Two recent events at Sacred Heart Cathedral renewed in a special way my deep sense of gratitude to the people of this diocese for your generosity in supporting the effort to renew our cathedral.
The first was a concert in celebration of the 100th anniversary of St. George Parish, which was established for the pastoral care of Catholic immigrants from Lithuania. The concert, one of the main events of the parish’s centennial celebration, was presented by a 25-member choir of young women from the parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Diocese of Siauliai, Lithuania. The choir was established by Father Gintaras Jonikas, who now serves the people of the St. George community. Among the 300 people present for the event were Eugenijus Bartulis, the Bishop of Siauliai, Lithuania, and Audrius Bruzga, Lithuania’s ambassador to the United States.
For me, the concert was a moving experience. Through the music of piano and organ and the voices of the young women, the community celebrated their love for Lithuania and for their faith. They remembered the courage and steadfastness of their compatriots who kept the faith alive in Lithuania when an oppressive regime made that an extremely difficult and dangerous enterprise. They communicated the joy of a people and expressed their gentle but robust spirit. At the end of the program, the choir began a hymn which led the assembly to rise and join their voices with the choir. I learned later that this anthem, which expresses love for the homeland, became a sign of protest during the Soviet regime. Although they were forbidden to do so, the people sang the song to protest against their oppressors and, when they did, they rose to their feet.
The second event was on Sunday — a eucharistic liturgy which celebrated our solidarity with the church in Africa. It was a lively and spirited celebration which involved the music and vesture, the rhythms and rituals of several African nations. Among the nations represented were Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
The liturgy brought back fond memories of the trip I made to Africa with Father Joe Hart two years ago — the ritual sweeping of the worship area to cleanse it and make it suitable for worship; people dancing forward not only with the bread and wine to be used in the liturgy but with their personal offerings of money or goods for the support of the church.
Following the liturgy, people went to the narthex and to the parish hall to enjoy exhibits celebrating the many relationships between parishes in our diocese and several schools and parishes in African nations. In addition to enjoying these displays, participants were able to enjoy food together and to meet people from many different cultures.
As I remember those two events, they exemplify for me something of the importance of the cathedral in our diocese. As the mother church, the cathedral reminds us of the bonds of faith and charity to which we are called not only with the parish communities of our own diocese but with the church universal. I am deeply grateful that through your generosity we have a cathedral whose features allow a fulsome celebration of those bonds — strong symbols — that remind us of the importance and power of our baptism, the Word of God and the eucharistic liturgy; a high-quality sound system; excellent lighting; flexibility in the use of space; a magnificent narthex for gatherings of many kinds and sizes; a range of amenities which we lacked before the renovation; and an absolutely splendid organ.
I am grateful as well to the people of St. George Parish for honoring our cathedral with their presence and the memorable concert, and to all who made the celebration of the liturgy in the African tradition such a life-giving experience.
Peace to all.