in the succeeding centuries and decades has rallied the faithful to greater hope in the Lord.
This morning I confirmed 65 young women and men at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Waimauma. They were all Mexicans, many from the camps of southeastern Hillsborough county. At least ten took the name of Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe and another ten the name of Saint Juan Diego. The hope of our Hispanic brothers and sisters is that the same Gospel which the apostles preached post Pentecost will continue not to be just preached but lived out in this moment in history, at this moment of need. I have no idea how many of them were documented or undocumented. It would not have mattered to Mary or to the Apostles and it should not matter to us. They trust her even when at times they distrust us. They know she will ask her Son to watch over them, protect them, nourish and encourage them and from her place in heaven she prays that the Church born today will do the same.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is also the “patroness of human life” and especially that life which is carried in a mother’s womb. I am very proud that her image faces the massive All Children’s Hospital and those disposed to do so who worry for their children there can look down and ask her intercession on behalf of the young lives being treated there.
Pinellas county now has a place with easy access where all of those who love and respect this woman of Pentecost came come and pray. It was God’s will that we bless and dedicate this shrine on the eve of Pentecost. She was there then and she is here now. Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe, oye nos.
Elizabeth Kovachevich, Donor of the Shrine in the memory of her Parents and Monsignor John McNulty, former pastor of Old St. Mary's - Photo courtesy of Vivi Iglesias
Saint Juan Diego to whom Mary appeared on December 9, 1591 at Tepeyak in a stained glass window at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Waimauma, Photo Courtesy of John Christian