PROVIDENCE — While Bishop Thomas J. Tobin looked out upon rows of empty pews clear to the back of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul as he celebrated Mass on Easter Sunday morning, he directed his message of inspiration to the tens of thousands of faithful participating from the safety of their homes during this novel coronavirus pandemic.
Bishop Tobin served as principal celebrant of the Easter Mass — the annual celebration of Christ’s being raised from the dead — which he concelebrated with Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans and Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia.
Deacon Hiep Nguyen, who is slated to be ordained to the priesthood in June, assisted at the Mass, while Father Jeremy Rodrigues, Bishop Tobin’s administrative assistant, served as Master of Ceremonies.
Seminarians Patrick Ryan and Stephen Coucher served the Mass.
While it was an astonishing sign of these unusual times to see the pews empty, the remainder of the sanctuary was not.
Cathedral organist Phil Faraone and cantors Georgette Hutchins and Mark Colozzi filled the cathedral with beautiful sacred music as sunlight illuminated the stained glass panels in the large rose window overhead depicting Jesus being crucified on the cross.
Lector Emely Granados delivered the First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostle, in English, and the Second Reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, in Spanish.
Deacon Nguyen read from the Gospel of St. John before Bishop Tobin delivered the homily.
“In our Mass today we lift up to the Lord all those who have been affected by the dreadful virus that has plagued our world — we pray for those who have died, those who are ill, their family members and caregivers, those who are out of school and out of work, and so many of our own faithful who long to gather once again in their beloved churches to pray and receive sacraments,” Bishop Tobin said in his homily.
“May we support and encourage one another in these trying days, ever confident of God’s care and compassion. Remember that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and “though we walk in the valley of darkness, we fear no evil, for he is at our side.”
While he spoke to the parishioners from all across the diocese who tuned in to view the Easter Mass on local channels 10 and 12 — which offered to broadcast the liturgy as a public service — he joined them in solidarity for the uncertain times and concerns they all share.
“Yes, we need Easter and all the blessing and graces of this special day,” he said, noting how everyone could learn a great deal from the experience of that first Easter weekend nearly 2,000 years ago.
It was then that Jesus’ disciples had to make a difficult personal and spiritual journey. They departed from the crucifixion hilltop of Golgotha and that first dark and stormy Good Friday afternoon fearing their dreams of evangelization of Jesus’ message were over.
But on Sunday morning, the first Easter, they arrived at the tomb to find the unexpected. Their lives were changed once again, renewed with hope.
“They couldn’t wait to tell the whole world the good news, the amazing story of Jesus of Nazareth,” Bishop Tobin said.
Speaking to the faithful, the bishop said such a difficult journey for those disciples should be ours as well.
“For several weeks now we have suffered the Good Friday of a terrible illness that has affected us all. It has changed our lives, separated us one from another, and left us bewildered, ‘wrapped in a blanket of sadness,’ as someone said to me,” he said.
Bishop Tobin also spoke of how the Blessed Mother, who endured her time of testing and trial witnessing the death of her son, is for us a beautiful icon of hope and trust, and quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVIs encyclical “Spe Salvi,” or “Saved in Hope,” which speaks of how Christians, even though they may not know the details of what awaits them, they know that lives will not end in emptiness.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters, what a perfect message for our time!” the bishop said.
“We don’t know the details of the future, but we know that our lives will not end in happiness and frustration … Because we have hope, we live differently. Because of hope, we will learn from the past, and will embrace the future with renewed confidence and a joyful, invincible spirit.”
Bishop Tobin closed his homily by making a connection between the power of hope for those living in the far off lands of ancient Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and the Ocean State of today, whose citizens are faced with dark days and uncertainty.
He called to mind how the theological virtue of hope is manifested in the state’s seal as well as on its flag.
“That single word has summarized the spirit of Rhode Islanders for generations,” he said. “In good times and in bad, we are people of hope.”
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