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Governor excludes Christmas from State House ceremony
St. Patrick's Parish to return Christmas to Smith Hill Tuesday evening with prayer, tree lighting
BY RICK SNIZEK, Editor and BRIAN LOWNEY, Assistant Editor

PROVIDENCE – A 17-foot Colorado Blue Spruce is standing tall at the center of controversy in the Rhode Island State House Rotunda for what is being – or more importantly, not being – called.

Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee has invited the public to a “Holiday Tree Lighting” ceremony next Tuesday at the State House, leaving many, including Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, to question the governor’s choice of such secular terminology in referring to a symbol most commonly associated with the Christian celebration of Christmas.

"Governor Chafee's decision to avoid the word Christmas at the State House ceremony is most disheartening and divisive," said Bishop Tobin, in a statement released to the media Tuesday night.

"It is sad that such a secular spirit has swept over our state. The Governor's decision ignores long held American traditions and is an affront to the faith of many citizens. For the sake of peace and harmony in our state at this special time of the year, I respectfully encourage the Governor to reconsider his decision to use the word Christmas in the state observance."

Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Chafee said in a statement that he is only following past practices.

“Use of the term ‘holiday tree’ is a continuation of past practice, and does not represent a change of course on my part,” the governor said.

“I would encourage all those engaged in this discussion – whatever their opinion on the matter – to use their energy and enthusiasm to make a positive difference in the lives of their fellow Rhode Islanders.”

Father John Codega, pastor of St. Brendan Church, Riverside told WPRO’s Morning News that Christians are “frustrated” with Chafee’s decision.

“The governor is continuing to turn his back on the faith community,” Father Codega continued, adding that by suggesting that Rhode Island lawmakers and others involved in the debate should focus their energy and enthusiasm on feeding those less fortunate, Chafee is insulting the faith community.

“These are the people that are serving the poor,” Father Codega emphasized, noting that St. Patrick Church on Smith Hill, the site of a Christmas tree lighting scheduled for next Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m., serves those less fortunate through several outreach ministries including a soup kitchen and food pantry.

According to Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Church, the tree lighting will be held on the front lawn of the church, located at 244 Smith St. The service will be led by Bishop Tobin, and will begin with prayers and Christmas carols.

“The idea is to light a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree,” said Father Ruggieri. “It’s to call attention to the true meaning of Christmas, which exists because of Christ’s birth.”

Rep. Doreen M. Costa, D-31, who sponsored a resolution passed by lawmakers in January, declaring the annual State House tree to be called a “‘Christmas tree and not a ‘holiday tree’ or any other non-traditional terms.”

Costa, a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales Church, North Kingstown, said, “I think that the governor has overstepped his bounds. This is one way of keeping Christ out of Christmas and I won’t allow that.”

Joseph Cavanagh, a Pawtucket attorney, asked, "Is there really any question that Dec 25th is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ?”

Cavanagh argued that civilization has used the Christmas tree for centuries to remind people of “that momentous event which forever changed the world.

“Why then does our governor insist on ignoring reality as he unfortunately does with so many other fundamental issues, such as marriage and abortion, the intentional killing of defenseless children?” Cavanagh questioned.

Cavanagh emphasized that members of the faith community need to pray, then act, to stop the spread of “dangerous secularism, which the governor espouses.

“The notion of a "holiday" tree is sad nonsense,” he said.

Without a doubt
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