Saturday, July 24, 2010

St. Patrick's, Cupar: A Hundred Years of Living the Faith

Early in the month the Parish Community of St. Patrick's in Cupar celebrated 100 years of living the Catholic Faith. St. Patrick's is one of the communities served by Msgr. Reymundo Assis at St. John the Baptist in Southey. As you can see from the picture, we had a great turn out of the faithful for the celebration of this Mass.

The celebration of these special anniversaries are occurring with some regularity these years in rural Saskatchewan. The faith is strong and long standing in these communities, but the reality of the shift in population and the diminishing reality of the family farm causes concern on the part of parishioners for what will lie ahead for their parish.

These occasions of celebration are wonderful opportunities for me to meet the parishioners of our diocesan church, both the present members of the parish and those who come back home to the roots of their faith.

The young people are present in these parishes, but not to the degree as in the past. This phenomenon is found throughout our church in Saskatchewan and beyond, but it becomes a particular worry to small communities.

Nonetheless the presence of our people of all ages continues to be a sign of hope for our Church and a sign of hope that we will continue into the future carrying out the mission that Jesus, our Risen Lord, has given to us.

After the Celebration of the Eucharist there was a gathering in the community hall with entertainment and a good meal.

Here again, the talent and commitment of the young people was evident and their contribution was certainly enjoyable. During my remarks to the parishioners I spoke of the worries and concerns we have regarding the future not only of our smaller parishes but of the Church itself. I related an experience that I had recently with some of the priests our our Archdiocese. It was an experience which pointed out - once again to me - that the Church is in Jesus' hands, and that things don't always unfold as we think that they should. But that doesn't mean that things are falling apart. So here is the experience.

Some of the priests of the diocese responded to the Holy Father's invitation to come to Rome to take part in the ceremonies concluding the Year for Priests in the Church and I accompanied them. Our former Vicar General, Msgr. Don Bolen, who had played a large part in organizing this trip and who is now the Bishop of Saskatoon was able to come as planned. Following the ceremonies in Rome, six of us continued on to the Holy Land for an eight day pilgrimage.

Part of our visit was spent on the shores of the Sea of Galilee which is still a very rural and beautiful part of the country. As you know, it was here that Jesus carried out much of his ministry. One of the most striking miracles performed by Jesus was the feeding of the multitude of many thousands with five loaves and two fish. It was an event that was etched into the memory of the early Christians for it is recounted in each of the four Gospel accounts, sometimes twice.

There is a tradition which holds that this miracle was performed on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at a place which today is called Tabgha.There is a beautiful church there which commemorates this miracle.

Here you can see the Sanctuary of the church with a nearly 1,700 year old mosaic floor.

In this church,the altar is built over a stone which protrudes from the floor as you can see in this picture. The tradition is that Jesus laid out the loaves and fish on this stone as he performed this miracle. The early Christians chipped away small pieces of this stone to take home with them for devotion and veneration. What was of interest to me is the history of this church which is a story of encouragement for all who fear and worry about setbacks we suffer in the life of the Church.

A church was built on this spot in the 300's. A Spanish Nun named Egeria toured the Holy Land around the year 380 and left a famously detailed diary which gives us much insight into the life of the Church in the Land of Jesus in those early years. She wrote this: In the same place (not far from Capernaum) facing the Sea of Galilee is a well watered land in which lush grasses grow, with numerous trees and palms. Nearby are seven springs which provide abundant water. In this fruitful garden Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The stone upon which the Master placed the bread became an altar. The many pilgrims to the site broke off pieces of it as a cure for their ailments.

A larger church was built about a century later with beautiful mosaic floors. Then in the 600's the Persians invaded the country and destroyed the church. All that was to be seen for the next 1200 years was an empty field with no traces of the church. With the Arab invasion in the 700's all the Christians disappeared from the area. So for twelve centuries this place of Christian tradition, pilgrimage and worship ceased to exist.

In the 1930's the Franciscans came and began archaeological work. In the 1980's the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves was found with its mosaic floor intact. The church was rebuilt and now is again a source of pligrimage, prayer and remembrance of the power of Jesus love and healing for all people.

When we came for Mass on Sunday morning, we were unable to use the Church, but the Franciscan community had an "outdoor chapel" on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The six of us celebrated the Eucharist with a large boulder for the altar. This time, it was not the loaves and the fishes which lay upon a large rock, but the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation: Jesus' Body and Blood. The breeze was blowing off of the water and the shade of the overhead trees giving a cool and wonderful place to celebrate the Sacrament to which the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes pointed. It was not hard to imagine Jesus in that same spot with his disciples. That morning we were joined by two Philipino priests, one of whom took this picture for us.

We returned to the Sacristy in the Church and had this picture taken in this place which was dead for so many centuries but alive again with vigorous faith and visited by hundreds of people daily.

Whenever I worry about the future of the Church in our Archdiocese, particulary in our small communities, I remember the power of Jesus' miracle of feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. I remember the story of this holy place in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee, and I am comforted by this lived-out example of the power of Jesus, Crucified and Risen from the Dead and of his Church against which not even the "gates of hell" will prevail.



Pierre O'Reilly said...

Thanks for that wonderful update on your trip. It looked like a great time. I think an archdiocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Rome should be planned, and you can be the tour guide!

TomJav25 said...

Thanks for uploading these pictures. Seeing the old Church helps inspire me on my journey to catholicism and it's rich history :)