Archbishop’s Easter Vigil reaches out to multicultural Miami

Mass will be celebrated four times on Easter Sunday at Miami’s Cathedral of Saint Mary: in English at 6:30 and 10 a.m., in Creole at 7:30 a.m. and in Spanish at noon.

But for the region’s preeminent Catholic leader, a man whose homilies swirl through all three languages, Saturday’s Easter Vigil service at the 56-year-old cathedral is the most significant of all..

“The Vigil Mass of Easter is the most important mass of the year,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski, sitting in the cathedral’s chapel shortly before leading a Holy Thursday mass. “It’s the most solemn mass...It’s the mother of all liturgies.”

The service, which begins at 8 p.m., caps a busy Holy Week for Wenski and the cathedral, at 7525 NW Second Ave. On Thursday, for example, Wenski met with Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez at Ermita de la Caridad, the shrine to Cuba’s patron saint, in Coconut Grove. After 7:30 p.m., still dressed in his black suit, he did a couple of quick interviews in the chapel to the right of the altar, then emerged moments later from the back of the church, wearing cream-colored vestments, a mitre on his head and carrying a crosier, the staff signifying his office.

His homily, centered on the Last Supper, was crafted to communicate with the cathedral’s diverse congregation: Haitians, Latinos, African Americans, non-Hispanic whites. He started in English, switched to Creole, went back to English, then Spanish, then English, more Spanish, more Creole, English, Creole, Spanish, English. Ideas were stated in one language, then restated in another.

Wenski, who learned Spanish as a seminarian and Creole in Haiti in the late 1970s, said, “This celebration should look like the cathedral parish....Diversity doesn’t divide us. It enriches us.”

Gonzalo Penajos, who handles broadcasts of the cathedral’s mass for the Catholic Radio Paz, is moved by the way Wenski communicates.

“He uses his own voice to reach the Haitians, the Anglos and the Hispanics,” Penajos said.

The Very Rev. Christopher B. Marino, in his first year as rector, has a team that makes sure the cathedral, with its striking Gabriel Loire mosaic depicting scenes from the life of Mary, is either adorned or stripped down as proscribed for each Holy Week service. He describes the Easter Vigil service as “super beautiful,” beginning after dark outside with a fire used to light the blessed Christ candle, which is then carried into the darkened church and used to light parishioners’ candles. Baptism and confirmation of adults are part of the ceremony, which is the first mass of Easter.

The cathedral, which seats 800, usually is filled beyond capacity for Holy Week, though its regular services are more lightly attended. Marino, who walks up and down the aisles before mass greeting worshippers with a handshake or hug, plus a “ bonsoir” or “ buenas nochesor “good evening,” wishes more South Florida Catholics would give the cathedral a try.

“This is the most beautiful church, with the most beautiful liturgies, and the archbishop is our pastor,” Marino said. “The Haitian and Hispanic people who live in the neighborhood come because it’s their parish. The English-speaking people who come are drawn to the beauty of the cathedral. It’s safe and very welcoming.”

At Thursday’s service, Wenski performed the ritual of washing the feet of a dozen men, a diverse group symbolizing the disciples whose feet Jesus washed at the Last Supper. Earlier in Rome, Pope Francis took the ritual to a juvenile detention center, where he shocked some traditionalists by including two women and two Muslims in his group of 12.

Wenski believes that the new pope is communicating in ways that go beyond his rich Holy Week homilies.

“He’s advising us to preach the gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words,” Wenski said, smiling. “He’s using symbolic gestures that speak.”

What, Wenski is asked, does Holy Week mean in these troubled times?

“The world is a veil of tears,” he said. “But evil does not have the last word. Love is stronger than evil.”

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