Franklin County Residents Gather to Pray for 'Perseverance in a Time of Crisis'

By Cori Fugere Urban
Iobserve [Turners Falls MA]
Downloaded February 25, 2004

TURNERS FALLS - A service of "Prayer for Perseverance in a Time of Crisis" drew about 65 persons to St. Mary of the Assumption Church here Feb. 18, a week after allegations were made public that now-retired Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupre sexually abused two boys three decades ago.

"We want the truth. Bring it out now," said Mary Jane Garbiel, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Assumption Church, during one of several small group discussions during the 80-minute service.

Asked to write on an index card what they were longing for, participants wrote words like truth, peace, justice and healing. Some said they longed for a more pure and enlightened church, to be able to trust their priests, to know priests and bishops are doing "what they are telling us to do" and for the "strength to do what we are taught to do."

When asked to write words that described how they felt in the wake of the allegations against the bishop and the clergy sexual abuse scandal, participants wrote words including loss, hurt, embarrassed, betrayed, sad and angry.

The cards were placed on the altar at the end of the service.

During her prepared reflection for the service, St. Mary of the Assumption parishioner Eileen Mariani, the mother of a Jesuit priest, said that those in attendance were called to reflect on their Catholic faith and their Church in light of "an enormous crisis"not just the latest blow but the cumulative effect of what the sex abuse scandal has done to us."

She said that despite the crisis in the church, her faith in Jesus Christ is not shaken. "But my faith in the Catholic Church, as an institution, is shaken. I feel battered. I want to scream when I think of those countless innocent children whose psychological, emotional and spiritual lives were destroyed by those in whom they put their trust," she said. "I am in awe of them (the victims), who as adults, with their families, fought to bring this scandal to light, who would not let the institution of the church, through corrupt power, hypocrisy and sickness hide" sins and" crimes any longer."

Emphasizing the importance of prayer during times of crisis, Mariani said those gathered had come together in the church community to ask God to sustain them as individuals and as a church.

"We need to continue to practice our faith, to be practicing Catholics so that through practice we may be made perfect," she continued, encouraging those gathered not to abandon the "flawed church" but to receive the sacraments and to come together to worship God.

"Pain is the precursor to change," Mariani said. "I have to believe that our church, as institution, will emerge from this scandal cleansed and purified, humbled and holy, open to dialogue with all people of God."

Father Stanley Aksamit, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption and St. Anne churches in Turners Falls and Sacred Heart Church in Greenfield, said the purpose of the evening service"which included the renewal of baptismal promises--was to gather people to pray for comfort, strength and healing for themselves and for the church.

He said that when he first heard of the allegations made against the bishop, he "felt like we were in some kind of Twilight Zone" going through the crucifixion in slow motion." He was caught in a sea of emotion " anger, despair, discouragement.

He expressed appreciation for the notes of encouragement he received from persons offering not only kind words but support.

Garbiel said that one of the reasons she attended the prayer service was to support her pastor.

"It's (a) sad (situation) and hard to believe, but we are here for God and for our love for him," said Bernice Bourbeau, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Assumption Church.

"I came to find peace and to find closure," said fellow parishioner Noreen Schwarz, noting that the service helped her move toward that goal.

"I needed to come. We're not hopeless, we are hopeful," said Margaret Pfersich, another St. Mary of the Assumption parishioner. "We want to do our part to bring things aright."

During an "open mic(rophone)" segment of the service, Pfersich expressed her resolve "to do more to witness what I've been taught."

"We wouldn't be here if we didn't love our Church," Mariani said.


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