Lawrence parish workshop helps kick off Advent season

Parishioners of Lawrence’s St. Patrick Parish launched the Advent season with a workshop Nov. 28 that blended craft projects and lessons on the theme: “The greatest gift of the Father is the Son, Jesus.”

Last year, the parish’s religious-education program hosted a reception for its students and their families to mark the first Sunday in Advent. This year, the program was opened to the whole parish community and was expanded to include lessons on Advent for different age groups, including adults, in both English and Spanish, said Diane O. Jarvis, one of the workshop’s organizers.

The program began in the parish hall, and then broke into groups which met in the hall and in the upper and lower church, she said.

The workshop was a group effort of the parish’s priests, Hispanic Apostolate, religious-education program and the St. Patrick Parish school, Jarvis said.

“This is a big parish, and our extreme closeness gives us an opportunity to grow in faith and grow as a community,” said St. Patrick’s pastor, Father Paul B. O’Brien.

Father O’Brien said he is thrilled to hear the sound of the different languages spoken at the workshop, which demonstrated the diversity of participants.

The workshop was also part of the parish’s struggle to smooth the local turmoil of reconfiguration, he said. “Sacred Heart is going to close in April, and already there are parishioners from there here today.”

“It was a great time. This is one of the most welcoming communities I have ever experienced,” said Katherine P. Purpora, who participated in the workshop with her son and three grandsons.

Father Paul G. McManus, who opened the workshop in both English and Spanish, said he welcomed the participants to the gathering of the parish’s program of family faith formation.

To avoid being confused with Father O’Brien, Father McManus said to call him, Padre Paulo, as he is known in the Hispanic community.

For the day’s first lesson, Father McManus called every-one’s attention to the large Advent wreath on the stage behind him. In the center of the wreath was a large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “If the greatest gift of the Father is the Son, Jesus, then the second greatest gift of the Father is Jesus’ mother, Mary, because, she is the mother of us all.”

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is Dec. 12, and is a major part of the parish’s Advent celebration, said Hosffman Ospino, the coordinator of St. Patrick’s Hispanic Apostolate. Although it is a Mexican tradition and most of the Spanish-speaking members of the parish are from the Caribbean, the feast has a special place in the heart of all Hispanics, Ospino said.

Ospino and Deacon Silvio J. Menendez led the discussion group in the lower church for the Spanish-speaking adults.

Menendez said he asked the whole group to answer three questions: Why is Jesus important to me?; What characteristic do you admire most about the Virgin Mary?; and How are you preparing for Advent in your family?

As Ospino passed out pencils and paper, Menendez asked the gathering to break up into smaller groups to discuss the questions and write down the answers for the time they came together again.

Upstairs in the upper church, Father O’Brien preached to the English-speaking adults about the Advent season.

There are times in our individual lives when our moods and attitudes are affected by the calendar or events, Father O’Brien said.

Not just on a birthday, the day someone was married or lost a loved one. In the same way, many Christians feel a heavy sadness on Good Friday every year, he said.

It is important to embrace this effect in Advent, and to acknowledge God’s role in it, Father O’Brien said. “God owns time. The reality is that Christmas is the time that God gives special blessings to the Church.”

It may not be something we completely understand, he said. “It has been the experience for the last 2,000 years. God wants to give us more Jesus.”

While the parents and other adults met in the church, the religious-education students were working at different tables on arts projects tied to the lessons of Advent.

The nearly 70 confirmation students assembled twisted evergreen branches into wreaths and glued on the four candles. Other age groups cut paper plates into wreaths and cut out paper Jesse trees with round paper ornaments, Jarvis said.

“The idea of the Jesse tree is to demonstrate that Jesus is descended from King David through Jesse,” said Rita A. Jensen, a workshop volunteer supervising the Jesse tree table. Jensen said she is a retired Dracut High School teacher, who also volunteers at the parish school.

Working with the third through fifth graders under her charge was different from her high-school experience, she said as she cut out a tree shape for one of the children. “I overestimated their ability to cut.”

The first Communion class read stories, sang songs with Advent lessons and colored in paper Advent wreaths, said Guadalupe C. Ospino. She volunteered at that table with Sister Joan F. Gilmore, SC, the parish school principal and Sister Maria J. Foley, SC, the school’s vice principal.

One of the stories was about a girl named Kira, whose father is a sailor away at sea. Kira and her family cook and clean to prepare to welcome home the father, who is similar to how Christians prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, she said.

“It was very exciting to have the whole parish involved from the oldest to the youngest and every community, including Vietnamese, Spanish and English,” said Sister Joan.

Next year, the challenge is how to expand the Advent Workshop and find more space, said Jarvis.

Jarvis said the turnout of more than 300 participants surprised her considering the workshop was held on the Thanksgiving weekend.

Those who missed the workshop or wanted to see what other participants were doing will have the chance to watch a television program on the workshop on Lawrence’s cable-access station, said David J. Bradley, a volunteer in the parish’s television ministry, which produces two television Masses every week and other programming about events at St. Patrick Parish.

Bradley said volunteers documented the workshop using three video cameras. The roughly 14 hours of videotape with be edited down to 30 minutes with voiceovers by the priests and other participants, and with post-production music.

The equipment, including the cameras, editing machines and the equipment for the control room in the upper church were purchased with a grant from the Archbishop’s Hope for Tomorrow Fund, he said.