A Message from the Bishop – A week in August


bishopwithbaby-webBishop Dennis Sullivan blesses a child when he was in Wildwood for the Wedding of Sea on Aug. 14. During the week he also went to Atlantic City for the Wedding of the Sea there, celebrated Mass for new seminarians in Woodbury Heights, and celebrated Mass for farm workers in Elmer.

Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

The week began with Sunday Mass at the Church of St. Margaret, Woodbury Heights, during which four young men were accepted as seminarians for our diocese. Praise God! A Sunday parish Mass was intentionally selected because the goal of our seminarians is to serve as parish priests. The prayers and encouragement of the good people at St. Margaret’s for our seminarians that Sunday morning are replicated in each parish of our diocese. Our seminarians need your words of encouragement, the charity of your prayers and the witness of your faith.
The families of these young men joined us for the Mass. To them we are grateful for the love, support and influence they show their sons. May other families do the same. Additionally, some members of our Diocesan Vocation Board were present. That Board provides a very important service to our Church in Camden by interviewing potential seminarian candidates and by considering information about each candidate. The women and men of the Board give me their wise counsel on the suitability of each candidate. The pastors of the new seminarians concelebrated the Mass. Their priestly example is critical for encouraging vocations to the priesthood. This past week our new seminarians began their academic studies and their spiritual formation. May they grow in Christ and discern His call to the priesthood in their lives.
That call can be difficult to hear in our society and even more difficult to respond to. Your words to a young fellow can help. Words such as, “Did you ever think about being a priest? You would be a good one. I will pray for you.” Never underestimate that the power of your words can open a young man’s heart and soul to listen through the din of society to hear God calling him to the priesthood. I ask that all pray for our seminarians.
On Thursday, Aug. 14, the Vigil of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, I celebrated Mass at the Parish of Notre Dame de la Mer, Wildwood, in the Church of St. Ann. Mary’s Assumption celebrates that she is the first to fully participate in the Paschal victory of her Divine Son. The Mother of God did not suffer the effects of the sin of Adam and Eve. Neither death nor the corruption of the human body touched our Blessed Mother.
At the conclusion of the Mass approximately 1,800 people sang with gusto a familiar Marian anthem as two children of the parish crowned the statue of Mary. Civil officials from the area addressed us with words of welcome and words of praise for the parish priests in Wildwood. It is so encouraging hearing that our priests are respected and loved. Then we went down to the ocean for the Wedding of the Sea, Sposalizio del Mare, a tradition associated with the Assumption of Mary which is traced to 15th century Venice. With the assistance of the Wildwood police and life guards a wreath onto which rings were attached was thrown by yours truly into the ocean. The waters were blessed! Myself and Father Romano, our diocesan Vocation Director, were drenched to the skin as the waves crashed over the boat and we were not dressed for the occasion. However, we offered our discomfort for God’s blessings on the faithful who had accompanied us to the water.
The next day, Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption, about 4,000 of the faithful gathered for Mass in Atlantic City at the Boardwalk Center and after the Mass for the Marriage of the Sea ceremony. That celebration was organized through the hard labors of Father Jeffrey Cesarone, O.Praem. and a large contingent of the parishioners of St. Michael’s Parish. Once again, the celebration of Mass was fervently prayed by all and the participation of the faithful was exceptional. Beautiful music enhanced the devotion of those present. The Mass concluded with a spirited procession accompanied by trumpets as an impressive statue of Mary in glory was wheeled onto the boardwalk. Two young recent First Communicants from the parish carried an enormous wreath onto which rings were tied. All went to the ocean and yours truly accompanied by Father Cesarone rode the waves beyond their breaking to perform the Wedding of the Sea by casting the wreath with the rings into the water. I don’t think the rings had much value. This boat ride was quite smooth and we were spared getting wet. The jubilant cries of the crowds who were at the water’s edge signified that the wedding was a success.
These devotions and customs at the water on Aug. 15 are preserved over the centuries in various cultures through the faith of Catholic peoples. They are what is called popular religion and through them something of the mystery of God is revealed. The Marriage of the Seas at the water reminds us that water is poured to make us into God’s children who by its cleansing effects are freed from sin. We are made sinless at Baptism as is the Virgin Mary, the sinless one who was assumed into heaven.
Water gives the life of Christ to us. The life of Christ, Our Saviour, whose Holy Mother was privileged to be given the fullness of life at her Assumption into heaven. Water is necessary for life. It is good. It is a gift of God who created the water on the fourth day for our nourishment, relaxation and refreshment.
On Aug. 15 the blessings of God who created the waters and who took Mary into eternal life so that she would be the first to experience the effects of her Son’s Resurrection from the dead are sought by those who participate in the Wedding of the Sea.
The week concluded on Saturday evening at Larchmont Farms, Elmer, at a Mass organized by the parish of the Holy Cross to ask God’s blessings on the farm workers who come to South Jersey during the summer months to pick the crops. Many of these farmworkers are Mexican as are many of the parishioners of Holy Cross.
Approximately 300 were present for the Mass. A parish choir provided spirited music which encouraged the participation of the faithful. Many of the parishioners and the priests of the parish had been very present to these migrant workers during their stay in the area through a variety of ministries. I changed into my vestments in one of the barracks where these men live and bunk. One of the workers asked that I bless them and their dorm. A shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was located in a prominent position in the barracks. Adorned with flowers she watched over her farm worker sons. As I prayed and sprinkled the holy water, I reflected that through one Baptism we are joined to the family of Christ which makes these farm workers my brothers in Christ. We have all passed life in God through the same waters.
The products of the earth come to us through the hard labors of our brothers. The earth yields its fruits for our benefit but through the backbreaking work of these men and even some women who work the fields. It was good to assemble as a parish family and to express our solidarity with and concern for the well-being of these brothers. I was particularly impressed that English speaking members of the Parish of the Holy Cross came for the Mass and enjoyed the fiesta afterward. That is a great tribute to them that they would join with their brothers and sisters who do not speak their language but who are their family in Christ. We are one Church.
Once again, I heard the praises of the people for their parish priests at Holy Cross. Someday, please God, may our new seminarians join their ranks as priests. It was quite a week in August for me; for our diocesan seminarians; for the faithful thousands who attended the Wedding of the Sea and for the farm laborers and the parish family of Holy Cross, Bridgeton.