On Sunday, July 22nd, three more Catholic churches in the Cleveland Diocese re-opened. The three churches were St. Barbara (Denison Ave.), St. Mary (Bedford), and St. Patrick (West Park). All three re-opened simultaneously with 11:00 am Masses on this bright sunny day as their parishioners and supporters returned to see the churches' doors unlocked and open once again.
These three churches were part of the eleven decreed to be restored in the historic March 1, 2012 decision by the Vatican's Congregation of the Clergy. Last week St. John the Baptist (Akron), and St. Casimir (Cleveland) were re-opened.
This past Sunday, media coverage was intensive at St. Barbara, a Polish founded parish. The scene was overwhelming and joyous as they celebrated in the typical Polish way with a large procession into the church that marked the occasion and showed their intense love and respect for their Catholic faith.
Several hundred people gathered outside the church from the front steps, and the sidewalks along Denison Avenue stretching for a city block. At the head of this procession was the newly appointed pastor, Rev. Father Joseph Hilinski, who started the ceremony by knocking a series of three knocks, three times on the closed doors and proclaimed these words, "Open the doors so that the people of God may worship the God of heaven and earth". He then repeated the invocation in Polish with the doors slowly opening, and then the bells began ringing. This was the first time the bells were rung in more than two years. Many of the people in the procession became emotional as tears of joy became visible. The pealing of the bells was the welcome home, and the signal token, that they could now return to their sacred place of worship.
The procession slowly ascended the steps into the church and completely filled the pews, the aisles and the choir loft. In the procession were St. Barbara's Veterans Group, the VFW, the American Legion, and two Polish Army Posts all carrying their colors, next were fraternals and members of the parish in native Polish Highlander dress. They were followed by bearers of gonfalones (religious banners) who held high the images of St. Barbara, Our Lady of Częstochowa, Divine Mercy of Jesus, John Paul II, and others.
On this day the first reading was from the Prophet Jeremiah where God rebukes bad shepherds who scattered the flocks, and God appoints new shepherds to gather and return the flocks to their homes. The Scripture reading for this Homecoming Mass could not have been more appropriate for those in the pews.
In his homily, Father Hilinski introduced himself as a Catholic, a Pole and a Christian neighbor who was baptised at St. Barbara. He gave a short history of the parish and then praised the parishioners and supporters that worked to have the parish re-opened. He said that they (parishioners) acted as shepherds.
Father Hilinski announced that Barbara's will have a Saturday evening Mass and two Sunday Masses, one being in Polish. He was warmly received as those in the pews twice broke out in applause. In attendance were reps from SS. Casimir, Emeric, Peter, and Wendelin for they too wanted to share in this Homecoming. Afterwards, a reception was held in the church hall, topped off with a very long Polish pastry table. It was a real Homecoming for the parishioners of St. Barbara. Donna Cuevas said, "It is a miracle and the inside looks the same as it was before".
Next week and thereafter those bells will ring again with a call for the flock to come home. They now have a shepherd.
--by Joseph Feckanin