A popular pre-Christmas event, the 38th annual Journey to Bethlehem, drew an enthusiastic group to St. Ladislas Church in Westlake on Dec. 2.
Presented by Disabilities Services & Ministries, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, the Journey to Bethlehem included a Mass and reception. Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries, OSB returned as celebrant. He said it’s one of his favorite liturgies of the year.
Father Mark Latcovich, who was installed last summer as St. Ladislas pastor, welcomed the event and attendees. It was the first time St. Ladislas hosted the liturgy. For most of its history, the Journey to Bethlehem was celebrated at St. Augustine Church in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood since that parish serves as a home for some of the diocesan ministries for those with disabilities, including the ministry to the deaf and hard of hearing. As always, an American Sign Language interpreter signed throughout the Mass.
(See photo gallery above.)
Another familiar part of the liturgy were the choir and musicians from St. John Vianney Parish in Mentor, directed by Bill Rebol. They have been involved with the event for many years, according to Marilyn Scott, director of Disability Services & Ministries.
Concelebrants included Father Latcovich; Father Andy Turner, president/rector of Borromeo and Saint Mary seminaries; Father Mike Stalla, coordinator for pastoral formation at the seminaries and presbyteral moderator of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fairport Harbor; and Father Ben Jimenez, SJ, parochial vicar at St. Augustine Parish. Assisting were Deacon Raymond Daull, retired, and Deacon John Travis, retired, who assists at St. Ladislas.
The Friends of Jesus, a ministry at St. Ladislas for those with special needs who are 15 and older, also attended and sang the song, “Soon and Very Soon” at the end of Mass.
Some of the disability ministries’ program participants played a role in the Mass as readers. George did the first reading, Michael proclaimed the responsorial psalm and brothers Matt and Marty read the petitions. Others carried pieces of the Nativity set to the altar during the Offertory procession, carefully handing them to the bishop. He gave them to Deacon Daull and Scott, who placed them in and around the stable.
Baby Jesus was carried by Nick, who was pushed up the aisle in his wheelchair by family members. The bishop greeted him, took the statue, placed his hand on Nick’s head and blessed him.
During the homily, Bishop Gries showed those in attendance a crisp $100 bill and asked who wanted it. Many hands shot up.
Then, he crumpled the bill and asked if anyone still wanted it. Several people raised their hands.
“Our souls are breathed into us by God at the moment of conception. Our soul is who we are,” he told the congregation. “Sometimes our bodies get crumpled, but our soul is always there. We were made in the image and likeness of God.”
The bishop recalled an All Souls Mass he celebrated at a school during November. He asked the students if any of them had grandparents who had died. Some said they did. He asked if they had a funeral and again, the answer was yes. Finally, he asked if their grandparents had been buried and they students again replied yes.
But one student was confused about how a grandparent could be in heaven with Jesus if he or she was buried.
“Her soul is there (in heaven),” the bishop explained.
“As we journey to Bethlehem towards Christmas during the next month, remember that Jesus is with us. He walks with us all four weeks of Advent. Jesus came and his words are the words of life. Someday, we’ll all be gathered in heaven with God,” Bishop Gries said, adding that there will be no distinction between color or disability. “We’ll all have glorified bodies.”
He told the group that as they journey to Bethlehem this day, they should remember who they are. “You are all made in the image of God. Our journey will be complete when we see God. God, thank you for sending us Jesus and for making your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”
The bishop handed the $100 bill to Scott so she could use it towards the cost of the event.
After the liturgy, the group had a chance to chat with the bishop and other priests. The group then moved to Cullen Hall where a light lunch was served.
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