by Michael Rizzo
A congregation of about 1,000 people attended the Memorial Day Field Mass at Mount St. Mary Cemetery, Flushing, May 26 with Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros as the main celebrant.
The Mass took place under a large tent filled to capacity beneath bright blue skies and next to fields of headstones decorated with floral crosses and American flags.
The liturgy began with the presentation of a wreath by two members of the U.S. Navy to remember all veterans who have died.
Lt. Cmdr. Nicholas Younker of the Navy Recruiting District New York placed the wreath with Navy chaplain candidate Mark Bristol, who is also a seminarian of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“It’s a large honor for me,” Lt. Cmdr. Younker said. “As a Catholic and on behalf of the Navy, we are laying the wreath in honor of the fallen and to remember all service members. The wreath will remain as a visual reminder to everyone of their sacrifice.”
Bishop Cisneros thanked the men for their presentation and asked the congregation to thank them as well as all members of the military. The people responded with applause.
Attendees were a mix of young and old, many of whom had direct connections with persons buried at Mount St. Mary’s.
“I am here to honor my son,” Maria Gammone said. “I grew up in World War II. I was five years old on the other side. I saw the horrors. Participating in the Mass at this place is a good thing.”
The emotions were evident on the face of Cesar Corona of Immaculate Conception parish, Jamaica Estates, who brought his two young children.
“My brother was in the military and this brings back memories,” said Corona, fighting back tears.
“I am here with my children so they have a way to remember who my brother was and to keep his memory alive.”
Deacon Luis Taylor of Our Lady of Light parish, St. Albans, was in the congregation with his wife and proudly wore a cap with the name of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise emblazoned on the front.
“This day is to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “All the people here are enjoying the benefits of what those people gave.”
While conducting prayers in English, Italian and Spanish, Bishop Cisneros spoke in his homily about how people have been coming to the U.S. throughout its history for freedom. But he added that the freedoms we enjoy are not always free.
“The price of freedom is costly and for some it requires the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
For Christians and Catholics, he said, the price of our spiritual freedom was the blood of Jesus on the cross. He described the members of the military who have given their lives in service to their country as peacemakers.
“The challenge for us is to honor them as peacemakers by helping the cause of the oppressed. Our dear dead, although they are missed, are now in God’s care; and we, as a grateful country, entrust them to the Lord.”
He spoke emphatically of how the freedoms we pursue must be freedoms for God. He said we can do that by being seekers and doers of justice and peace.
“It was wonderful the way the bishop spoke about freedom in his sermon,” said Barbara Gluck of Holy Family parish, Flushing, “especially on this day.”
Bishop Cisneros also took time out from the regular order of the Mass to bless the chalice presented to Deacon Jeremy Canna by his family. Canna will be ordained a priest of the diocese on June 28.
“It was good to have the blessing here in front of everyone and with my family,” Canna said. “This shows that a priest comes from a family and not just out of midair.”
The members of the congregation raised their voices with a rousing rendition of “America the Beautiful” as they exited the tent into the bright sunshine.
“Today reminds you that this is a great country,” said Chris Hangan of St. Mary’s parish, Long Island City. “I have been around, and there’s no place like it.”
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated the Mass at St. Charles/Resurrection Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I.
Field Masses were also held at Most Holy Trinity and Holy Cross Cemeteries in Brooklyn; St. John Cemetery in Middle Village; and St. Mary Star of the Sea Cemetery in Lawrence, L.I.