PROVIDENCE — The Diocese of Providence inaugurated the sesquicentennial of its founding with a solemn, but grand celebration at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on Sept. 8 with A Night to Honor Mary, held on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The evening service brought together in prayer a broad coalition of the faithful, including priests, deacons, seminarians, religious men and women, families and young people, along with members of several lay organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and the Men of St. Joseph.
About 600 people participated in the service, which was highlighted by the praying of the rosary in five languages: English, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Polish; a homily delivered by Bishop Tobin; and a moving procession of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the cathedral while all in attendance sang a stirring litany.
The crowd exuded a palpable energy in the cathedral on the historic night as they actively engaged in reciting the prayers and singing.
“I was very pleased by the turnout, but even more than the turnout, I was very pleased and impressed by the spirit of those who were here,” Bishop Tobin told Rhode Island Catholic after the service.
“People were clearly moved; they were involved in the ceremony; they were praying well and singing well. It’s just a wonderful beginning to our anniversary year,” he said.
In his homily, Bishop Tobin said the jubilee year heralds a time of much promise ahead and provides an opportunity for God to bestow many graces and blessings on the diocese as it celebrates its past and renews itself for the future.
“It’s appropriate to begin with the recitation of the holy rosary, a prayer from the beginning that continues to be a beautiful and central part of our lives as Catholics,” the bishop said of the opening of the service.
He spoke of how now Saint John Paul II published three years before he died a beautiful apostolic letter about the centrality and importance of the holy rosary in our lives.
Bishop Tobin, quoting from the late pontiff’s 2002 letter, “Rosarium Virginis Mariae,” described the rosary as “a prayer so easy and yet so rich it deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community. It encourages us to rekindle a renewed interest in the rosary’s place within Christian spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of the heart of Christ, an ocean of joy and light, of suffering and glory. Simple, yet profound, the rosary still remains a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness.”
“What a beautiful little reflection that is,” the bishop said, noting that as a compendium of the Gospel message the rosary always leads us to Christ.
“When we pray the rosary, we stand right there next to Mary. We gaze upon the face of Christ.”
By standing next to Mary in prayer, the rosary allows the faithful to pray with added confidence, which is especially needed in the troubled times that we live in.
The bishop noted that there is so much to pray for these days, including peace, justice and freedom in the world, as well as for those who are suffering from recent earthquakes, forest fires, hurricanes and flooding.
“We pray for an end to this terrible pandemic that has literally plagued us for the last year-and-a-half with all the terrible suffering and harm that it has caused. We pray for an end to the virus, we pray for those who have died and those who are ill. We pray in a special way for their family members and caregivers who are still doing their best to take care of so many people who are ill in general,” he said.
“We pray for respect for all human life from beginning to end, especially for unborn children,” he added, along with an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. “We need God’s help in everything we do.”
Bishop Tobin ended his homily with a call to action for Catholics to expand upon the tradition of placing a rosary in the hands of the deceased as they go forth into eternal life.
“Just as we carry the rosary in death, so too the rosary should find its place into our hands while we live as well. As we dedicate our jubilee year to Mary, we pray that we as a diocese will walk with Mary in everything we do.”
Knights of Columbus State Deputy David Quinn said the Knights are an organization that is heavily devoted to the Blessed Mother.
“Any way that we can help, including expanding on that devotion, is very important to us,” Quinn said in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic. “We’re very excited that the diocese is celebrating its 150th anniversary and we’ve told the bishop we’re here to support him.”
Preparing for the procession into the cathedral before the service Deacon David Gillis spoke of how personally thrilled he was to be honoring the Blessed Mother that evening.
“The Blessed Mother played a huge role in my vocation to the diaconate. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2010, she basically saved my life and brought me fully back to her son, to Jesus through Mary,” he said, adding that he consecrated himself to her at that time.
“When I was ordained I decided to dedicate my vocation to her. She will always have a special place in my heart. That is the big reason I’m here – to honor her.”
Gillis said he is very much looking forward to the next nine months of the diocesan celebration of its sesquicentennial.
“I am thrilled that Cardinal Dolan is coming, as well as George Weigel and Mike Aquilina,” he said.
“There’s going to be so much to look forward to and I’m hoping to participate in most if not all of it. I think it’s a very special occasion for the diocese. I hope it reinvigorates people. We have to get out there and evangelize to people and this is a good year to kick that off.”
Father Christopher Mahar, who is currently in service at the Vatican in the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, said he was happy to be able to attend the inaugural celebration of the sesquicentennial before heading back to Rome the next day.
“It’s a joy to be here with brother priests and to celebrate with the diocese the birth of Our Lady,” Father Mahar said.
Ana Ramirez, a parishioner at Holy Ghost Church in Providence, said during a collation held in the cathedral basement after the service that it was a very beautiful evening.
“The Virgin Mary is special and I like that we prayed the rosary. That’s very important to me,” she said.
Minerva Maklouf, a parishioner at Saint George Maronite Catholic Church, Cranston, who came to the United States 40 years ago from her native Lebanon, said as soon as she heard the Diocese of Providence was going to open its anniversary year by honoring the Blessed Mother, she knew it was going to be a special event that she did not want to miss.
Although her husband passed away only four months ago and she does not drive, she was determined to reach the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, asking her adult son to bring her there and to participate in the event with her.
“I am so happy to be here tonight,” she said. “It was so beautiful.”
Sue Carlino, who led the praying of the rosary in Italian, said as a daughter of Italian immigrants it was an honor for her to do.
“I loved the pageantry of the night. It was just so solemn, but yet so spectacular,” Carlino said.
Armand and Bettina Monaco, parishioners of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in East Greenwich, said they were impressed by the number of people who attended, especially the number of young people.
“It was very uplifting,” said Armand. “We’re looking forward to attending a lot of the upcoming 150th events and we already reserved our seats for George Weigel’s presentation at Our Lady of Mercy.”
“We thought it was a lovely service,” said Bettina. “The kids did a marvelous job. There were a lot of young people here. It’s wonderful to see.”
For a schedule of upcoming events in the 150th anniversary celebration of the Diocese of Providence please visit dioceseofprovidence.org/150.