A bilingual Mass and commissioning ceremony for the graduates of the diocesan Lay Ministry Program was celebrated Thursday, May 18, at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, Jamaica.
Sponsored by the diocesan School of Evangelization’s Pastoral Institute, 35 men and women completed the three-year course that prepares the laity to assume leadership roles in the Church.
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros was the main celebrant. He reminded those gathered about the importance of their response to the Lord’s call to build up His Body, the Church.
“You were chosen the day of your baptism,” he said. “You were individually chosen to be God’s son or daughter. Your anointing vowed you to our Lord Jesus Christ. The spirit of the Lord is upon you because he has anointed you.
“Let me encourage you to continue helping one another and confirming others in the faith with your service in the many ministries you perform in the parochial and diocesan level,” he said.
In addition to honoring the persons who completed the requirements of the Lay Ministry Program, the ceremony also celebrated special anniversaries for those retired from catechetical duties or for those who completed a component of the ongoing faith-formation curriculum called Living and Leading by Faith.
More than 500 people gathered in the pews to witness the events. Priests from around the diocese encompassed the first few pews of the church, while family members and friends of those receiving special recognition shared the rest.
After the closing prayer of the Mass, Bishop Cisneros and Theodore J. Musco, executive director of the School of Evangelization, stood in the front of the altar as names of the graduates were read. Each then made their way to the front of the church and spent a brief moment exchanging handshakes, smiles and certificates announcing their achievement.
Since 2001, the School of Evangelization’s Pastoral Institute has sponsored the program that offers courses in both English and Spanish. The education and formation has prepared the new parish leaders to coordinate new or existing programs within their designated parishes.
The evening also recognized the years of service by the Pastoral Institute’s director, Gerald J. Tortorella, who will be leaving the program after 10 years to be closer to his family in Florida.
“You know how you just know sometimes that things just work out in a way that are perfectly timed for departure,” said Tortorella. “A lot of prayer, a lot of thought went into it.”
Even after 35 years in ministry, with the last 10 spent in the diocesan office, he still finds joy in seeing the participants complete the program.
“I always stand in awe of them when they complete it all,” Tortorella said. “My prayer is that God will continue to bless the diocese with well-formed lay pastoral leaders and continue to provide programming and workers in the vineyard to help along these ministries in formation.”
Rosanna Pereyra from St. Leo in Corona, a graduate who was encouraged by a close friend from the parish to complete the program, recalled the experience of getting to know more about her faith as an opportunity to love God more.
“I don’t call it sacrifice,” said Pereyra, who attended the celebration along with her mother and son. “It is hard, but I mean it’s worth it because it enriches our lives.
“Whatever God decides me to do for Him,” she added. “I cannot say what I want, it’s what He wants.”
Bishop Cisneros began Mass with a prayer in solidarity with those who were gathering at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn, for the Vigil Mass in honor of the late Bishop Thomas V. Daily. By remembering the life of the sixth bishop of Brooklyn, Bishop Cisneros aligned the deeper meaning of one’s call to evangelization.
“He’s a true example of what we want evangelizers to be,” said Bishop Cisneros. “He said ‘Yes’ to God from the very beginning as he entered the seminary, as he became a priest and then that wasn’t enough. He had to go the missions. He worked with the simple indigenous people of the mountains. He learned Quechua. And he spoke Spanish well.”