Around Articles Columns Editorial Hispanic Apostolate Letters Opportunities Profile ShorTakes

March 28, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 11

photo: Bishop DiLorenzo presides at the rite of the Blessing of the Holy Door on Palm Sunday.

Bishop DiLorenzo presides at the rite of the Blessing of the Holy Door on Palm Sunday.


“Pass it on,” Bishop DiLorenzo tells overflow Basilica congregation

T hese words of Father James Curran, rector of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, describes the pride and also the stewardship role viewed by parishioners of the Basilica as it serves the local community.

Despite the cold and damp weather outside, the mood inside the Basilica was warm, lively and inviting for the Palm Sunday liturgy and the blessing of the Holy Door by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo during the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis.

“The devil is frowning at us at the beginning of Holy Week, but no one is frowning,” Father Curran quipped about the gloomy weather which caused cancellation of the annual Palm Sunday procession through the neighborhood.

Bishop DiLorenzo began the liturgy by blessing the Holy Door, the main entrance doors which had been painted a bright red both inside and out. Standing by him during the blessing were Father Curran, Deacon Calvin Bailey, Deacon Harold Sampson, holding the crucifix, and Pam Harris, director of the diocese’s Office for Black Catholics.

In his homily Bishop DiLorenzo said that while many consider the issues of slavery and preservation of the Union were the major issues of the Civil War, he felt love and forgiveness were the key Christian responses to the pain, suffering and death of soldiers on both sides of the four-year war between the Union and Confederate States.

photo: Deacon Harold Sampson, Deacon Calvin Bailey (center left) and Father Curran (at right) are lifted up with joy joining the choir in praise.

Deacon Harold Sampson, Deacon Calvin Bailey (center left) and Father Curran (at right) are lifted up with joy joining the choir in praise.

The Bishop cited the battle of Gettysburg in which “the slaughter on both sides was beyond comprehension.”

In addition to the casualties at Gettysburg, there were many injured soldiers, some of whom lay on the battlefield for several days.

“Who took care of them?” Bishop DiLorenzo asked.

Among them was Lydia Smith, an African American woman “who had a sense of compassion,” Bishop DiLorenzo said.

She went to get any kind of help she felt was needed like food and water, and then later dipped into her minor savings and used that to help provide for the care of the wounded soldiers, which included those fighting for the Confederacy.

“She gave the last measure of devotion,” Bishop DiLorenzo said.

He cited the example of William Johnson, another little known historical figure who was an African American man who served as a valet and bodyguard for President Abraham Lincoln. He accompanied the President to Gettysburg where Lincoln dedicated the Soldiers National Cemetery and gave what became known as the Gettysburg Address.

On their way back to Washington, President Lincoln became ill and it was then discovered he had smallpox. William continued to care for him.

“Lincoln lived and William died,” Bishop DiLorenzo said, adding that Mr. Johnson “gave that last measure of devotion which was found among African Americans as a characteristic.”

In more recent times, Bishop DiLorenzo spoke of the tragic killing of members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., after they invited a stranger to be part of their Bible study group. He turned violent and killed almost all in the study group.

Instead of being angry and seeking revenge on the young man for his actions, the pastor and members of the congregation responded by showing mercy and forgiveness. The Bishop suggested that their gesture be a model for other people who receive this inspiration from their Christian faith.

“It comes from this mercy and forgiveness from Jesus,” he said. “Jesus gave us love, mercy, and forgiveness and we all need it.

“You, as a community here at the Basilica, show mercy, love and forgiveness,” Bishop DiLorenzo added.

“Thank God for Jesus,” he said. “He gave us the last measure of love, mercy and forgiveness.”

“Pass it on.”

Father Curran thanked many present for their attendance, including former Virginia Governor and Mrs. Bob McDonnell who sat in the front row.

Delegate Glenn Davis of the Virginia House of Delegates presented Father Curran with a framed resolution from the Commonwealth of Virginia which recognized the importance of the Basilica to the Norfolk community as well as all of Virginia.

Among the highlights of the celebration were the waving of red and gold banners by Basilica’s Ladies of the Covenant, a multi-generational Praise Dance Ministry, at the processional, offertory and recessional.

The Basilica Mass Choir played a key role in the liturgy. The group is the compilation of several choirs including the Gospel Choir, Young Adult Choir, Male Ensemble, Inspirational Choir and instrumental ensemble. The final hymn in which the assembly participated was “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”

The overflow crowd allowed an additional 200 people to participate in the liturgy from the fellowship hall where they could view the Mass on two large screens.

photo: The choir performs in praise and celebration.

The choir performs in praise and celebration.

Planning of the liturgy, which recognized the importance of the Holy Door of Mercy and Christ’s message of love, mercy and forgiveness, was a collaborative effort of the Basilica’s Worship Committee led by Oretha Pretlow, Pastoral Associate, and the liturgical ministers. They worked closely with Ms. Harris of the Office for Black Catholics.

The Basilica is in the midst of a campaign to raise two million dollars for necessary repairs to the church building, erected in 1858.

“We raised $117,740 just within the last three weeks, not counting the Palm Sunday collection,” said Racquel “Rocki” Mayner, Basilica development director.

Commenting on Bishop DiLorenzo’s message to “pass it on,” she said “What a charge for all of us!”

back to top »