During a Jan. 6 visit to St. Rocco Parish on Cleveland’s West Side, Bishop Nelson Perez helped celebrate the beginning of the 800th anniversary year of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, also known as the Mercedarians. The order arrived in Cleveland in 1924 to establish and staff St. Rocco’s, a parish of primarily Italian immigrants. A short time later, they established a second parish primarily consisting of Italian immigrants, Our Lady of Mount Carmel (West), also on Cleveland’s West Side. Both parishes and schools continue to be staffed by Mercedarian friars and religious sisters.
During the Mass, which also was attended by Bishop emeritus Anthony Pilla, Bishop Perez received a scapular from the Mercedarians and was named a member of their Tertiary Order. The scapular was presented by Father James Mayer, O de M St. Rocco Parish pastor. The presentation was read by Father Michael Rock, O de M vice provincial of the Mercedarian Friars in the United States.
In his homily, Bishop Perez said he was honored to have been invited to celebrate the Mass and he was happy to share the event with Bishop Pilla. Bishop Perez said he, Father Mayer and Father Rock go back many years, since they all went to the same seminary in Philadelphia, although they were separated by a few years.
He said it was fitting to celebrate the beginning of the Mercedarians’ 800th anniversary on the Feast of the Epiphany since the order was established by St. Peter Nolasco in Spain to ransom Christian captives. The friars sometimes offered to exchange themselves for the captives and they were willing to give their lives, if necessary.
“The Mercedarians would present themselves and say, ‘take me instead,’” the bishop said. “This is what our Lord did when he died on the cross for us.”
Although they no longer ransom captives in the same way as 800 years ago, the bishop said the friars work to help those held “captive” in other ways. He said they ransom or redeem people “with the power of truth,” recalling the story of how Jesus met Matthew at the tax collector’s table then called him with the power of the truth.
“The Gospel will set us free,” he said. However, some people want to dilute or water down their faith. If things are diluted too much, he said you lose what you love.
“Thank God for the charism of the Mercedarians and the gift they have been to the Church,” he said. “We, as missionary disciples, need to go out to the peripheries where the Christian message may have been watered down, and offer the gift of our loves, faith, passion and truth to set people free. As Jesus said, ‘there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend.”
Father Mayer offered some brief remarks at the end of Mass, thanking Bishops Perez and Pilla for their presence. “You are always welcome,” he said. “And we have the best Italian food on the West Side,” he quipped.
St. Rocco School students presented each bishop with a bouquet of roses and Bishop Perez received a sweater with the school crest.
A reception with homemade meatballs, rigatoni, Italian sausage and pastries followed in the parish hall.
Click HERE to read more about Bishop’s travels during the weekend.