Waltham parish holds eucharistic procession in reparation for vandalism

WALTHAM -- One month after their parish's statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was vandalized, the parishioners of St. Mary Parish observed the feast of the Sacred Heart on June 11 with a Mass and a eucharistic procession in reparation for the sacrilege.

The statue was located outside St. Charles Borromeo Church on Hall Street. On May 2, it was found that the head and hand of the statue had been broken off, in what appears to be the latest in a string of vandalisms directed at Catholic properties in the Boston area over the past year.

Father Michael Nolan, the pastor of St. Mary Parish, was joined by several clergy and assisted by seminarians at the June 11 Mass at St. Mary Church. Among the clergy was Father Dennis Wheatley, OFM, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, whose image of Jesus was vandalized last year.

"It's a great joy for us to be together and united in love and hope," Father Nolan said as he addressed the assembly.

Mass attendees received booklets to use during the liturgy and the procession, with the words of prayers, song lyrics and Bible passages in English and Spanish.

The first reading was a passage from the prophet Hosea, speaking about the Lord's emotions, even referring to his heart, as the nation of Israel turns away from him.

"Is not the point of all divine revelation to show that God has a heart, the Sacred Heart?" Father Nolan said in his homily.

He said that St. John's Gospel passage about the treatment of Jesus' body shows "what dying faith looks like." The religious authorities had no problem falsely accusing, mocking, and crucifying Jesus, but wanted to make sure his body was taken down before the sabbath, in accordance with Jewish law.

"Even that insanity and hypocrisy couldn't stop God's heart from acting in compassion, saying to the Father before his last breath, 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.' And even after breathing his last, still giving, still sharing his divine life, with water and blood flowing from his pierced side, revealing that he does have a heart," Father Nolan said.

He said that heart is owed praise, rather than sacrilege, offensive behavior, neglect, or being taken for granted.

"We are no better than those who took part in his crucifixion. And I don't just say that because of the vandalism done to the images of the Sacred Heart at St. Charles and at Sacred Heart Church, but I say it because, in too many ways, we marginalize God and don't take him seriously and do not give him his due honor and praise. And of course, we don't say 'crucify him,' but we do hesitate to defend him. And we don't openly mock the Lord, but we are very fearful when it comes to proclaiming him," Father Nolan said.

The biggest tragedy, he said, "is not that we fall. It's not that we sin. But it's that after doing it, we refuse to ask forgiveness."

During the prayers of the faithful, the community interceded for those responsible for the sacrilege against the Sacred Heart the previous month, praying that "they and all those indifferent to God's love come to a true faith that converts."

At the end of the Mass, Father Nolan invited everyone to follow the procession from St. Mary Church to St. Charles Borromeo Church, or, if they were unable to walk, to drive and meet them at the end of the route.

He noted that they also held a Eucharistic procession at the beginning of the pandemic, following the example of St. Charles Borromeo. As archbishop of Milan, Italy, St. Charles organized the celebration of Masses in public spaces and made the sacraments available to the people during an outbreak of plague.

Dozens of parishioners took part in the procession, which included several members of the Knights of Columbus. Father Fernando Vivas, who has been the parish's parochial vicar since his ordination last August, carried the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. As they made their way down Moody Street, past shops and outdoor dining areas, passersby stopped to watch or even record videos of the procession. Many participants sang hymns, and some carried rosaries or images of Jesus.

They brought the Blessed Sacrament to an altar set up at the entrance to St. Charles Borromeo Church. There, everyone knelt and prayed together the Litany of the Sacred Heart. After Father Nolan gave the benediction, blessed candles with images of the Sacred Heart were distributed.

"We hope there was a lot of people seeing this sign of Christ walking down the streets, (that) it reminds them of their life, where they are at, and that God is merciful and loves and forgives," Father Vivas said.