Indian Community Grateful For Bishop Ray’s Welcome

Before Bishop Raymond Chappetto could take over as the new pastor of St. Kevin’s parish, Flushing, or be ordained as an Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, he left Our Lady of the Snows parish in North Floral Park where he has served as pastor since 1999.  For Bishop Chappetto, it was a time of flux and excitement; for those he served, it was a time to say goodbye – and thank you.

Bishop  Chappetto was the main celebrant at a Mass of thanksgiving at Our Lady of the Snows Church as the Asian Indian community said farewell and thanks to the pastor who offered hospitality at the Queens church.

On Saturday, June 9, members of the Indian Latin Apostolate – an organization of Indians living in the New York City metro area who celebrate Mass at Our Lady of the Snows once a month – expressed their gratitude to Bishop Chappetto at the church during a farewell ceremony and Mass, which featured traditional Indian music and a procession in the new prelate’s honor.

“We want to thank him because he admitted us here,” said Father Robert Ambalathingal, coordinator of the Indian Latin Apostolate for the past six years.  “He gives us all his support.”

Before the Indian Latin Apostolate began coming to Our Lady of the Snows six years ago, it met at Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, where members avoided bringing young children in order not to disturb retired priests during post-Mass gatherings, said Paul Panakal, a former trustee at Our Lady of the Snows and member of the Apostolate. Bishop Chappetto’s invitation to move the monthly celebrations to North Floral Park invigorated their organization.

“He provided us an opportunity for the kids to maintain their culture while integrating into the global culture,” said Panakal.  “Father Ray opened the door for us.”

As a non-Indian, Bishop Chappetto has served as a liaison to the many first-generation Americans in the Indian Latin Apostolate, most of whom spoke Malayan before immigrating to the U.S., according to Panakal.   Including Roman Catholics, or Latin Rite Catholics, members from four different Catholic denominations take part in the organization.

The farewell Mass began with a procession from the steps of Our Lady of the Snows’ former church, now a gymnasium, and wound around the block into the current church, built in 2008.  At the head of the file, a man blared a horn and drummers pounded a rhythm accompanied by cymbalists.  When the musicians reached the doors of the church, they moved off to the side and worked up to a feverish tempo as men and women in sarongs and saris led Bishop Chappetto, under a canopy, into the church.

During the liturgy, Father Ambalathingal read the gospel for the Feast of Corpus Christi, and Bishop  Chappetto preached the homily, telling those assembled he will remember the Indian Latin Apostolate for its dedication to passing on its culture and for its “faithful witness, [its] love of the Holy Eucharist.”

“My great memory of you will always be of your fidelity to the Mass,” he said, connecting the celebration of Corpus Christi to the Apostolate’s adoration for the Blessed Sacrament.

After communion, Bishop Chappetto invited all fathers in the crowd to the altar for a Father’s Day blessing, and he likewise blessed those with June anniversaries and birthdays.

Following the benedictions, the Indian Latin Apostolate expressed its appreciation to Bishop Chappetto for his service, both in parish affairs and as a supporter of their organization.

“He built a beautiful church for us at a time when many churches around the world are closing and seeing decreasing membership,” said Tim Cheriaparampil, a parishioner for 17 years and a trustee at Our Lady of the  Snows as well as a member of the Indian Latin Apostolate’s managing committee.

Panakal commented on how difficult he would find envisioning the Indian Latin Apostolate without the bishop’s presence.  Seventh-graders Chris Koilparanpil and Chrisel Gladson, both born the year then-Msgr. Chappetto came to Our Lady of the Snows, also thanked the newly-named bishop, noting that he’s served as their pastor their entire lives.

“You’ll always be Monsignor Ray to me,” said Gladson. as some of the Apostolate’s younger children, each holding a sign with a single letter, lined up to spell out “Congratulations.”

Concluding the ceremony,  Father Ambalathingal and women from the Apostolate each gave Bishop Chappetto separate plaques as tokens of their gratitude.

In response, he thanked everyone for their outpouring of gratefulness, saying that in the midst of trying to prepare for his new role while fulfilling his current ones, he feels a sense of peace because he knows that he’s doing God’s will.

At the end of Mass, Swatee Aloysious, secretary for the Indian Latin Apostolate and a member of the parish council at Our Lady of the Snows, held back tears to encourage others to see the good that will come from their loss.

“We need to share Msgr. Ray with others so that his rays of love can be enjoyed at his new parish, St. Kevin’s,” she told them.

The episcopal ordinations of Bishops Chappetto and Sanchez can be seen live on The NET, Ch. 97 on Time Warner, Ch. 30 on Cablevision, on Wednesday, July 11, begining at 1 p.m.