While some students in the diocese were enjoying a snow day on Feb. 7, those at Metro Catholic School on Cleveland’s West Side were enjoying the warmth of Bishop Nelson Perez as he celebrated Mass with them at St. Stephen Church and toured their school. Concelebrating the Mass were Father Caroli Shao, St. Stephen’s pastor, and Father Benjamin Koka, parochial vicar.
The bishop told the students he had heard many great things about Metro Catholic, so he asked them to tell him what they thought was so great about their school. Answers included: “We get to plan Mass;” “We have a church;” “Everyone is respectful and nice to each other;” “We have different cultures;” “Our teachers protect us, they never give up on us” and “We have the best teachers in the world.”
When the bishop asked if the students were sure they really had the best teachers in the world, their reply was a resounding yes. He then asked them to give the teachers a round of applause and to blow them a kiss.
Bishop Perez connected the students’ response about their teachers to the day’s Gospel, reminding them that the Gospel talked about how people in Jesus’ time weren’t permitted to eat impure meat such as bacon.
“Can you imagine not being able to eat bacon?” he asked.
The bishop told the students that Jesus taught it is not what comes from the outside that makes a heart impure. He said people thought that eating impure meat would make them impure, but Jesus explained that what makes you impure is what comes from your heart. If your heart is formed to be loving and kind then, you will be loving and kind. Bishop Perez told the students that’s what their teachers were doing — showing God’s love through them and the work they do each day. He asked the students to make sure their hearts are filled with God’s love, justice, generosity and mercy.
The offertory procession and gifts included a student from Vietnam who brought rice; another from Poland who presented decorative Easter eggs; someone from Africa who had a sweet potato and another from Mexico who had chili peppers. The gifts of bread and wine were brought to the bishop by three students from Africa who were dressed in traditional costumes. They also performed a ceremonial dance.
After Mass, the students presented Bishop Perez with a Metro Catholic School sweatshirt. They told the bishop that they wanted him to feel the same protection as they feel from their teachers.
One student asked Bishop Perez if he had ever met Pope Francis. They were surprised when he said he had, and that he stayed at the pope’s house for a week — and that he really liked bacon.
Metro Catholic, which has an enrollment of about 540 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, was formed in 1988 by the merger of three inner city schools: St. Boniface, St. Michael and St. Stephen. The Sisters of Notre Dame operate the school on two campuses.