By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent
HYANNIS, Mass. — How do you bring together English-, Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking people from Provincetown to Plymouth, who share an identical faith yet observe different cultural traditions?
This is the question Father Michael Fitzpatrick asked himself a year ago when he became parochial administrator of St. Francis Xavier Church, a large parish that includes growing Brazilian and Hispanic apostolates.
“The way I envision the whole thing is that we are a large extended family,” said Father Fitzpatrick. “Communities that know each other become friends, and friends love each other.”
Yet to try and pray together all the time is a mistake, according to the priest.
“Everyone is uncomfortable doing that more than a few times,” he said “People need to pray from their own hearts, in their own languages and own sensibilities.”
Consequently, parishioners seek opportunities every once in a while to come together as family and friends in celebrating their faith.
“Unity is very important to me,” Father Fitzpatrick said.
Compounding the difficulties, however, is that St. Francis Xavier’s does not have a parish center.
“We don’t have a space that is big enough for everyone,” he said. “The challenge is to do without a gathering place.”
Thinking out of the box, the parishioners find innovative ways to gather the congregation.
A few weeks ago, the parish celebrated the feast of Our Lady (fiesta de Nuestra Señora), a day devoted to the Blessed Mother during her special month of May.
“Mary is the one who unites us uniquely as mother,” said Father Fitzpatrick. “So it was very fitting being together and honoring her. All nations have a devotion to her.”
The observance began with a Mass in the language of the host community, followed by a procession to Hyannis Town Green.
“It was a traditional Mass with the particular flavor of the Ecuadorian community that they could share with the rest of the congregation,” Father Fitzpatrick said.
An Ecuadorian couple also donated a statue of Our Lady of the Clouds.
St. Francis Xavier Parish has been the home of Cape Cod Hispanics since 1995.
“We celebrated this for the Virgin of the Clouds,” said Ana Ortiz, a native of Guatemala. “Mary is the same everywhere.”
Stepping off from the Sanctuary, parishioners in procession walked along the sidewalk of South Street while praying the Rosary in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Father Fitzpatrick estimated that 200 to 300 people joined the procession.
“It was difficult organizing the Rosary, fitting everyone on the sidewalk,” he said. “South Street is the main route to the hospital for ambulances, but the police and fire departments signed off.”
Processing a third of a mile, participants gathered around the covered bandstand at the town green, where they crowned the statue of Our Lady of the Clouds, recognizing Mary as Queen of Heaven and earth.
“We did a very simple crowning ceremony there and read the Gospel of the Annunciation,” Father Fitzpatrick said. “Father Edivar Da Silva Ribeiro said a little prayer thanking God for uniting us all together under our mother.”
Then they processed back to the church praying the Rosary. Gathering nearby in the school gymnasium for a potluck supper, they watched a performance by traditional Ecuadorian dancers that honored the Blessed Mother.
“In a town that celebrates President John F. Kennedy as one of its residents, the festival was truly catholic and inclusive,” said one woman who participates in the weekly Latin Tridentine Mass celebrated by Father Ron Floyd at the parish.
Now the congregation has its sights set on their next joint event, an upcoming week-long observance of the feast of Corpus Christi.
The observance will begin with a Corpus Christi procession around the church property on June 7. The English-speaking community will present a talk on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary on June 9, the Brazilian community will sponsor a block party on June 10 and a June 11 prayer service will be hosted by the Hispanic community.
“Friday evening we will have Mass,” said Father Fitzpatrick; and at the end of Mass we’ll bring our Lord out in the monstrance for an all-night Vigil of Prayer with the Blessed Sacrament, ending with Mass in the morning.”
He said that their mission is not only to form a community but also to evangelize.
“When Christians love each other and love the Lord and are full of joy, they get the attention of other people who have drifted away,” he said. “Our Holy Father calls for a Year of Mercy. This is how we start: by loving each other. Once we can build that, we have the opportunity to reach out into the greater area to the needs of the poor and homeless. Jesus Christ is alive and present in this community in Hyannis.”
For more information on the Corpus Christi celebration, call St. Francis Xavier Parish at 508-775-0818.