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Ridgewood Fiesta Honors Our Lady of Guadalupe (with slideshow)

By Marie Elena Giossi

Shouts of “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” could be heard through the streets of Ridgewood on Saturday evening, Dec. 7.

Parishioners of St. Matthias Church celebrated their beloved Our Lady of Guadalupe with a street procession, solemn Mass celebrated in Spanish by Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez and cultural festivities in anticipation of her Dec. 12 feast day.

guad_bannerDevotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under this title began on Tepeyac Hill, near Mexico City, where she revealed herself as an Aztec princess to a poor Aztec Indian named Juan Diego in December, 1531. She miraculously placed her image on his cloak, which is displayed to this day in the basilica named in her honor on the hill where she appeared.

Last Saturday evening, flags from various Latin American nations and a band led the way for four men carrying a large image of the Guadalupe Virgin, also known as patroness of the Americas, nestled amid dozens of fragrant red and white roses.

When the procession wound its way back to church, Father Silvaster Sarihaddula, parochial vicar, sprinkled holy water on the image and the crowd, including some boys dressed as Juan Diego.

Families filled the pews of the lower church for the 7 p.m. Mass. Concelebrants included Msgr. Peter Zendzian, new pastor; Msgr. Edward Scharfenberger, former pastor; Father Lázaro Núñez, director of Radio Maria; Msgr. Steven Ferrari, who instituted the parish’s Spanish Mass 23 years ago; and Fathers Daniel Rajski and Sarihaddula, parochial vicars.

In his homily, the bishop spoke of how the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us that we gather at the feet of the Blessed Mother with joy like John the Baptist when he was in the womb of Elizabeth.

“John leapt for joy when Mary visited because Jesus was near in her womb. We also leap for joy because Jesus is close to us as we honor His Mother under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” the bishop said. “Mary is the one who trusted that God’s words would be fulfilled. We are invited to grow in the same trust and humility.”

The bishop also shared the words of Pope Francis at a recent gathering of bishops at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. “He encouraged them and all of us to live as missionaries of God’s message, reaching out to others, dialoging with them, walking with them and seeking to inflame their hearts with God’s love.

Instruments of God’s Goodness

“Mary is our model here as one who patiently allowed God to enable her to be an instrument of His grace,” he said. “May we also be instruments of God’s goodness!”


Members of various parish ministries participated in the offertory, carrying banners and presenting themselves before the bishop as gifts to Mary and the Church.

Martha Frias gave the gift of song to the Virgin Mary as she performed with the choir at Mass.

“Holy Mary is very important to me,” she said. “I am so excited to be here, and I feel so proud to sing for her.”

Her gift to Mary was even more meaningful because Frias, an expectant mother, has spent the last eight months praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the only pregnant apparition of Mary.

Traditional Mexican fare and festivities followed Mass in the parish hall. Attendees enjoyed handmade tamales and pernil while watching the movements of the Comparza Guadalupana tribal dancers, coordinated by Benito Merino from St. Brigid parish, Bushwick.

A dramatic representation of the apparition on Tepeyac Hill followed, and then children presented other popular Marian images on banners.

“Everyone has their own version of mom,” said Msgr. Zendzian, who enjoyed getting to know his new parish, having arrived just before Thanksgiving.

As remembrances of the celebration, the parish presented gifts of chalices and patens to the bishop, Msgr. Scharfenberger and Msgr. Ferrari.


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New Christmas Tradition At Forest Hills Parish

By Antonina Zielinska

Hundreds of parishioners huddled together, on Dec. 7, in front of Our Lady Mercy Church, Flushing, to witness their Christmas tree light up the cold night.

Msgr. John McGuirl, pastor, blessed the tree during the parish’s first official lighting ceremony. Parishioners warmed the air with Christmas carols, and Santa Claus presented Candy Canes to giddy children.


Historically, the parish held an annual Christmas fair, Msgr. McGuirl said, but it was time to change it up a bit. This year, a Mass and tree lighting preceded the fair. After the outdoor festivities, parishioners were invited inside to warm up with hot cocoa and cookies.

The idea was to get people together, the pastor said.

“In order to have a parish, you need to have a community,” he said. “In order to have a community, you need to bring people together.”

The plan “worked beyond our expectations,” he said.

Among those who attended the event was Patricia Taddeo who brought her three children, ages seven, four and four months.

“They love it!” she exclaimed as she sat at the fair enjoying the presence of her fellow parishioners, knowing her children were in a good environment.

Although she said it was a sacrifice to get the kids to the fair, it was well worth it.

“This is our church and our community,” she said.

“This is very good for our kids because it instills in their heart how they should celebrate Christmas,” said Marylin Goyn. “The kids are having fun.”

We went to give Santa a hug!” her daughter Naomi, six, joyfully exclaimed.

For some, the event was the culmination of a year’s worth of work. The vendors at the fair were all parish volunteers, and they wanted to make sure they had good products to offer their fellow parishioners.

Chloe Varone, along with her family, was at a stand selling hand-crafted knits. She said she was part of a group of women volunteers who got together all year long to create a variety of items to sell during the fair, including hats, scarves, pillow cases and baby items.

Although she has been volunteering at the fair since 2003, Varone said this year was extra festive thanks to the Christmas tree lighting, made all the more significant because of the importance of the tree.

The tree is a living memorial to Msgr. Gerald Langlier, the pastor emeritus who died July 19, said Dian Malm, parish secretary.

“He loved the holidays,” Malm said. “He loved people to be happy, and this is definitely making people happy.”

Chloe and Bob Varone volunteer at the Our Lady of Mercy, Flushing, Christmas fair selling hand-crafted items that volunteers worked on all year long. Photos © Antonina Zielinska

Chloe and Bob Varone volunteer at the Our Lady of Mercy, Flushing, Christmas fair selling hand-crafted items that volunteers worked on all year long. Photos © Antonina Zielinska

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Youth Views: What does the season of Advent mean to you?


Lucia Elyas, sophomore
St. Saviour H.S.

Advent means a new beginning, starting over. To me Christmas is a big deal, and I love the time preparing for it. We, as Catholics, should participate in Advent through more than just buying gifts.






Jessica Verga, sophomore
Bishop Kearney H.S.

Advent means donating to those less fortunate, especially that Christmas is right around the corner. Also, confessing my sins and being forgiven for them.








Madeleine Cooke, sophomore
St. Saviour H.S.

Advent is a time that brings people closer. There is a general atmosphere of joy and kindness that comes in waiting for Christmas.







Johanna Sullivan, sophomore
Bishop Kearney H.S.

To me, Advent means a time of waiting for the birth of Jesus. It also means a time to spend with family and enjoying each others’ presence.


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Youth Reflection: Working with DNA

By Robert Santos

Biotech trip

The biotechnology class from, St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, led by Michal Ashkenazy, received an amazing opportunity to work at the DNA Learning Center in Lake Success, L.I.

This trip was unique because we got to work with technology, in the form of a microchip, that very few high school students have had the privilege to work with before. We learned about the theory behind jumping genes and their origins as well as the skills necessary to locate one in our own DNA.

Everyone in the group received a DNA electropherogram, a plot of the results of gel electrophoresis, which contained their DNA which either proved heterozygous or homozygous for the Alu element.

The objective of this experiment was to isolate and observe the jumping gene Alu on locus PV92 of chromosome 16.

To test for this gene, each member of the group had to prepare their DNA for what would be a gel electrophoresis, which is the process used to separate DNA into band patterns in agarose gel. But instead of using a gel electrophoresis, we used an advanced piece of technology called a DNA microchip to run multiple gel electrophoresis reactions at the same time, producing better results.

We didn’t have much time to complete the procedure so we had to be both accurate and precise with the skills we had previously learned.

The procedure was intensive and required complete focus. During the process, we had to work with small amounts of liquid measured in microliters. If a measurement was off by just one half of a microliter, it could throw the whole experiment off. We had to be sure we didn’t make any mistakes. If there was more time, it would be less stressful, but we had to work with the time we had. We were lucky to have both our teacher and the scientist there to help us.

This trip gave me a much better understanding of biotechnology because I was actually working like a biotechnician. I got to see how a biotechnician must be both skilled and focused to complete his or her job. I also got to see the North Shore-LIJ Clinical Core Lab, a revolutionary new lab that is mechanized with robotic arms and conveyor belts which prepared blood samples for the lab techs to work with. This was great to see because it gave me a glimpse of how I will be working in the future if I go into biotechnology.

Santos is a senior at St. Francis Prep

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The Lights Are On In Brooklyn


The Christmas creche and trees were lit Dec. 1 at Visitation Monastery, Bay Ridge, to mark the traditional opening of the Festival of Lights. Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, chaplain to Visitation Academy, blessed the manger scene and then celebrated Mass for the First Sunday of Advent. Following Mass, two awards were presented: the Distinguished Faculty Award to Lorraine Marciano and the St. Francis de Sales Award to John Perez.


Photos (c) Ed Wilkinson

Photos (c) Ed Wilkinson

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Playing the Mother of God Overwhelmed the Actress

by Veronica Ambuul

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CNS) – Preparing for the title role in “Mary of Nazareth” helped German actress Alissa Jung to realize that Mary was not only the mother of God but a real person.

“Before doing this film, Mary was always the mother of Jesus, but I didn’t think of her as an interesting person,” Jung said. “I was really taken by her. Her way of loving, giving and believing is a big example, and she’s a wonderful person. I think I changed my perspective.”

Alissa Jung as Mary

Alissa Jung as Mary

“Mary of Nazareth” is a European-made film shot largely in Tunisia that is being distributed by Ignatius Press in the U.S.

Jung has been acting in television shows and movies since she was 16 years old and currently resides in Berlin. When her agent first contacted her about auditioning for the role in “Mary of Nazareth,” she resisted because she was on the verge of leaving for a trip to Haiti, where she heads a nonprofit organization that sponsors schools. Her agent urged her to read the screenplay and submit a prerecorded audition anyway.

“When they called me, I was sitting on my luggage waiting for my flight to Haiti,” Jung said. “In the end, to please my agent, I did this little videotape at home sitting in front of my computer.”

Once she returned from Haiti, Jung not only got called to Rome for an audition, but she also replaced another actress who had been initially chosen to play the role.

At first, the thought of playing the mother of God was overwhelming, Jung said. An added challenge was that the movie was going to be filmed entirely in English.

“The first two days I was a bit shocked. Then I calmed myself down and said, ‘First of all, you are interested in the human being, you are not interested in being an icon,’” Jung told The Colorado Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

From the point of view of an actress, the role presented a challenge because Jung had to simultaneously convey both the joy of Mary’s motherhood and her sorrow in knowing Jesus would die.

“That was really interesting to me as an actress, to have the possibility of having this huge conflict – to believe in something and lose your son for this,” Jung said.

Jung, who is not Catholic, said that filming the movie was also an enjoyable experience because the storyline prompted a lot of reflections about faith among the cast and crew.

“We had a lot of discussions on set,” she said. “We had Germans, Tunisians and Muslims. There were a lot of discussions about religion. I liked it because I think it’s a way to understand other cultures and other people, to really understand their way of believing.”

Anthony Ryan, director of sales and marketing for San Francisco-based Ignatius Press, said that “Mary of Nazareth” will help both Catholics and non-Catholics come to a deeper understanding of Mary’s life.

“She had to be a woman of great faith and mystery,” Ryan said, adding that those who watch the film will understand why she is sometimes called Our Lady of Sorrows.

Italian director Giacomo Campiotti has made a personal decision only to make films that are spiritually uplifting, Ryan said, adding that Campiotti chose actors from various countries in an effort to get the strongest cast possible for “Mary of Nazareth.”

More information about “Mary of Nazareth” and a trailer of the film can be found at

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Pope Praises Grandparents

By Cindy Wooden

popefrancilcathstewart_cmykVATICAN CITY (CNS) – Just as fine wine grows stronger with age, grandparents and other elderly Catholics “have the strength to leave us a noble inheritance,” Pope Francis said at his early morning Mass.

Celebrating the liturgy Nov. 19 in the chapel of his residence, Pope Francis once again denounced a cultural tendency “to discard” the elderly “because they are a bother.”

Instead, “the elderly are those who transmit history to us, who transmit doctrine, who transmit the faith and give it to us as an inheritance,” the pope said, according to Vatican Radio.

The day’s first reading, from the Second Book of Maccabees, told the story of the 90-year-old Eleazar, who chose martyrdom rather than violating Jewish dietary laws or just appearing to violate them because he didn’t want to give a bad example to the young.

“By manfully giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age,” Eleazar says, “and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.”

Pope Francis said that as a child, he heard a story of a family with a mother, father, many children and a grandfather, who would get food all over his face when he ate. The father bought a small table and set it off to the side so the grandfather would eat, make a mess and not disturb the rest of the family.

One day, the pope said, the father comes home and finds his son playing with a piece of wood. “What are you making,” the father asks. “A table,” the son replies. “Why?” the father asks. “It’s for you, Dad, when you’re old like grandpa,” he says.

“This story has done me such good throughout my life,” said the pope, who will celebrate his 77th birthday Dec. 17.

“Grandparents are a treasure,” he said. “Often old age isn’t pretty, right? There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.”

A society or community that does not value, respect and care for its elderly members “doesn’t have a future because it has no memory, it’s lost its memory,” Pope Francis said.

Invoking Eleazar as well as the senior SS. Simeon, Anna and Polycarp, the pope prayed “for the grace to care for, listen to and venerate our grandparents.”

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Video Contest Encourages Young Filmmakers to Capture Faith on Film

DENVER (CNS) – The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) is sponsoring a video contest that features $10,000 in cash prizes.

The contest, called “Imagine + Nation,” is aimed at filmmakers ages 18-30 and strives to raise up the next generation of storytellers to give them a platform to share “their unique voice and creativity,” said a press release announcing the contest.

The contest’s theme is “Don’t just complain … create!” and its purpose is to give young people a creative outlet to show forth “the goodness, truth and beauty found in Jesus and the Catholic faith.”

Judges for the contest include Steve McEveety, executive producer of “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ,” Catholic singer and songwriter Matt Maher and film actor-producer Eduardo Verastegui, whose credits include “Bella” and “For Greater Glory.”

Videos can be submitted in the categories of narrative, documentary or artistic. Videos must be two to eight minutes long. There are four submission deadlines: Dec. 31, early; Jan. 31, regular; Feb. 15, late; and March 15, extended.

More contest details can be obtained at Questions about the contest can be sent to

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Pope Closes Year of Faith

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis closed the Year of Faith by calling on people to keep Christ at the center of their lives, especially in times of trouble.

Pope Francis holds a bronze reliquary containing the relics of St. Peter the Apostle on the altar during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The bone fragments were discovered during excavations of the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1940s. Photo © Catholic News Service

Pope Francis holds a bronze reliquary containing the relics of St. Peter the Apostle on the altar during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The bone fragments were discovered during excavations of the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1940s. Photo © Catholic News Service

“When Jesus is at the center, light shines even the darkest moments of our lives; he gives us hope,” he said in his homily Nov. 24, the feast of Christ the King.

The closing Mass in St. Peter’s Square also saw, for the first time, the exposition for public veneration of bones believed to be those of St. Peter. The apostle is believed to have been martyred on a hill overlooking St. Peter’s Square and buried in a tomb now located two levels below the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Eight bone fragments, each two to three centimeters long, were nestled in an open bronze reliquary displayed to the side of the altar.

During the ceremony, the pope – the 265th successor of Peter – held the closed reliquary for several minutes in silent prayer while choirs sang the Nicene Creed in Latin.

The bones, which were discovered during excavations of the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1940s, are kept in the pope’s private chapel but had never been displayed in public.

While no pope has ever declared the bones to be authentic, Pope Paul VI said in 1968 that the “relics” of St. Peter had been “identified in a way which we can hold to be convincing.”

Pope Francis began his homily by thanking retired Pope Benedict XVI for establishing the Year of Faith, calling it a “providential initiative” that gave Christians “the opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our baptism.”

The pope then greeted patriarchs and archbishops of the Eastern Catholic churches, who were in Rome for a meeting, and extended those greetings to all Christians living in the Holy Land, Syria and the East, wishing “them the gift of peace and harmony.”

He expressed his appreciation for their fidelity to Christ, which comes “often at a high price.”

In his homily, the pope focused on “the centrality of Christ” and how the faithful are expected to recognize and accept “the centrality of Jesus Christ in our thoughts, words and works.”

“When this center is lost, because it is replaced with something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves,” he said.

Reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading of the good thief, who was crucified alongside Jesus, repents and asks Jesus to remember him in paradise, the pope said Jesus responds to the man with forgiveness, “not condemnation.”

“Whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard.”

The pope said everyone should ask the Lord to remember them because “each one of us has a history,” has made mistakes and sinned as well as experienced happy times and sad.

People need to say, “‘Jesus, remember me because I want to be good, I have the desire to become good, but I don’t have the strength. I can’t, I’m a sinner,’” the pope said. In response, “the Lord always grants more than what he has been asked.”

With an estimated 60,000 people gathered in the square for the Mass, a special collection was taken up for victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

At the end of the Mass and before reciting the Angelus prayer at noon, the pope formally presented his first apostolic exhortation to representatives of the Church community, including bishops, seminarians, catechists, Catholic journalists and a woman with a visual impairment, who received her copy as an audio file on a CD-ROM.

The yearly document on evangelization, titled “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), was to be released to the public Nov. 26.

In a Nov. 25 meeting with people who volunteered their time and efforts to organize and promote Year of Faith activities, Pope Francis said, “the faith is the cornerstone of the Christian experience because it drives the choices and actions of our daily life.”

“Faith in Christ is able to warm hearts, truly becoming the driving force of the new evangelization,” he said.

A faith “lived deeply and with conviction” spreads the proclamation of the Gospel far and wide, but “apostolic courage” also is needed to reach people where they are, especially in very difficult places.

Before closing the Year of Faith, Pope Francis presided Nov. 23 over the Rite of Acceptance, marking the moment when some 500 men and women, from 47 countries, inquiring about the Catholic faith formally became catechumens preparing for baptism at Easter.

During a Liturgy of the Word in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope told the adult catechumens that it is always God who initiates relationships with people and that he patiently and perseveringly waits for a response. “He never draws away from us, but has the patience to wait for the favorable moment to meet each of us.”

Believing “is walking with Jesus. It’s a journey that lasts a lifetime,” Pope Francis told the catechumens. “Obviously, in this journey there will be moments when we feel tired and confused. However, faith gives us the certainty of the constant presence of Jesus in every situation, including the most painful and difficult to understand.”

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