Diocesan News

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond Chappetto Celebrates Healing Power of Christ

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond Chappetto gives the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

ASTORIA — In 2024, approximately two million people will be diagnosed with cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. To recognize those currently fighting the disease and its survivors, the Diocese of Brooklyn celebrated a Mass of Healing on Tuesday, May 7 at St. Joseph Church, where dozens of parishioners received the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick alongside the Eucharist. 

For Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond Chappetto, the celebrant, the Mass of Healing was personal. In an “Up Front and Personal” column written for The Tablet, he described his prostate cancer diagnosis on Christmas Eve 2020 and how he was subsequently subjected to five days of intensive chemotherapy to combat the illness. 

“Priests are human. Bishops are human. We get sick and we need the healing power of Christ. We need the sacraments and we need devotion to our saints when we do suffer any kind of serious illness,” Bishop Chappetto said.

Bishop Chappetto has since recovered, but wants to share some of the things he learned during his hardships, and spread the word about a saint he has since developed a strong devotion to: St. Peregrine, the patron saint of those stricken with cancer.

Marilyn Rice, a survivor of colon cancer, came to St. Joseph Church from her home parish of St. Luke’s in Whitestone to be anointed by the holy oils after reading the bishop’s column in The Tablet.

Rice’s husband battled four different bouts of cancer over 20 years before his death 11 years ago, so she is fully aware of the hardships the disease presents, both physically and emotionally. She was moved by the bishop’s homily and his reminder that one cannot face suffering alone.

“You can’t do it by yourself. You can’t. Between my doctors, nurses, my family, my daughters and grandchildren, everyone was there for me,” Rice said. “I’ve been very lucky.”

The most common form of cancer is breast cancer, with 310,720 women and 2,790 men to be diagnosed this year, the National Cancer Institute estimates.

Lili Chirinos, a parishioner at St. Joseph, is a survivor of breast cancer. She did not know about St. Peregrine until a statue of the patron saint of cancer survivors was placed in her church in July 2023. The statue was purchased with the donations of a parishioner in honor of his wife, who died from pancreatic cancer and was blessed later that year by Bishop Chappetto. 

“This is such a painful disease, but when you have somebody like [St. Peregrine], and of course God, to intercede for us, it’s wonderful. To have it here in my church is marvelous,” Chirinos said. 

While the statue was placed in front of the altar for the Healing Mass, it has a permanent home between St. Sharbel and Blessed Carlo Acutis, the latter of whom died of leukemia at age 15. 

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond Chappetto is a survivor of prostate cancer. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

Chirinos said that when Bishop Chappetto and the other priests raised their arms to pray over the church attendees, she “felt so strong” throughout her body, and was thankful she and her husband were able to attend the Mass.

Following the celebration of Mass, a first-class relic of St. Peregrine, a fragment of one of his bones, was available for veneration by the churchgoers. 

“We grew up in the faith, and we have so much faith in the saints and their different intentions,” said Linda Gallagher, a lifelong parishioner at St. Joseph whose mother had a special devotion to St. Agatha, the patron saint of breast cancer patients, the disease by which she died. A statue of this saint can also be found along the walls of St. Joseph. 

“This is just part of our life,” she added.

The Mass of Healing at St. Joseph in Astoria was held six days after the Feast of St. Peregrine, which falls on May 1. In Bayside, a Mass of Healing was held on the feast day at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, which Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated. 

The life and guidance of St. Peregrine helped Bishop Chappetto through his diagnosis. He hopes that through raising awareness of the 14th-century man, whom he hadn’t heard much about before his fight with cancer, will give others who are suffering someone they can lean on.

“I’ve adopted him as one of my special patron saints and I’m trying to spread the devotion of St. Peregrine to other people who can benefit from that,” he said.