Comfort for the afflicted

SOUTH END — Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley celebrated a Mass of Hope and Healing for those who are sick, their families and loved ones May 23 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Boston’s Office of Health Care Ministries.

"It was a beautiful Mass that celebrated our community of healing," said Jean M. Marchant, director of the Office of Health Care Ministry, who also led the general intercessions during the Mass.

In his greeting, the archbishop welcomed not only those who were sick or suffered from chronic injuries, but also the caregivers present.

Before the readings, Archbishop O’Malley performed the rite of blessing and sprinkling of holy water. “Lord, we ask you to bless this water and to give us your presence on this day that you have made your own,” he said before distributing the holy water the full length of the cathedral.

Later in the Mass, the archbishop asked his brother priests to join him in front of the altar to bless the participants. Archbishop O’Malley then invited any and all to step forward for the laying on of hands by himself and the con-celebrants.

Marchant said this was her first year organizing the annual Mass and that her biggest challenge was making sure the archbishop was available. “His calendar is so full and the date was set last year before he was installed.

"I am so grateful to Archbishop [O'Malley] for his kindness and support," she said.

Marchant was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who called her office asking for information about the event and asking for direction as the date approached. “The level of interest was encouraging,” she said. “It was a time of sharing the loving and caring for one another.”

At its inception, the annual Mass was designated for those suffering with AIDS. Last year, it was called the Mass for Sick and Healing, said Karen M. Murray, the director of the archdiocesan Office for Persons with Disabilities.

"It's great to have a Mass of Hope and Healing that is open to anyone and everyone," said Murray, who was also one of the gift bearers.

After the service, the Friends of St. Francis from St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Medford, hosted a reception in the lower church. Marchant said she was grateful for the help from the society, which set up the hall and provided all the food. “They got here at 10 a.m. and just went to work. It was like clockwork, they just know what to do.”

The group began its duty in 1989, said Vincent Di Clemente, who started making the more than 300 sandwiches at 7 a.m. at the parish center in Medford.

"Father Bob Casey, who was at our parish, asked us to do it," he said.

"We were providing meals for the AIDS ministry when we started; after they changed the Mass from just for AIDS, they asked if we were still interested. I said we were more than happy to keep doing it," said Di Clemente's wife, Geraldine Di Clemente.

There were 12 volunteers from the society this year, including four of the Di Clementes’s grandchildren, Geraldine Di Clemente said.

"We brought 20 cakes that were donated by Hoff's Bakery in Medford and 20 bottles of soda," she said.

"We also provide the food for the Bread of Life shelter every second Friday, have a food pantry every Thursday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., 52 weeks a year, and cook up Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners with all the fixings," Vincent Di Clemente added.

"It was spectacular. The Mass is one of our greatest joys of the year," said Rita C. Ferullo, also with the society. "Every year, the Mass reminds us how lucky we are."

Both Geraldine Di Clemente and she are secular Franciscans, Ferullo said. “Because Archbishop O’Malley is also a Franciscan, it is such an honor to be part of the event.”

Wearing the blue denim hooded robe of his order, Brother James Curran, the Servant General of the Mission Hill house of the Little Brothers of St. Francis, stood against the wall in the larger of the two rooms downstairs chatting with one of his brothers. He said four of his brothers attended the Mass of Hope and Healing.

Brother James said he was very glad he attended such a beautiful service. “At the Mass, I found a great sense of healing and the feeling of the Holy Spirit.

"I feel much healthier now than I did when I got up this morning," he smiled.