VOTF on Boston Common
"Stand firm," sang the multi-parish choir August 15,
as Catholics from the Archdiocese of Boston participated
in a historic Mass on the Boston Common - the first
Catholic Mass to be celebrated there since the Pope's
Mass 25 years ago and the first Mass ever on the Common
to be called for and organized by laity. The Mass was
the outcome of nearly two months of planning by the
Boston Area VOTF Council to show solidarity with parishioners
facing the losses of their parish homes, now numbering
over 80 parishes. Also, it was hoped that the Mass would
demonstrate the strength and resources of the laity.
As cantors intoned name by name each parish the Archbishop
of Boston has ordered to close, the choir and congregation
ended the Mass standing firm in an exhortation that
echoed words of hope the Rev. Robert Bowers had uttered
during the homily. "Be the new community, the restored
community of hope," Fr. Bowers said, as he acknowledged
the pain, the grief, and the uncertainty generated by
a process the archdiocese calls reconfiguration but
which the people experience as an unfair loss. "Our
Church leadership has confused the mission of the Church
with the money of the Church," he said.
"All too often during this terrible time I have heard
our Church leadership say what we DON'T have. We don't
have enough priests. We don't have good solid buildings.
We don't have donations like we used to," he continued,
"But what we don't have is bishops who have the courage
to ask, WHY? I say, look what we DO have: We have each
other. We have a voice of the faithful. We have strength
and resources and we have God with us."
Strength and resources were precisely what the Boston
Area VOTF Council needed when it began to plan the Mass
- and both were present on Boston Common.
Faced with a compressed schedule - about seven weeks
from start to finish - the Boston Steering Committee
entrusted the logistics planning to Ed Wade; the liturgy
planning to Dorothy Kennedy, Darrell Simpson, and Linda
McKay; communications to Sheila Grove; and fund-raising
to Rich Acerra. From the first announcement of the plan,
the organizing team also quickly gained a logistics
angel: events planner Bill Sell of Expo Advisors, who
attended the Boston Council's first Parish Summit meeting
to learn how he could help prevent the closing of his
own parish, St. Jeremiah in Framingham.
Bill helped guide the process of obtaining permits
from Boston city departments already under siege from
plans for the Democratic National Convention. He secured
tents, a stage, and sound equipment, and handled a multitude
of tasks needed for such events.
The one thing Bill could not control was the weather.
But rains and winds from two hurricanes did not quell
the spirit, or the turnout, for the Mass. Under gray,
foggy skies and against a chill wind, some 2,000 Boston-area
Catholics trooped to the Common for the 4 p.m. Mass,
concelebrated by four priests whose parishes have been
ordered to close: the Rev. Stephen Josoma of St. Susanna
in Dedham, who as the presider asked God to forgive
us all when we paid, prayed and obeyed and thought that
would be enough for our faith; Fr. Bowers, the homilist,
from St. Catherine of Siena in Charlestown; the Rev.
Ronald Coyne of St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, whose
parishioners carried their altar cross from Weymouth
to the Common via bus so that it could stand alongside
the altar there; and the Rev. David Gill of St. Mary
of the Angels in Roxbury, whose parishioners in a previous
week had formed a living ring around their church in
symbolic opposition to the closing order.
Supporting the concelebrants were altar servers, readers,
Eucharistic Ministers, cantors, singers, and musicians
from numerous parishes in the diocese and a group of
young liturgical dancers from Our Lady of Sorrows in
Sharon, MA. The multi-parish participation as well as
the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual prayers and songs
during the Mass emphasized the impact of the closings
on all Catholics in the diocese.
John Hynes, chair of the Boston Steering Committee,
reiterated this impact when he read messages of support
and encouragement from VOTF affiliates around the country
and the world at the end of Mass.
John also thanked the scores of volunteers who worked
so hard to prepare for the Mass. Special thanks went
to the organizers from the Steering Committee and to
Bill Sell, as well as to those whose efforts proved
key to planning: Rich Feeley and Ross Holicker of ROI
Event Management in Needham, MA, for behind-the-scenes
planning; Performance Platforms of Hudson, MA, for the
stage and sound system; Barbara Paul of Bloomin' Exhibits
in Barrington, RI, for green plants to decorate the
altar area; Tim Westerhaus, Pastoral Minister of Liturgy
and Music at the Paulist Center in Boston, for organizing
the music and musicians; the clergy and staff of the
Paulist Center for their many gifts of time and support;
and Suzanne Morse and Steve Krueger from the national
VOTF office, who were so effective in helping publicize
the Mass. Several regional TV evening news programs
covered the Mass as well as the Boston Globe and
the archdiocesan newspaper the Pilot.
As attendees left the area, returning by charter bus,
car, subway, and on foot to their homes - and home parishes
- they passed the markers Mass organizers had assembled
like poster-board tombstones along the walkways to the
Mass, markers with the names of every parish targeted
for closing by the Archdiocese. It was not easy, passing
those markers, to feel the hope Fr. Bowers had asked
for earlier, belief and hope in a better world and a
But it was precisely for that belief that the Boston
Area VOTF Council organized the Mass: to gather a community
of believers to attend to the grieving of all closing
parishes and to participate together in the Eucharist,
the Source of Life, Healing, and Strength.
It was also to ask, as one young girl did of her mother
when leaving the Mass on the Boston Common, "Why isn't
it always like this?"
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