By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor
As the church of St. David the King, Princeton Junction, began to fill the afternoon of Aug. 17 for a multi-cultural Catholic celebration, it was clear that unity and diversity were abundantly present.
Photo Gallery: Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Vailankanni
Organized and hosted by the Knights of Columbus from across the Garden State, the second annual celebration began with recitation of the Rosary and procession of an image of Our Lady of Vailankanni, whose feast is celebrated in India with celebrations Aug. 28 through Sept. 8 – the Feast of the Nativity of Mary.
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., was the main celebrant of Mass which commemorated the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Vailankanni, or Our Lady of Good Health. The Bishop was joined at the altar by priests of the Diocese of Trenton and other New Jersey dioceses, and many in the congregation were present to concurrently celebrate their cultural heritage from the Asian subcontinent countries of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
“The Lord Jesus prayed at the Last Supper for his apostles … ‘that they may be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me,’” Bishop O’Connell reflected. Referencing the Gospel reading, he noted that unity and discord are both present in Scripture. “But we know that the Lord Jesus does not draw us in close to confuse us or to distract us with a contradictory message, no. He wants us to think.”
“Our theme of our Mass this evening, our gathering, is Unity in Diversity, [which] can seem a bit contradictory,” he continued. “But more careful thinking about that theme … reveals that diversity does not necessarily impede or prevent unity. Becoming aware of our differences and seeking a common purpose in the midst of all our differences … can be the very thing that brings us diverse people together, encouraging us to use our differences for a common good.”
Mass was concelebrated by Father Timothy Capewell, St. David the King pastor; Father Gerald Johnson (Selvam Asirvatham), parochial vicar in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River; Father Charles O’Connor, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, Monmouth Junction; Father Akram Javid, chaplain for ArchCare, a continuing care community of the Archdiocese of New York, and Father Ron Machado, parochial vicar in St. Joseph Parish, North Plainfield. Assisting was Deacon Dr. Francis D’Mello from Our Lady of Peace Parish, North Brunswick.
Prayers of the Faithful were read in various languages of the Asian subcontinent, including Hindi, Konkani, Tamil, Malayalam, Bangla, Marathi, Sinhalese, Gujarati and Urdu.
Oral tradition has handed down stories of three apparitions of Our Lady of Good Health, including one on Sept. 8 in which a storm threatened a boat in the Bay of Bengal filled with Portuguese sailors. After invoking Our Lady’s protection, the storm subsided and the men were saved. The Gothic-styled church in Velankanni erected in her honor by Portuguese and Indians was raised to the status of minor basilica by Pope John XXIII.
During a reception which followed in the parish’s Great Hall, complete with cuisine of the Asian subcontinent, paintings of 11 saints of the Asian subcontinent were auctioned to raise money for arts and education in Catholic schools of the Trenton Diocese. The paintings were created by Sage Rebello, a junior in South Brunswick High School and St. Cecilia parishioner, when event organizer Norbert Mendez asked her if she would like to participate in some way.
“At first I thought I was just doing one saint painting,” she said, “and then he kept tossing more [to me]. The only saint I knew at first was Mother Teresa [of Kolkata], but then when I started to paint more, I started to learn more.”
“I was amazed by the holy women and men who shaped our faith in the region,” she continued. “[Painting them] was a labor of love.”
Rebello’s family also participated in the Mass; her father, Celsius, was cantor; her mother, Brenda, read one of the petitions, and her sister, Rachel, sang and played the organ, as well as emceed the reception. They were joined by her friend Leoni Barretto, who played the guitar and sang.
Married couple Stephen and Lydia D’Sousa, parishioners of St. Matthew, Edison, attended the first event in Metuchen last year. “We have to display our unity as one,” Stephen said of the event’s theme.
“It’s wonderful to see all the Catholics from different countries coming together,” Lydia agreed. She and her husband are originally from India. “Living and practicing the faith [is important]. In our country we all have a devotion to Our Lady, celebrating good health and blessings that we have.”
Sherene Ranasinghe of Sayreville read one of the petitions, and her husband was one of the event organizers; they, too, had attended the Metuchen gathering.
“It’s amazing for the community to come together to worship the Lord, and all he has done in our lives,” she said. “As a Sri Lankan, I wanted to represent my community.”
Joined by family members, Cleon Monis of St. Andrew Parish, Avenel, said that “We haven’t really been to a cultural event like this before, but we do have an association that we’re part of, so we came here to support … because we were interested in it.”
Monis, whose family is originally from Mangalore, India, said he thought that “having things like this is good to get people together to talk to each other and understand and mingle with each other… because people build connections which help them throughout life.”