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LAWRENCE -- In a small, private funeral Mass at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in her hometown of Lawrence, fallen Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo was remembered as someone dedicated to service that demonstrated love for others.
Rosario, who was 25 years old, was one of 13 U.S. service members killed on Aug. 26 when a suicide bomb detonated outside the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. She had been serving a volunteer assignment, screening women and children waiting to flee as U.S. forces withdrew from the country.
After moving to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, Rosario was baptized at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish and attended public school in Lawrence. During high school, she was an active volunteer at Cor Unum Meal Center, which is run by St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence. She was also a member of her school's Junior ROTC program, earning the nickname "Marine" in anticipation of her future military career.
Rosario was assigned to the Fifth Marine Expeditionary Brigade, based in Bahrain. She was first deployed to Afghanistan when she was 18. Her second deployment began shortly after the Taliban declared control over Afghanistan on Aug. 15. Rosario and other U.S. military members helped over 30,000 people evacuate and come to the United States.
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was joined by Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Hennessey and several area priests in concelebrating Rosario's funeral Mass on Sept. 13. A U.S. Marine honor guard carried the casket in and out of the church. In addition to Rosario's family, a small number of guests attended the Mass, including Gov. Charlie Baker; Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito; U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey; U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan; and Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez.
The homily was delivered by Father Israel Rodriguez, the administrator of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, who has been accompanying Rosario's family in the days since her death.
He spoke about Jesus' commandment in the reading from the Gospel of John, to "love one another as I love you."
Father Rodriguez said Rosario "possessed the power of that love," which "is far from being just a feeling, it is a force that reconciles oppositions and creates a community of brothers and sisters out of the most diverse peoples; a love that radiates a power that can change people's hearts and lives."
Father Rodriguez called Rosario "an American hero."
"Her life was given in witness to Jesus' priority for our sisters and brothers in need," he said.
He also pointed to Jesus' next words in the Gospel reading, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
"Sgt. Rosario may have not known the women and children she was safeguarding in Afghanistan on the day of her death, but in her heart, they were friends, people she wanted to help and serve when they had nowhere else to turn," Father Rodriguez said.
He expressed and encouraged the commitment "to never forget her or her selfless service to others" and to "hold her family and loved ones in our hearts and prayers."
Father Paul O'Brien, the pastor of St. Patrick Parish, led the prayers of the faithful, including the names of the 12 other U.S. service members who were killed in the suicide bombing. Cardinal O'Malley called for the intercession of Our Lady of Highest Grace, patroness of the Dominican Republic, Rosario's home country.
Before the final commendation, Cardinal O'Malley offered remarks to the family and those in attendance. He said that when he was traveling in the Dominican Republic over the previous week, everyone he met, including President Luis Abinader, acknowledged Rosario's death and expressed their condolences.
He spoke about Rosario's care for others and her seemingly lifelong preparation for service in the military.
"The Scriptures say that love casts out fear, and Johanny's love made her brave. She died doing something beautiful. She died doing something out of love," Cardinal O'Malley said.
He spoke about the vocation of service members, which he defined as the mission "to protect and to defend."
"It's a calling that requires courage, generosity, patriotism, and the love and concern for one's neighbor -- neighbor as defined by Jesus," he said.
The cardinal spoke at length about the parable of the Good Samaritan, with which Jesus illustrated his definition of "neighbor."
"Jesus ends the parable by saying, 'Go and do likewise.' That's what Johanny did. She went, and she did likewise. She made strangers her neighbors," Cardinal O'Malley said.
In a world that gives so much importance to celebrities, he said, "what we really need, more than celebrities, is heroes, people whose lives call us to be better people. That's the kind of person that Johanny was."
"The best way that we can honor Johanny is to push back at all of that hatred that is in our world, that hatred that robbed this young woman and her companions of their lives. To make this a safer world, we need to overcome that hatred with the spirit of the Good Samaritan," Cardinal O'Malley said.
On Sept. 14, a public wake was held for Rosario at Lawrence Veterans Memorial Stadium, followed by her burial at Bellevue Cemetery in Lawrence.