Diocesan News

Easter Evokes Prayers for Peace in Ever-Violent City

Michael Gbongli, 8, receives a blessing from Bishop Robert Brennan. Behind him is his mother, Sarah Gbongli, and Sophia Wong. The three of them participated in a musical performance at the end of the Easter Mass at Cathedral-Basilica of St. James. (Photos: Bill Miller)

Trust in Christ flourishes: ‘God loves me and He loves all non-believers’

Bishop Robert Brennan delivers his homily while Kathleen Taylor provides American Sign Language interpretation during the Easter Sunday Mass at Cathedral-Basilica of St. James.

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Bishop Robert Brennan’s Easter Sunday message proclaiming the risen Christ’s victory over evil, resonated with a 15-year-old altar server for the Mass at Cathedral-Basilica of St. James.

Just five days earlier, David Vicente, who attends St. Michael’s Parish in Sunset Park, had been riding the subway to school.


He made his stop, but learned later the train behind him carried the gunman who opened fire and pulled the pin on a smoke grenade, injuring 29 people, including 10 with non-fatal gunshot wounds.

The suspect, Frank James, was taken into custody on Thursday in the East Village. But before that, the entire city was on edge, including Vicente and the rest of his parish. St. Michael’s is just six blocks from where the shootings took place.

Vicente recalled how Father Fulgencio Gutierrez, the pastor, “offered messages to the people, to keep them in our faith. It affected not only me, but my whole parish.”

Vicente was selected to be an altar server at the Easter Mass through his participation with the Jeremiah Project, a series of two-hour discussions for young men considering the priesthood.

Vicente said he was honored to participate in Bishop Brennan’s first Easter Mass as the leader of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“We cry out against the violence afflicting our city — not only the recent subway shootings — but also the violence on our streets,” Bishop Brennan said. “But I have some news for you: Christ is risen! He has conquered sin and death. There is no evil stronger than He. His resurrection changes everything.”

Thus, Vicente said, the evil of the subway shootings has no hold on believers in Christ.

“But there will always be hope because Jesus was risen, to the shock of many,” the teen added.

Gary Sweder came to the Mass with his wife, Roberta, and their young daughter, Mia.

David Vicente, 15, was the altar server at the Easter Sunday Mass. He was in the vicinity of the subway shootings five days earlier in Sunset Park. But, he said after the Mass, “There will always be hope because Jesus was risen, to the shock of many.” (Photo: Bill Miller)

“We don’t come out to church every week,” he said. “But it’s definitely very difficult now, obviously, with the war in Ukraine and the stress of COVID because it’s not quite breaking up. So it’s a stressful time. You never want to take it for granted.”

Kathleen Taylor called the Mass “beautiful.” She is a certified American Sign Language Interpreter who delivered the Mass proceedings to a half-dozen hearing-impaired parishioners.

“The deaf parishioners are able to celebrate, equally, their love of Jesus and the Resurrection with the hearing people, and that’s all that we want,” Taylor said. “Hearing the Word of God has nothing to do with your ears. Hearing the word of God is with the soul.”

People from other parishes also attended Easter Mass in the historic Cathedral-Basilica of St. James, which is celebrating its 200th year of service to the Diocese.

Among the visitors were sisters Sophie Oreste and Virginia St. Louis. They were born in Haiti, but Oreste attends St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in East Flatbush, and St. Louis belongs to St. Thomas Parish in Sheepshead Bay.

Both woman said that they always attend Easter Mass.

Oreste said the joy of the resurrection can be celebrated throughout the year.

Deacon Ronald Rizzuto (left) assists Bishop Robert Brennan in the sprinkling of holy water to the Easter Sunday Mass congregation at Cathedral-Basilica of St. James.

Sophia Wong found a new life five years ago when she decided to become a committed Catholic, active in the parish.

“I was raised atheist,” Wong said. “But I was on a spiritual journey. I did Buddhism and meditation. And actually in Buddhism, they told me to be open to all ideas. Then I thought, you know, there’s a Catholic church right across the street from where I live. So I said ‘let me go in there and see what’s going on.’”

Her conversion followed, and on Sunday, she was among parishioners who sang a special song at the end of the Mass.

“Every Easter I find that God has something better for me,” Wong said. “So this year, I lost my job just before Ash Wednesday. And then this last Wednesday, I started a new job, which is better than the old job.

“So it’s like I’m eating my hat every day. I used to say there is no God. But there is.  And, you know, God loves me and he loves all non-believers.”