LI Priests Renew Vows -- and Spirits

By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
April 18, 2003,0,44881.story?coll=ny-li-span-headlines

After joining Bishop William Murphy in a ritual renewal of their vows at the annual Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday, more than 200 of Long Island's Catholic priests were greeted with sustained applause as they recessed down the main aisle of the Cathedral of St. Agnes in Rockville Centre yesterday.

The Chrism Mass, which commemorates Jesus Christ's call to the priesthood of his apostles at the Last Supper, has become a celebration of the unity of priests with their bishop witnessed by the faithful. This year, it comes as Murphy deals with growing movements among the laity and his priests for more of a role in the governing of the diocese as a result of the sex abuse scandal.

"You are good men, you are dedicated men, you are holy men," Murphy said in his homily, telling the priests that at their ordination they had become one with Jesus Christ.

"Even if you may become frustrated or hurt or angry, even if the times seem difficult and you feel isolated, you are never alone because you are with him," he said, looking out at the pews filled with priests wearing traditional white vestments.

Sitting in the crowded cathedral were about 50 people wearing Voice of the Faithful buttons, who had come to support the priests, one of the major aims of the lay group. One woman, an employee at diocesan headquarters, wore the pin prominently on her collar as she and about a dozen other workers presented the offertory gifts to Murphy during the Mass.

The ceremony was described as uplifting by priests - about half of the 400 active and retired priests in the diocese attended, including some who travelled from Montauk and the North Fork.

"It was a great show of support, very affirming of us as priests and the priesthood," said the Rev. Thomas Harold, pastor of Holy Name of Mary Church in Valley Stream.

Msgr. John Heinlein, pastor of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Sayville, said he came away energized for the rest of the year. "This Mass is the core of our priesthood, the celebration of our very essences," said Heinlein, who attended with his brother, the Rev. Anthony Heinlein, a priest at Our Lady of Lourdes in Malverne.

Heinlein said the assembly provided "a bigger picture of the priesthood." He said the abuse scandal, which has hung over the diocese for the past year, focuses on a small percentage of priests. "This is a more holistic impression of the priesthood and the good health that it is in in our diocese," Heinlein said.

At a Chrism Mass, the holy oils to be used for baptism, confirmation and annointing of the sick in the coming year are blessed. Representatives of each parish yesterday took the oils back to their community.

Maryann O'Connell came from St. Patrick's in Bay Shore, where she works consoling the families of parishioners who died and helping them plan the funeral Mass. Although she has attended the Chrism Mass for 30 years, she thought yesterday's was especially significant. "I wanted to show my support for the priests of the Diocese of Rockville Centre," she said.


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