Rochester parish celebrates final Mass - Catholic Courier
Sister Julia Norton extinguishes the candles behind the altar at Rochester's Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church after the church's Oct. 4 closing Mass. Sister Julia Norton extinguishes the candles behind the altar at Rochester's Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church after the church's Oct. 4 closing Mass.

Rochester parish celebrates final Mass

ROCHESTER — Dressed all in black, Pedro Pedraza processed slowly up the aisle at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church with his daughter, Angela Pedraza Reyes. When they reached the altar, Father Vincent Panepinto gave Pedraza a small casket covered in red cloth and containing the church’s martyr’s relics.

The ceremonial rite marked the closing moments for Mt. Carmel’s final Mass Oct. 4.

Pedraza and his family were among the nearly 300 people, some with tears in their eyes, who filled the pews as they bid farewell to the nearly 100-year-old church that throughout its history served the Italian and Hispanic communities as well as the poor of the neighborhood.

“I shouldn’t cry … but I feel like we lost our mother,” Pedraza said during a gathering in the church hall following Mass.

Father Panepinto, pastor of Church of Our Lady of the Americas Parish, said that he chose Pedraza to receive the relics in honor of his pioneering efforts along with the late Raul Collazo to create a Spanish Mass for the Latino community during the 1960s.

Relics are laid in the cornerstone of church altars as part of an ancient Catholic tradition, Father Panepinto explained. Pedraza, 87, is expected to keep the relics — which Father Panepinto said also represented all the parish’s celebrations and struggles — at his Rochester home until Father Panepinto collects them for placement in the altar of the former Corpus Christi Church. That church was selected this past summer as the sole worship site for Church of Our Lady of the Americas.

Following the clustering of Mt. Carmel with Corpus and Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier in 2005, the three parishes officially became Our Lady of the Americas Parish last December. Masses rotated among the three worship sites during the past year, and Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier will celebrate its final Mass Oct. 11.

While many longtime Mt. Carmel parishioners did not attend the final Mass, sisters Mary Russo of Rochester and Katie Conine of Henrietta said they felt obliged to bring closure to the long process of uncertainty that parishioners endured.

“I still don’t understand why they closed it,” Russo remarked. “I will always remember Mt. Carmel.”

“This is home,” Conine added. “It’s very depressing for me today.”

Father Panepinto said the Mt. Carmel church building, hall and convent will be sold, as will the Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier church and rectory. The former Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier School building will continue to house faith-formation classes as well as Matthew’s Closet, the parish’s food cupboard and furniture ministry, he added.

Officials from St. Martin’s Place, a soup kitchen and hospitality center that was located in the Mt. Carmel hall on Ontario Street, said they are looking for a new location. Sister of Mercy Julia Norton, the parish’s pastoral associate, said she and the other sisters living at the convent, also located on Ontario Street, also are in the process of seeking a new residence.

As the community moves ahead, it must remember that buildings are being closed, not churches, Father Panepinto said.

“The churches live on in (us), in our providing for a Catholic presence in the neighborhood and in our ministries,” he said during his homily. “I will not shed tears for the loss of a building . … I say, ‘long live Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’ and ‘long live Holy Redeemer’ and ‘long live St. Francis Xavier,’ and may they be long lived at Our Lady of the Americas.”

During the final Mass, some parishioners expressed feelings of loss but also hope for the future.

Louis Cirrincione recalled attending Mass with his grandfather, Pasquale, who helped found Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in 1909.

“I am the third generation to be part of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel,” he recounted. “The important part to me was that all these friends and relatives were involved with our parish, and the boundaries blurred from one to another. We were involved with many secular activities, but we were always the Mt. Carmel team. It was the center of our learning experience and we carried it wherever we went.”

While the closing was like a death in the family, he said the parishioners, as mourners of Mt. Carmel’s passing, must strive to move forward.

“In reality, neither church nor relatives were as perfect in life as they seemed to be in death,” Cirrincione remarked. “We remember the best and try to reconcile the poorer aspects and carry the lessons learned forward, trying desperately to live up to the standards that we’re expected to emulate and achieve, becoming better people for it.”

Yolanda Ortiz Nu√±ez reminded those gathered at the Mass to reflect on the parish’s long journey as a community of faith.

“The journey of our people, in this temple, has helped the rich, the poor, those who are black, white, Jewish and even those who have not found Jesus,” she said. “Do not forget that we have brought the kingdom of God to many people. The journey of our people, in this temple, has celebrated moments both happy and sad. But always remember, our life as followers of Christ is not an easy one, especially when we have to say goodbye.”

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