During this season of Advent, many of the readings for Mass, both on Sundays and during the week, are from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. One of the images which Isaiah presents is that of the peaceable kingdom where all people of different nations will live in harmony coming together to the light of the Messiah. Isaiah 11:6-9 is an especially poignant and popular passage regarding the peaceable kingdom and a most fitting reflection for Advent. The passage, many times depicted on Christmas cards, is used this year on the Second Sunday of Advent as well as on the Tuesday of the first week of Advent. Isaiah proclaims that at the coming of the Messiah, "Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child shall lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea."
At this time of Advent, one of the great joys for me as Bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach is to experience the peaceable kingdom here in southern Florida. Our Diocese is rich in its cultural diversity and the month of December brings me to celebrations and visits among our wonderfully diverse population. On these occasions I have the opportunity to experience the many nations which make up our Diocese as well as to appreciate better their cultural treasures. To experience the diversity that is present among us but also to experience our unity in the Lord makes the meaning of the season of Advent, as especially expressed through the prophet Isaiah, come alive in a vibrant manner.
Most recently, I had the opportunity to experience this richness even before the season of Advent began. At the conclusion of the month of November, I went to Belle Glade to install Father Gregory Fishel, SDB, as the new pastor of St. Philip Benizi Church. The installation took place at the parish’s twelve noon Mass which is generally celebrated in Spanish. However, because of the special occasion of Father Fishel's installation, not only was the Hispanic community present for the Mass but also many members of the Haitian community as well as the Anglo community. It was a wonderful experience of the coming together of the different ethnic communities which are present in Belle Glade to celebrate our faith in the Person of Jesus Christ as the center of our lives. St. Philip Benizi Parish, like so many others in our Diocese, is a vibrant community of great faith where the peaceable kingdom is quite evident.
At the end of November I also had the opportunity to celebrate Mass for the Vietnamese community of our Diocese at St. Matthew's parish for the Feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs. Father Paul Nguyen has recently been named as the director of the Vietnamese Apostolate for our Diocese. We have different Vietnamese communities around our Diocese as well as several priests who are from Vietnam. Over 400 members of the Vietnamese community came to this celebration. Many were attired in their native dress and much of the celebration was in Vietnamese with local music and hymns. The celebration was truly one that reflected the great faith of the Vietnamese community which is the foundation that enabled so many men and women of Vietnam to give their lives in the face of terrible persecution. After the Mass we had a celebration which included Vietnamese food and entertainment. The entire celebration was an expression of the diversity which makes our Diocese so rich in faith.
The day after the celebration with the Vietnamese community, I had the joy of dedicating the new Haitian Center at St. Ann Parish. The Haitian community formerly shared the same space at St. Ann Place the parish’s wonderful homeless shelter. However, with the needs of both of these expanding, Father Nestor Rodriguez, pastor of St. Ann, worked diligently to find a new space where the Haitian community could meet. He was successful in renovating a beautiful new center which truly will be a blessing not only for the Haitian community but for all the parish family of St. Ann. Gathered together for the celebration were not only the Haitian community but also members of the Hispanic and Anglo communities in West Palm Beach. The faith of the Haitian community is a strong and vibrant one which is a great blessing to our Diocese. Being with this community for the dedication of the new Haitian Center at St. Ann as well as with the other members of the parish was another great experience of our diverseness and unity. Truly, in faith, the peaceable kingdom was so evidently present.
The season of Advent will bring me to many other wonderful celebrations reflecting the cultural diversity of our Diocese. I will celebrate Mass for the Damas Catolicas en Accion and install new members. The Damas Catolicas will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary of foundation in our Diocese this year. Under the direction of Mrs. Lilia Gibbons as well as all of the leaders of this faith filled group of Hispanic women, the faith and devotion which are so evident in the many Hispanic communities of our Diocese is well represented.
I will also celebrate Mass for the Hispanic community at the San Juan Diego Pastoral Center in Fort Pierce on the occasion of its Patronal Feast. Father Jaime Dorado, administrator of the Mission and Father Rick George, pastor of St. Anastasia Parish in Fort Pierce, have truly collaborated to express the diversity and unity which is part of the Fort Pierce faith community.
After that, I will celebrate Mass at the Mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe for its Feast Day on December 12. This celebration has always been a vibrant experience of the faith of the Mexican people and a sign of the great devotion of the community to Our Blessed Mother. I am grateful to Father Sabas Mallya, a member of the Apostolic Life Community of Priests, for his leadership at the mission. Father Sabas is one of the priests of our Diocese from Tanzania. Truly this is another example of the peaceable kingdom which exists in the faith of Jesus Christ.
The season of Advent will bring me to the Christmas celebration which is held for the Haitian children of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission in Delray Beach, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus at St. Joan of Arc parish. I always look forward to this manifestation of the peaceable kingdom.
I will also have the joy of celebrating Mass for the Filipino community of our Diocese at St. John Fisher parish to conclude the Simbang Gabi Novena of the Filipino community in preparation for Christmas. Like all of the other ethnic communities within our Diocese, the Filipino community is one of tremendous faith, hope and love and the celebration of their cultural richness is another manifestation of the peaceable kingdom in the Diocese of Palm Beach. We have several priests from the Philippines within our Diocese.
Finally, I will have the privilege of celebrating the Vigil Mass of Christmas Eve for the Hispanic community of the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola.
We truly are blessed with a peaceable kingdom within the Diocese of Palm Beach. We have many cultural backgrounds and expressions of our faith. We have truly outstanding priests from many nations and faith filled people who make up many diverse communities. However, there is only one faith and one Lord Jesus Christ. It is wonderful to celebrate this diversity and unity within the season of Advent as we all celebrate the presence of Christ among us. Christ is truly present in all nations and their coming to His light is what our faith is all about.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 6, 2013