SEWELL — Where else could you see Father Joseph Ganiel, pastor and disc jockey, dancing with parishioners to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” or nuns and youth showing off their moves to Rednex’ “Cottoneyed Joe,” but at the Diocese of Camden’s iRace4Vocations, held here at Washington Lake Park?
The family-oriented day, including Mass, race/walk and picnic, brought out a crowd of close to 1,200 on a beautiful Sunday, below a partly cloudy sky, to show support for clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians, and to pray for an increase in vocations
The event was held on April 26, World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
Shortly after 11:30 a.m., young children, parents, grandparents, high schoolers and college students started making their way to the registration tables to sign up for either the 5K run or 1.3 mile walk.
Seminarians of the Diocese of Camden were among the first to greet participants. Conversely, seminarians were supported with signs of encouragement and inspiration, along the race path. And volunteers handed each walker/runner their official iRace T-shirt.
With beach chairs and towels in hand, visitors set up spots on the grass in front of the Joseph A. Yates Memorial Amphitheater and either sat back and listened to the sounds of Messenger, a praise and worship group from Church of the Holy Family in Sewell, or met with one of the many priests available for confession.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan, celebrating Mass with diocesan priests on the amphitheater stage, urged those gathered to “consider the work of priests and religious as good shepherds and shepherdesses.”
Like Jesus Christ, the ultimate good shepherd, these men and women “can lift us out of sin and darkness and deliver” us, he said.
“We can experience the love of God, and follow Jesus” through these individuals, he said.
As well, Bishop Sullivan asked young men and women to strongly consider whether God is calling them to the priesthood or religious life, which can provide a “healthy, holy and satisfying life.”
Peter Gallagher, studying at the College at St. Andrew’s, Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., attended the day with his family. That night, he drove back to the seminary to prepare for upcoming final exams.
“It’s wonderful to see many people here, praying for us (seminarians), and for the growth of necessary priests, to minister to the faithful,” he said.
“We’re all thinking about vocations, and praying,” said Jeff Young, youth minister at St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish in Northfield, who came to the iRace with 25 parish youth.
At the end of the race, Bishop Sullivan, with Father Michael Romano, director of Vocations for the Diocese of Camden, handed out trophies and medals to the top winners in multiple gender and age categories.
The day’s heartiest applause, though, went out to 20-year-old Sean Sanchirico, a graduate of St. Rose of Lima School, Haddon Heights, and Paul VI High School, Haddon Township, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last October.
Surgeons were able to remove all traces of the tumor, and Sanchirico has had radiation. Days after iRace, thanks to the efforts of Bishop Sullivan and the Order of Malta, Sean and his mother, Bridget, left for a seven-day pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, to visit the grotto and bathe in its spiritual waters.
The school and parish communities of St. Rose of Lima and Paul VI presented Sanchirico with spiritual bouquets, pledging him their prayers during his pilgrimage. As well, they gave him intentions of their own to leave at Lourdes.
“We feel so privileged that (the Order of Malta) accepted Sean for his pilgrimage,” said Bridget, adding that Father Romano has supported Sean and his family during his illness.
“He has been there for every one of us every step. We don’t know if we would have been able to stay so strong without his friendship, prayers and support.”
“Sunday was a beautiful tribute to the many religious that serve each and every one of us.”