A Stop on Their 'Pilgrimage'
Banned Group Has Mass at LI Shrine

By Theresa Vargas
Newsday [Long Island NY]
June 1, 2003

Under a chalky gray sky and in front of Catholics gathered on wooden pews, the Rev. Gerald Fitzsimmons began the afternoon Mass on a simple note: "You and I have come here on a pilgrimage."

And they had.

The 150 or so members of Voice of the Faithful, a grassroots religious group formed in response to the church scandals, had traveled from places throughout Long Island to Our Lady of the Island shrine in Eastport.

The ceremony marks only the second Mass the group has held on church property on Long Island since Bishop William Murphy, the leader of the Diocese of Rockville Center, banned the organization last summer from holding meetings on diocese grounds. The group got permission to hold the Mass in April from the Montfort missionaries, a Catholic religious order that operates the shrine and does not fall directly under diocese control.

"It's like throwing bread crumbs to very hungry, hungry children," Penny Duggin of Seaford said of the Mass.

With church doors closed to them, Duggin, like the other 1,300 Long Island chapter members, have been meeting at local libraries and high schools.

"Wherever you can rent some space," said Sister Marilyn Mulvey of St. Joseph's in Brentwood. "It's frustrating to know our churches don't welcome us. ... All we want to do is meet and pray and talk."

Of yesterday's ceremony, she added, "It's a very grace-filled moment for us to know we can meet on church property. And the rain held off. God's got to be with us today."

Although the diocese did not give its blessing for yesterday's ceremony, it also did not try to stop it, said Fitzsimmons, who is based in Ozone Park. He said he advised Murphy of the Mass as a courtesy.

"These folks are not coming to do business, they are coming together to pray," he said, adding that the Montfort order did not invite the group but welcomed their request for the Mass. "Every group that organizes itself as people of faith is appropriate for us."

Diocesan spokesman Joanne Navarro said there was no official objection to the gathering, which did not take place on diocesan property. "It's always a good thing for Catholics to be celebrating and attending Mass," she said.

During the hour-long ceremony, there was little mention of the church scandals. Just one speaker, in a list of prayers, said, "May all who have suffered through sexual abuse and all who have trials feel your motherly love," spurring those gathered to reply with the standard response, "Mary full of grace intercede for us."

"I wish the bishop could be here to see the prayerful faces of the people he banned," said Dan Bartley, spokesman for Voice of the Faithful. About 51 Parish Voices groups, part of the Voice of the Faithful, have formed across Long Island and will continue meeting wherever they find space, he added.

Until other churches open their doors or the ban is lifted, Bartley said, the group will remain "a pilgrimage church."

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