The ongoing coronavirus pandemic may have limited the festivities, but the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass returned on March 17 at St. Colman’s Church in Cleveland. Bishop Edward Malesic, who just marked his six-month anniversary in the diocese, was the celebrant for the liturgy hosted by the West Side Irish American Club.
Despite pandemic-imposed attendance limitations, “It’s still a lot better than last year, when we were not able to celebrate this Mass in public,” the bishop said, “We are definitely moving in the right direction and next year, I anticipate seeing a full house in this church with the streets of Cleveland lined with people of all kinds who want to celebrate the Irish saint and the Irish faith, which is Catholic to the core. I can’t wait for next year – although I hear that I may need to buy some walking shoes,” he quipped, comparing the celebration to “an oasis in the middle of Lent and a pandemic.”
He noted that on St. Patrick’s Day, “everyone is a wee bit Irish, even a bishop with a Slovenian name.”
Attendance at the livestreamed Mass – which was by ticket only – was restricted to 140 people, including some of the club’s honorees and Edward Crawford, Irish ambassador to the United States. Many others watched the liturgy on St. Colman’s Facebook page and the diocesan website.
In previous years, the church was a sea of green and packed with people. Bagpipes, drums, fifes and other uniformed WSIA marching units traditionally process into and out of the church before heading downtown for the parade. This is the second year the parade was canceled because of the pandemic.
Dan Chambers of the WSIA, who helped coordinate the liturgy, welcomed those in attendance as well as those watching the livestream. He encouraged the group to support the parish – which has a long history with the club – and its ministries.
Father Caroli Shao, AJ, St. Colman’s pastor, also welcomed the bishop and the congregation. “Welcome home. This is your home – the home of the Irish. We welcome you officially,” Father Shao said, adding that the bishop is welcome any time.
“I believe that the cross of this past year is ready to give way to new life in us. I am ready for that new life, which St. Patrick announced to Ireland so many years ago. Today, may his memory announce new life to us once more,” Bishop Malesic said.
Looking around the church, which he called “a magnificent structure,” he said it is a testament to the faithfulness of the Irish and others in the community since 1880. “If we build our spiritual homes as well as our ancestors built this physical home, we will have a very strong Church indeed,” he said, adding the physical building is a testament to our spiritual resiliency. “This church serves as a witness to the community, just as our religion serves as a beacon of hope to the world.”
The bishop encouraged the congregation to take a cue from St. Patrick, who brought Christ to life. “We can be inspired by his life to bring the compassion, love and forgiveness of Christ into the world ourselves. Our world needs the hope that only God can give,” he said. “Turning towards God, walking humbly before the Lord, serving the poor with justice and proclaiming the Gospel is the way to right the wrongs of our society. St. Patrick showed us that long ago – and Ireland became a strong nation because of it. We are built on the strong foundation of Jesus Christ. But, if we build our house on sand, it will fall.”
St. Patrick taught us that Christian witness can have an effective, lasting impact on a culture, the bishop said – a culture that may have saved Western civilization. He recalled St. Patrick’s use of a shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, making the mystery of God easily understandable by all people.
Today, Bishop Malesic said we must learn how to translate our faith so it can be heard, understood and accepted by others in a modern world filled with dissonant voices.
“We must make our faith attractive, like Patrick did, without attempting to water it down. Patrick went fishing for souls and received a great catch … Pray that the Lord will send laborers into the harvest for a new catch of souls,” he said.
St. Patrick must inspire us to become missionary disciples – a role each of us plays in the Church by virtue of baptism. “We must never be ashamed to be called Christian,” the bishop said, adding that we must be “bold enough to proclaim a Gospel that says that a dead man, Jesus, came back from the dead and if we believe in him, we will come back from the dead, too. That is at the heart of our faith.”
We can only give what we have, Bishop Malesic said, adding that we must draw closer to Christ – who wants to draw closer to us. “We must not see Jesus as a two-dimensional character in an ancient book. No, he is a person who wants to speak to us eve today, heart to heart. Jesus wants to be real for us. That’s what Patrick did – he made Jesus real.”
These are the reasons St. Patrick went to the Irish people, the bishop said. “That is why we give him the title ‘saint’ and that is ultimately what all of us hope to be – saints.” God will need to polish the many tarnished spots on our souls, but he wants us all to be heaven-bound.
“And when we are greeted at the gates by St. Patrick with all the saints, maybe we will hear him say, ‘Failte’,” the bishop said, using the Gaelic word for welcome.
John Quien WSIA 2020 Man of the Year, read the first reading and Al O’Leary, age 92, recited the creed in Gaelic. In addition to Father Shao, Father Benjamin Koka, AJ, St. Colman parochial vicar, and Father Tom Mahoney and Father Patrick Spicer, concelebrated.
After Mass, Chambers presented the bishop with a shamrock plant. Bishop Malesic also took time to pose for photos and to chat with Mass attendees.