SANFORD | It is dusk on the second night of the 10-day rosary and the beginning of the parish feast honoring the birth of Mary, patroness of St. Mary’s Syro Malabar Church in Sanford. Bursts of brightly colored clothing, the sound of drumming, blinking lights in red, blue and green, and voices raised in song, inaugurating the beginning of the parish Feast for St. Mary. Welcoming Bishop John Noonan, Father Siby Sebastian, MST, pastor of the parish presents him with a bouquet of flowers. A procession leads to the church then outside again for the hoisting of the flag marking the beginning of the feast.
Although the birth of St. Mary occurs in September, the parish celebrates it in October – the Month of the Rosary – avoiding the peak of hurricane season. The feast, which includes a novena, begins on Oct. 13, on the anniversary of Mary’s final apparition in Fatima, and continues through Oct. 21 followed by Rasa Qurbana, the holiest of Eucharistic liturgies celebrated in the Syro Malabar Church.
This is the first Holy Qurbana or “Eucharistic liturgy” which Bishop John Noonan concelebrates in this Eastern Rite Catholic Church – one of 28 different rites in union with the Catholic Church under Pope Francis. Father Sebastian shared gratitude for the bishop’s presence, “paternal love and kindness to (the) community.”
Bishop Noonan described his arrival as a “coming home” for him because when he first visited the church, there was only a small community of 25 families. The parish now flourishes with more than 200 faithful. Once meeting in Roman Catholic Rite churches in the diocese, the Syro Malabar parish now stands on its own holy ground. Bishop Noonan likened it to a family “letting go” of their children. He said, “It felt like that for us in the Roman Rite – to let you go because we know you and we got to love you. But we also realized you had to be independent. You had to have your own church.”
After the hoisting of the flag and the crowning with flowers of the feast sponsors – Vicar Jiby Chittendom and his wife Jiji – Bishop Noonan turned to his homily focusing on this idea of loving and letting go.
Centered around the Virgin Mary’s fiat to God, Bishop Noonan emphasized it was through her example that the Blessed Mother preached. He shared his image of Mary, viewed through the Joyous Mysteries of the rosary.
He noted, “Mary said only a few things. The Magnificat was her prayer. All she said to Gabriel was, ‘Let it be done unto me according to your word O Lord.’ And that’s the question for all of us. Do we want to do the Word of God? Will we let the Word of God take a part in our life?” In the Annunciation, her response was to surrender to God’s desire. The bishop asked if the congregation was ready to do the same.
In the Visitation, Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth to share the Good News. He asked if they were prepared to follow her example.
Recalling the third mystery – the Nativity – and the worry and fear of parents not having a place to birth their child, he assured them, “We don’t have to worry about the birth or where we have been born. We are born into Christ. We are born into relationship with Him.” He reminded that often suffering is a part of that relationship, just as Simeon predicted to Mary in the Presentation at the Temple.
Understanding the difficulty of this Indian congregation raising their children in a new country, Bishop Noonan noted the similarity to the final Joyous Mystery – the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Jesus leaves to do the work of His Father and His parents are worried. Jesus is young and complies with His parents’ request to rejoin them. Their brief separation does not cause them to forget who they are. They are made by God for relationship.
Speaking to the sons and daughter present he said, “There is often pain and sorrow of losing, separating, allowing you to go. Every father losing his daughter, every mother losing her son.” Then to the parents, “It’s not easy, but we pray that we, like Mary can understand that we too need to let them grow up and let them be themselves, but in the shadow, in the courage of the grace and strength of God.”
“May this place become a spiritual home for all of you, not just mom and dad, that you can come here and worship and also share who you are, as a culture,” he said. “Your culture is beautiful. Your language is beautiful. That’s who you are.
“May this feast be a time to enrich you with the grace and peace of God, but also be the inspiration of who Mary is by saying yes to the Lord and allowing Mary to truly lead and guide you in your life so that she can bring you to your Son, Jesus Christ.”
Click here to watch Holy Qurbana.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, October 19, 2023