By Christopher White, Matthew O’Connor and Melissa Enaje
A crowd of more than 2,000 fans donned T-shirts asking “What’s my calling?” as the Brooklyn Diocese took over Citi Field for the first-ever Catholic Day on Saturday, Sept. 9.
The daylong event, which focused on promoting vocations to religious life, kicked off with a bilingual stadium Mass celebrated by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, followed by entertainment, live music and games, before the evening ended – some say miraculously – with a Mets victory.
Bishop DiMarzio used his homily to stir the attendees to work together to build a “culture of vocations,” while taking advantage of the baseball backdrop to make comparisons along the way.
“It is important that we see in sports, a reflection of our faith…. Great success comes with teamwork and cooperation,” he said.
Part of being on a team, he observed, is experiencing the highs and lows together, but being reminded that even when there is failure, there is still shared purpose. So too is life in the Church, and the various vocations that bind the Church together argued the bishop, who was using the day, organized by DeSales Media, as the first major event in his Year of Vocations.
“We need to talk about vocations and show that vocations are important to the life of the Church, no matter marriage, priesthood, religious sisters or brothers, or the permanent diaconate,” he said.
Viewed as Second-Class Calling
Drawing on his own childhood experience, the bishop criticized the fact that too often vocations to religious life are viewed as a second-class calling.
“I always used to say I wanted to be a priest and people would say ‘oh, that’s nice,’” he recalled. “But if I said I wanted to be a doctor, a scientist, or a great baseball player, they would have said, ‘that’s great.’
“There is a great difference as to how people see vocations to the priesthood,” he said.
“When I was young, I was very handsome,” Bishop DiMarzio added with a hint of mischief in his voice.
“I had a full head of hair! And people used to say, ‘he’d make a great husband. Why does he want to be a priest?’ And when my grandmother heard that one day, I never forgot what she said: ‘God wants the best ones for himself.’”
The remarks were greeted with thunderous applause by the more than 50 seminarians, deacons and priests on hand.
Before the morning Mass, Bishop DiMarzio stressed that it was no accident that the diocese had selected a sports arena for the day’s events.
“This is part of our culture, and we have to work with ours, such as sports events, and that’s why we have to work through the culture to see what’s good about it. Sometimes, we have to correct it, but we do our best to work with what’s good,” he said.
For the young attendees at both the Mass and the day’s events, the bishop hoped that while they discern their vocational callings, they won’t be sidelined by any temporary setbacks.
“We don’t just accept failure as part of life … we keep going on the direction toward God,” he said. “Sports teams do the same. They may lose but they come back again. So I think there is a good comparison between baseball and Catholicism.”
Food and Entertainment
After Mass, attendees were invited to the Marina East section of the Citi Field parking area, for a day of games, food, and entertainment.
“I just wanted to be a part and be with the people that are close to my heart,” said Yvonne Luvreano of St. Mary Gate of Heaven parish, Ozone Park. “I wanted to hear what the bishop has to say. Today is really a special day and many from my parish are here and so many more people as well. We are all here to receive the Body of Christ in a special way.”
Marie Ines Palu of Our Lady of Grace, Howard Beach, said she attended “to come together to enjoy the day and take part of all the excitement. Today is important for our family as well and to show my daughter the importance of the Catholic faith and for her to have that in her life.”
Her daughter Lia Sardzinski added, “I love to sing so today has been so much fun, I love it.”
Shakeela Musahib of Incarnation, Queens Village, said, “Today means a lot because I have a strong faith and being here with everyone is special. The bishop calling for vocations is a great idea as we need more people involved in the church and today is a great way to start that for many people.”
Brian McGinn, a parishioner at Blessed Trinity, Breezy Point, called the day “awesome.”
“It’s great to see so many people come out for the event today and take part,” he said. “The year of vocations is a great cause because we really need it and today is a great first step in getting people back in the Church.”
Benjamin Padilla of Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Newark, N.J., said, “I and a few other seminarians came today to take part to be able to promote vocations. It’s great because there are many people who may hear the calling but not sure how to pursue it. It’s good for the Church to reach out to the youth and help to be able to reach them and connect with them.”
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, moderator of the Curia and a concelebrant at the Mass, said, “Bishop DiMarzio hit it out of the park today. Asking people what is their call is very fundamental to being Christian. Our greatest task in life is to find what our calling is.
“Many are called to married or even single life and that is their vocation. For those called to religious life, it takes a team of people. It is not just one person figuring out their calling. It comes through the community to help young people answer their calling in life.”
Agnes Ford of St. Mark’s, Sheepshead Bay, is a member of the parish’s vocation committee. “So I knew I had to be here today to show support,” she said. “We were able to bring many young people here today and be together.
“When I was young, we had a vocation week, and priests and nuns would come and talk about religious life but also married life and talked about finding your calling. That was always a major influence in my life and for many people, so to give back now and help anyway I can is great.”
John and Jackie Meany of Our Lady of Hope, Middle Village, describe themselves as “very close with the priests of our parish so I pray for vocations all the time.”
“Today is very special,” explained Jackie. “To see so many people out here and attending the Mass together I had tears in my eyes seeing everyone. “
Many attendees viewed the day in the light of the Church’s efforts to evangelize.
“It is always nice to see the faithful come out and take part in the events that are good for evangelization,” explained George Velez of SS. Peter and Paul parish, Williamsburg. “I brought my children and hopefully they can understand what today is all about. It would be great for them to start thinking about their own vocations and where that might lead them in life.”
For Deacon Robinson Despeignes of Incarnation Church, Queens Village, the day was “important because we want the young people to be attracted to the Church life and today is a great way to be able to reach out to them and to see if this is the path they might choose in life. Today could be very powerful for many people and I hope it is.”
Visitor from Hollywood
Hollywood actor Quinton Aaron, star of the Oscar-nominated film “The Blind Side,” flew in to attend at the invitation of DeSales Media.
“I am here for the kids and the youth,” said the native New Yorker. “I am a big advocate against bullying and anything I can do to help the kids is a great cause to be behind.
“Today is all about the love of God and the love we have for one another and for the kids. I grew up going to church and it shaped much of my life as it helped to create my faith, but I also did my first play in a church and found my calling so everything started right there for me. Being here today, I just want to help any way I can for whoever needs it.
“I am so grateful to be invited here today and be a part of something that can help young people and help them discover their own path.”
Aaron proved to be a big hit with the young people, as he strolled through exhibits, posing for photos every step of the way.
The 6-foot-5, 450-pounder also made his presence known at the Mets game later in the evening. When the team heard about his presence, he was invited to be the special guest for the on-screen trivia quiz.
Among the many exhibits at the day was The Mary Louis Academy, Jamaica Estates. Teacher, Stephen Aguano, manned the booth for the all-girls’ school.
“To be able to come out and support our school is very important,” he said. “I loved the music and the Mass was beautiful.
“You have to push for vocations so that people can help to recognize their own calling in life. Some people might have the calling but don’t follow through or maybe they are talked out of it. So to be able to have an event where people might realize this is the right path is great.”
Grace Jimenez who belongs to St. Leo the Great parish, Lincroft, N.J., was visiting her cousins in Queens when she found about Catholic Day.
“Any opportunity where people of my own age can come together and also celebrate Mass is very important,” said Jimenez. “My faith is a major part of my life, thanks to my parents and church, but I know that many people don’t have the same opportunities. So to be here today and show them that maybe this is the life for them is great and I just hope it can make a difference for someone.”
High School Reunion
Call it divine intervention, but Catholic Day at Citi Field also brought together two alumnae from the now-closed All Saints H.S., Williamsburg.
Yvonne Laureano and Jean Dobek haven’t seen each other since the two walked the hallways of their all-girls school in the late ’60s, early ’70s.
While attending the morning Mass, Laureano mentioned the name of her high school in passing, which caught the attention of Dobek. The two were all smiles while reminiscing about the days when they would readjust their uniform skirts to their liking or debate about the best colors for their saddle shoes.
When it came to which New York team they each support, it was a division in the dugout: Laureano, a Yankees fan and Dobek, a die-hard Mets fan. Yet one non-negotiable between the two was their unison in faith, sharing their time and talents with the parishioners at St. Mary Gate of Heaven, Ozone Park, where they both reside.
“This is a wonderful day, it’s beautiful,” said Laureano. “God brought us together, I hope the same way it’ll bring together people who want to have a vocation to God.”
Presence of Seminarians
Seminarians from the Cathedral Seminary Residence in Douglaston, and St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, spent the entire day among the crowd.
Renny Rivas went to Catholic Day with his mom and two sisters after being invited from his home parish of St. Mary Gate of Heaven in Ozone Park. His favorite part was the food and playing basketball with men studying for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
“It’s more of an inspiration,” Rivas said. “For me, they try hard for everything they do and whatever they do, they do it. Let’s say basketball, they practice and they’re good at it, better than I.”
Many priests remained on hand throughout the day and were available for confessions in a special chapel area beneath a white tent.
At the opening of the day’s evening, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, vicar of communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn, took to the field to remind those in attendance why they were present.
“We are here today to pray not for the Mets to do better but for an increase of vocations,” said Msgr. Harrington.
Following an opening pitch that was caught by religious Sister Maria Bello, the Mets dominated the Cleveland Reds 6-1, a hopeful sign that prayers for both vocations and victory were being heard.