By Michael Rizzo
GREAT NECK, N.Y. — The second annual gala dinner to support the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary featured a night of step dancing, singing seminarians and a call for holiness from the evening’s honoree, Bishop Brennan.
The Oct. 16 event at Leonard’s Palazzo in Great Neck, drew about 450 attendees from parishes where the Redemptoris Mater priests and seminarians serve, including St. Gabriel in East Elmhurst, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Jamaica and Sts. Peter and Paul in Williamsburg.
For some in attendance, it was a second feast to support the seminary. For others, it was a celebration of the Neocatechumenal Way, where parish communities spread education about the faith, develop families in the faith, and promote vocations. Future priests at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary will serve the Diocese of Brooklyn as well as be missionaries around the world.
To Father Miguel Ángel Cervantes, vice rector at the seminary and dinner organizer — who was standing in for rector Father Julio Sanchez — who couldn’t attend due to illness — it was an opportunity to welcome Bishop Brennan.
“We are welcoming Bishop Brennan to give him the opportunity to meet our brothers and sisters and seminarians and address them in a friendly setting, “ Father Miguel said.
The welcome Bishop Brennan received included multiple performances by the Ciara Greene School of Irish Step Dancing in Bayside, to honor his Irish heritage, music by Jazz for Jesus, a young adult four-piece band from St. Joan of Arc parish in East Elmhurst, and the seminarians who, after promising “a serious song,” heartily sang pop tunes like “La Bamba,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and the Mexican folk song “Cielito Lindo.” Every performance had toes tapping and voices in the audience, including Bishop Brennan’s, singing along.
Carmen Gonzalez, a 77-year-old member of St. Joan of Arc Parish, was among the first to follow the Neocatechumenal Way when it was formed in the diocese in 1976. She said following the Way let her find the Lord and, in turn, find peace and joy.
“The world needs signs of God’s presence,” Gonzalez’s fellow parishioner Vivian Castillo said, “and these young priests and seminarians are that. That’s why you’re seeing so many smiles tonight. They’re smiles of hope and joy.”
Bishop Brennan radiated that joy. He greeted parents asking him to bless their newborn child, others who were born in the Bronx like he was, or several, including Francisco Barros, seeking to have a photograph taken with him.
Barros, of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, has been involved in the Neocatechumenal Way for 12 years. The 26-year-old said he was outside St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral last November when a huge throng of Neocatechumenal Way supporters greeted the Bishop after he was installed as the eighth Ordinary of Brooklyn.
“I’m excited,” Barros said. “This is the first time I got to talk to him in person. He’s our new shepherd, and I wanted to make sure he feels welcome as our new pastor.”
Bishop Brennan fondly remembered that gathering.
“I never saw anything like what you did,” he said in remarks to the audience about that day. “Talk about a welcome. I feel welcomed tonight.”
He explained he knew the Neocatechumenal Way from his assignments as a pastor in the Diocese of Rockville Centre and revealed that he wears a Neocatechumenal cross. He also praised the attendees for their holiness for their work.
“You are out in the world witnessing to Christ,” he said. “When things seem to be falling apart, God does something amazing, and you are doing something amazing in your holiness. Your families are having a powerful impact on all families in Brooklyn and Queens.”
The Bishop also called the seminarians “talented men, serious men, and holy men who are giving their lives to Christ.”
The event concluded with Bishop Brennan receiving the seminary’s Maria Porta Caeli (Mary The Door to Heaven) award.