Archbishop celebrates Palm Sunday Mass at Charlestown parish

CHARLESTOWN — Amidst uncertainty of the future of parishes in Charlestown, Catholics came together at St. Catherine of Siena Parish to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass with Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley. Parishioners gathered at a small park across the street on the warm, bright Sunday morning while the archbishop blessed the palms. The group then processed back to the church for Mass.

“Every procession has a starting point and a destination, and for Jesus that destination is Jerusalem, the cross and the resurrection,” Archbishop O’Malley said in his homily.

Some people were happy to walk with Jesus as He entered Jerusalem, but when Jesus was persecuted, they decided following Him was too risky. This is shown in the gospel’s description of the actions of two apostles — Peter and Judas, he said.

Although Peter asserts at the Last Supper that he would follow Jesus unto death, he flees when Jesus is captured in the garden.

“The Gospel passage describes Peter trying to follow Jesus at a safe distance,” the archbishop said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Am I trying to follow Jesus at a safe distance?’”

Peter later denies Christ three times.

“Peter didn’t deny Jesus to a soldier with a big lance. It was to a waitress who recognized his accent,” he said.

Judas turns his back on Christ and betrays Him but is unable to repent and seek forgiveness as Peter does.

“Judas also repents in a way in this Gospel. He returns the money and throws it on the floor in front of the high priest. He realizes that what he’s done is despicable, is evil. He is overwhelmed by guilt and he goes and destroys himself,” he said. “Judas didn’t wait for the end of the story. He thought that sin and death and guilt had won the day.”

“The mystery of the cross is about forgiveness. The mystery of the cross is about a new beginning,” he continued.

The love story of God’s affection for us begins anew every year at Palm Sunday, he said.

“If we listen half-heartedly or distractedly, we risk missing the opportunity to be recharged,” Archbishop O’Malley said. “Here in Charlestown, you have a wonderful opportunity with your parish mission in these first days of Holy Week. You have an opportunity to come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to follow Jesus up close, to embrace the cross, to realize that the story of the cross is the story not of shame and defeat and guilt but the triumph of Jesus over sin and the story of forgiveness.”

We must trust in God as Jesus tells us, he said.

“We need not fear His will. It is the very best thing that could ever happen to us,” he added. “How often do we pray, ‘My kingdom come. My will be done?’”

Although Jesus is terrified of the cross as He prays in the garden, He accepts the will of the Father.

“Jesus’ whole life is one long act of embracing the will of the Father. It culminates in the great act of self-giving that takes place on Calvary,” the archbishop said.

After the Mass, parishioners expressed thanks for the archbishop’s visit but many still sought answers to the uncertainty of reconfiguration in the town.

Originally St. Catherine’s was slated to close, but a reprieve was granted late last year. In October, the archbishop appointed Father James Ronan to head all three parishes — St. Catherine’s, St. Mary Parish and St. Francis de Sales Parish — over the course of the next year.

Father Ronan will assess the needs of Catholics in Charles-town and work with parishioners toward a plan that would combine the resources of all three parishes.

“Charlestown has been a challenging place because of the reconfiguration process,” Father Ronan told The Pilot.

The archbishop has visited St. Mary’s and St. Francis’ and had intended to honor the request of visiting St. Catherine’s, he said.

‘‘Palm Sunday became available, and he was particularly eager to come, visit St. Catherine’s Parish, return to Charlestown, celebrate Mass with the Hispanic community and meet with the new task force,’’ he said.

The 18-person task force, comprised of six Catholics from each parish, is starting to work with the “new vision of the parish structure in the city,” said Father Ronan.

So far, the task force has had three meetings. The last with the archbishop on March 27 was not easy but “fruitful and positive,” he said.

Father Ronan said it would be “premature” to talk about the outcome of reconfiguration in Charlestown at this time. The committee has just started to identify the issues and what the concerns of the different parishes are.

Anna Carnahan, a parishioner all 91 years of her life, had hoped that the visit of the archbishop would bring answers.

“He didn’t tell us whether it would stay open or not,” she said.

Dan Bradley said watching Father Robert Bowers, St. Catherine’s pastor, leave in November was a “weighty loss for everyone.”

“We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode now. We’ve been told very little about what will happen next,” added Bradley’s wife, Cara.

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