In thanksgiving for a good summer, scores of parishioners at St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor, celebrated Sunday Mass in a place close to their hearts: the beach.
“It is such a beautiful place to celebrate this beautiful Word and share the wonderful message of God,” parishioner Eileen Ayrovainen said of the Labor Day weekend Mass. “The community revolves around the church and it revolves around the beach; it’s so nice for both to come together in a beautiful, meaningful, spiritual way.”
Her mother, Roseanne Laide, who was visiting from Puerto Rico, said she felt fortunate to have witnessed the two beach Masses that the parish celebrated this summer. The first was in honor of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Both Masses had over 600 people in attendance.
“I thank God for this community and this loving people,” she said.
Msgr. John Bracken, parish administrator said that the Mass site reflected the people’s family ties and hospitality to all visitors. It also related to Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, he said.
“What a great thing it is and we have to be stewards of the environment. We have to care for it. We have to use it and never abuse it.”
He added that it was important for parishioners to give thanks to God for the gifts of community, family and nature.
“The beach is a unique gift that we have,” Msgr. Bracken said. “We had a wonderful summer, so this was a thank you for the opportunities we had to celebrate with family and friends in the Rockaways.”
In his homily, he spoke about not taking God’s every day gifts for granted and asked parishioners to let the spirit of faith act in their hearts. During the Mass, one could sense a real connection amongst the community members, with children from the community serving as readers, altar servers and gift bearers.
At the sign of the peace, Massgoers took their time to offer a heartfelt greeting.
“It is sincere and not a performance,” Msgr. Bracken said. “We know these people. We pray together, we see each other. It’s a real family, (a) tightknit group.”
Community ties were strengthened after Oct. 29, 2012, when Hurricane Sandy left a devastating mark in the Rockaway Peninsula, wreaking havoc in people’s lives and affecting the area’s buildings, including the parish school. But the disaster also united the community, which rallied to rebuild the place they call home.
During the slow healing process, the church met the basic needs of thousands of residents who lost everything to the storm, Msgr. Bracken said.
“We went through so much. Sandy was a horrendous thing for everybody and St. Francis De Sales became the host of all the good work” that was being done, he explained.
The beach Mass was a way to keep the vibrant St. Francis de Sales community together and also to evangelize those people who might have participated out of curiosity.
“If people don’t come to church then we will bring the church to them,” said Father James Cunningham, who is assigned to the parish.
He added that to celebrate the sacraments at a place that is a big part of everyday life was exciting for a beach community like St. Francis de Sales.
“This is an active faith community; we have a lot of families, a lot of people” who are enthusiastic about the faith, Father Cunningham said. “And anything we could do to enhance that, to strengthen that, I’m happy to work to make it happen.”
He explained that the Mass was not only a way to thank God for the beautiful weather, but also a way to pray for good weather for the rest of the year.
“This community’s was so affected by Hurricane Sandy that we pray every day for good weather,” he said. “We pray for God to keep the storms at bay and that we have a wonderful and a safe fall and winter.”