ROCK HILL – A priest, originally from Brazil, presiding over a Mass with Hispanic musicians and Vietnamese dancers epitomized diversity at Winthrop Coliseum April 23.
More than 1,200 people gathered for “Hearts on Fire,” a celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday organized by members of St. Anne Church.
Pope John Paul II established the Divine Mercy feast day upon the canonization of St. Faustina in 2000. It is held on the first Sunday after Easter each year.
This was the first such service held in Rock Hill. The special event was the idea of the church’s pastor, Father Adilso Coelho. The name for the event, “Hearts on Fire,” was designed to reflect the idea of people within the Catholic church learning how “to be on fire with the love of God,” said Elena Ziegler, director of religious education at St. Anne.
The activities included St. Anne members who invited musicians and performers from other churches in the area. People came from around the state to take part in the celebration.
Those in the coliseum seats for the Mass, which started at 10 a.m., included many Hispanic families, including a large group who wore T-shirts commemorating a Hispanic Charismatic gathering that was taking place at St. Anne’s during the weekend.
The “Hearts on Fire” celebration was designed to be a completely bilingual worship experience, and throughout the Mass, prayers, songs and segments of readings and remarks by the 10 priests and deacons in attendance were offered in both Spanish and English.
Father Larry Carew, a visiting priest from Christ the King Church in Trumbull, Conn., gave the homily. He talked about the profound concept of Divine Mercy, and how seeking the mercy of God can liberate hearts burdened by guilt or sorrow.
“The feast of the Divine Mercy is designed to help the Church rediscover the immensity of God’s mercy … it’s a time when we learn what can happen when His healing love pours itself out on us,” he said. “Jesus came to redeem God’s image from being judgmental and angry to being the father of mercies.”
To illustrate the value of seeking God’s mercy, Father Carew told the crowd a story about a man he encountered while doing prison ministry in 2002. He said the man, who he called “Tom,” had encountered abuse as a child and grown into an angry man who had committed a long list of crimes. He described a day when he spent a long time in prayer with “Tom” and witnessed personally the change that came over the man during that time when he “gave Jesus permission to take the anger out of his life.”
“Tom, while praying, said he saw an image of Jesus standing over his shoulder … and Jesus said to him, ‘Tom, it’s going to be okay,'” Father Carew said. He said the inmate went through a profound change in his demeanor and outlook on life after that event.
“Jesus can release us from humiliation, from confusion … He can bring healing to the places where we hurt most,” Father Carew said. “He can heal us of our inner wounds and the ones that have been done against us. The Lord wants me and you to be witnesses to his love and mercy.”
The rest of the Mass featured music, including an offertory rendition of “Requiem” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, performed by two visiting singers from New York City. That was followed by a group of young Vietnamese girls performing a dance while holding flowers and small lights. The “Flower Offering,” is a tradition in Vietnamese Catholic worship.
During the Mass, Father Coelho told those gathered that he thought the turnout for “Hearts on Fire” offered a profound message.
“This Mass is a prophetic sign, because we are all here to celebrate … Americans, Brazilians, Hispanics and Vietnamese. It shows that God’s love is merciful to each one of us,” he said.
After the Mass concluded, the crowd broke for a lunch period and then gathered for a session of guest speakers.
Ziegler said the event took a lot of time to put together, and parishioners at St. Anne’s would need a few days to sit back and reflect on the event.
“I do think it was very inspiring that we drew so many people, considering this was our first time doing this,” she said. “It was also inspiring to see people of God of so many different races and cultures gathering together.”