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The Feast, as the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is known in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, was an extra special celebration this year.
The multi-day religious and street festival returned after being canceled last year because of the COVID-19 health crisis. In addition, it was the first time Bishop Edward Malesic, who is approaching the first anniversary of his installation as bishop of Cleveland, experienced the celebration. And Bishop emeritus Anthony Pilla, a Little Italy native, also was on hand for the 10 a.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop Malesic at Holy Rosary Church. Then Bishop Pilla celebrated Mass at noon.
A few priests concelebrated the 10 a.m. Mass, including Father Phil Racco, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Westlake, who formerly served at Holy Rosary.
Father Joseph Previte, Holy Rosary pastor, welcomed Bishop Malesic to the parish and the Feast.
In his homily, Bishop Malesic said God had a plan to redeem us, to save us, to forgive us and restore us to life by sending us his only son, Jesus, our savior. But without Mary, there would be no Jesus. She is the one who gave him earthly life. And to prepare a worthy vessel for his son, God protected Mary from what the bishop called “Adam and Eve disease,” the tendency to choose the bad and reject the good. She was created without original sin and agreed to do as God asked – bearing his son, Jesus.
As a result, Jesus was especially good to his mother, Bishop Malesic said. “She would not taste the sting of death at the end of her life because she was always without sin.” The Eastern churches say that Mary “fell asleep” at the end of her life, he said, noting they call this her dormition.
“Jesus simply took his mother, body and soul, to himself,” he said. Catholics call this the assumption of Mary, the fourth glorious mystery of the rosary, “after which this church is named. And after that, she was crowned queen of heaven – sitting close to her son,” he added.
Bishop Malesic said it’s impossible for Catholics to think of Jesus without Mary nearby, noting she gave birth to him, reared him with St. Joseph, was present for his first miracle at Cana, wept at the foot of the cross, saw him rise again and was with the disciples who would go out into the world to proclaim him as Lord and God.
He said Father Sean Ralph, rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, shared a story about coming to Little Italy for the festival when he was a seminary. Father recalled someone in the crowd asking who was the lady the people were carrying around, referring to the procession in which a statue of the Blessed Mother is carried through the streets.
“Who is that lady? She is our lady. She is the first and best disciple of Jesus. She is our advocate. She is our queen. She is our mother. She is our hope,” the bishop said, adding that we take Mary into the streets because she brings Jesus to the world. “Our joy spills out of this church into our neighborhood. And, as we take Mary with us today, we are obliged to remember her last recorded words in the Bible when she said of Jesus, “Listen to him. Let us listen to him, follow him, obey him and love him. Mary would appreciate that.”
When our time on earth comes to a close, he said we pray that Mary will be there to place our hand into the hand of her son, who has the power to life us up again. “For the last enemy to be destroyed is death,” he added.
After Mass, Bishop Malesic joined other clergy, parishioners and a throng of people as a statue of Mary was carried through the streets of Little Italy. Prayers were said in English and Italian and the rosary was prayed.
Meanwhile, Bishop Pilla celebrated Mass at noon in Holy Rosary Church, telling the congregation he was “happy to be home. I was baptized in this church. It’s always good to come back home. You feel good when you come back to the neighborhood. I needed to come here today. I think we all did,” he said.
Part of our Catholic faith is hope and trust in God, Bishop Pilla said. “Our faith in God never changes. It will always be there.” He said some people think we don’t need God or religion, that religion is a crutch.
“Mary teaches us about that,” he said, referring to the Gospel, when she said, “The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.”
“‘Things’ don’t last,” Bishop Pilla said. “Everything comes from God. His power alone made Mary’s life worthwhile and his power in our life will make it worthwhile.”
He said the statue of Mary is beautiful, but it’s not reality. Mary had to struggle with the harsh realities of daily life and to endure criticism and ridicule of her son. “So do we,” he said referring to the struggles of daily life, “but we live with hope.”
Mary placed her trust in God, as we should. “Only God can give you happiness. Jesus drew life from Mary and she drew eternal life from his death on the cross. Mary is our mother; she is not a statue,” the bishop said, adding, “No one can help you like your mother.”
He urged the congregation to “Talk to Mary today. She talks to god for all of us. Trust God and be in peace.”
After Mass and the procession, the bishops mingled with parishioners and others at the festival and enjoyed an Italian feast.
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