Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Partying with St. Paul

I have a confession to make: I know I shouldn’t have worried, but I did. The Pauline Family’s first annual St. Paul Friends & Family Fest was scheduled for August 7 on the grounds of the Society of St. Paul in Staten Island, NY, but the weather was clearly not on our side. The forecast promised 100% chance of precipitation, with heavy showers in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon. In fact, it had rained all night, so that by 8:00 Sunday morning the ground was soaked, it was still drizzling, and skies to the west were not at all friendly. People from Manhattan, S. I., and New Jersey began to call, so we had to decide what to do.

After we considered several options, we made our leap of faith. I wasn’t as daring as Brother Peter Lyne, SSP, co-organizer of the event, but so many people, religious and lay, had worked so hard, that it would have been a shame to cancel or postpone. Besides, what would we have done with all that food?

Amazing—not one drop of rain all day long! It was hot as blazes and a lot muggier, but if anyone complained I sure didn’t hear it. Sr. Carmen, novice director and provincial secretary in Boston, texted me to say they were all praying for us. So did Sr. Helena Burns in Chicago. Of course, she had a vested interest in the day: The proceeds were going to support the documentary she is working on about Blessed James Alberione, SSP, our founder. Still, it was thoughtful of her to remember us, so she deserved a phone call with the good news at day’s end.

About 125 people attended the noon Mass presided over by Fr. Jeffrey Mickler, who gave an insightful homily, as usual. He pointed out that in case any of us thought that documentaries were passé, let it be known that August 7 marked the twentieth anniversary of Madonna’s Truth or Dare. As a matter of Pauline Family history, it also marked the sixtieth anniversary of the inauguration of work on a different “Madonna” movie, San Paolo Film’s Mater Dei, the first color film in all of Italy. The silver screen still captivates us.

All told, approximately 200 people ate, played, and visited with each other throughout the afternoon. Five of the eight branches of the Pauline Family present in the U.S.—Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, Daughters and Pauline priests and brothers, Holy Family Institute members, and Pauline Cooperators—were all represented. After Mass we showed the preview of the Alberione film to those who wanted to watch and gave a little background. We then ran it on a loop, so that it showed continuously throughout the afternoon. It was set up in the cool basement of the SSP’s main building. So were the bathrooms. Nobody counted how many people really saw the film as they waited, or how often, but I think Fr. Alberione got plenty of attention.

Barbecuing in the heat and humidity was a heroic labor of love. Rolling Thunder Chapter 2 NY Staten Island bikers were those heroes. They’re members of a humanitarian organization that mainly supports U.S. vets…and they like to ride. Sporting their signature leather, tattoos, and hardware, they directed parking in the glaring sun and grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, Italian sausage, and chicken to perfection—and in incredibly good spirits. Between courses, they would take five to rest and chat. During one break they called me over to explain to them the difference between “the sisters in blue” (us) and “the ones in white” (the Sister Disciples). Then they wanted to know the difference between nuns and sisters. We had a great conversation.

Two of them came down to watch the film preview. One said he hadn’t been to church in so long that he was afraid the roof would cave in if he walked in. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that lame excuse, so I told him that the film in the basement would be a test run: If he survived that, he’d survive church. Halfway through the three-and-a-half minute showing, he got up, walked over to me and started asking questions about the Bible. At one point in our brief exchange, when I told him how Jesus didn’t have to die, but laid down his life “for you and for me,” he exclaimed, “I’m getting goose bumps!” Such a simple proclamation of the Gospel, but what an effect it had! It confirmed what I have long believed: No one can appeal to a lack of education as an excuse for not evangelizing. How many, sometimes without realizing it, are longing to hear the simple, core message of Jesus spoken in faith. How many opportunities we have to serve like that. If we pray, we will recognize those moments and, as Jesus promised, “what you should say will be given you….It won’t be you speaking, but the Spirit of my Father speaking in you” (Mt. 10:19, 20).

Back to the fest. Kids’ races, crafts, water balloons, and face painting made it fun for the under-12 set. The NYPD came to offer tours of its communications truck. People enjoyed themselves and each other. They ate to their heart’s content, told us stories of their connections to Staten Island or to this or that Pauline, and took chances on the 17 raffle baskets or one of the games. Early on, Hibernian Jimmy Haynes had to go out and buy more food. Clearly we had underestimated this crowd’s potential! We won’t know the total proceeds from the event until next week, but the generosity of the area’s business people, especially in this economic climate, widened the margin.

 The team who planned everything and kept things moving—none better! Most of them were recruited by Brother Peter Lyne. You know, if there ever is an award given for Networker of the Year, I’m nominating Br. Peter. If it hadn’t been for his connections, diplomacy, and dogged determination, it would not have gotten past the first meeting. Hibernians, Ladies Hibernians, Knights of Columbus, Columbiettes, Catholic War Veterans, and the scores of people they knew made it a real community day. Police Sgt. Brian and Patricia Reilly, Jimmy Haynes, and James Haynes IV, together with his wife Maria, constituted the central planning committee. Pauline Cooperator Marie-Louise Handal coordinated the promotion, and because of her, New York One TV aired its report on the event.

What made it news? The film, for one. It’s unusual. Who but James Alberione conceived of bringing a family to birth just to enter the media culture with the Gospel? But behind that is the nature of the event itself. This is the first time, certainly in my nearly 40-year Pauline memory, that we as a Family in the U.S. collaborated on a common outreach project. The Daughters and the Society collaborate often in publishing and distribution, but person-to-person contact—this is new.

Lastly, it gives us an opportunity to look forward in yet another way. Brother Richard Brunner, the representative of Fr. Silvio Sassi, superior general of the Society of St. Paul, had welcomed us all at the Mass, announcing that within a few days, the Pauline Family would begin its three-year preparation “in joyful anticipation” of the centenary of its founding. “August 20, 1914, is a date to remember because the Pauline Family was officially born. May this Mass and this gathering be the official start in the United States of our preparation for the centenary of our Pauline Family in 2014.”

He ended his remarks with the words of Fr. Alberione to the first young Paulines, so poor, so challenged, yet full of faith and hope. We listened, aware of our limitations, yet equally aware of our calling and our mission to share all we have from Jesus:

Foreground: Sister Disciples of the Divine Master

“Raise your eyes and look at this mighty tree [of our Family]—a tree so tall that its top cannot be seen. This is our Institute, which is truly a giant tree. You stand at the foot of a huge mountain; climb it and study the view. Your horizons are the world.”

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