Brick, N.J., Sep 1, 2012 (CNA) - Promptly at 9 a.m. on Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption, the doors of the auditorium of Visitation Parish, Brick, N.J. opened to the first of dozens of volunteers who would soon transform the place into a warm and welcoming setting for a communal meal.
In a scenario that has been repeated on the third Wednesday of each month since May 2008, they set the stage for the Visitation Community Lunch, the abundantly successful brainchild of a parish couple named Frank and Isabel Kronicz, who had a vision of holding gatherings that melded food, friendship and faith.
Over the past four years, the lunch – considered a natural extension of the food bank started 14 years ago to help people in Ocean County, especially those residing in the 08732 zip code – has hosted thousands of folks within that 10-mile radius.
Gatherings range from about 60 people to upwards of 100, say organizers who credit the dedication of the volunteer crew with its success and salute the response from business, civic groups, schools and the county health department who have contributed everything from fresh baked bread to Thanksgiving feasts and even health checks.
On this day, the community lunch they prepared and served would be a summer favorite composed of hot dogs with relish and mustard accompanied by pasta and potato salad and fruit cup.
There would be ice cream sandwiches for desert along with a host of beverage choices including ice tea and coffee.
Before long, 60 to 70 folks would arrive at the meal which has become a social mainstay in the parish, said Marilyn Lago, the kitchen supervisor.
“Everyone is welcome,” said Lago who noted that the diners reflect a wide swath of the community at large. “Everyone is represented,” she said. “We have parishioners, seniors from around the area, members of the Hispanic community, handicapped people who enjoy coming here because we are handicap accessible.”
Lago calls the monthly gatherings an opportunity – in the best Christian tradition – to give to others.
The mission statement of the operation boldly states the intention to “graciously serve the public, persistently improve the program and unconditionally feed the spirit” of those who may be lonely, struggling with physical infirmities or financial woes.
“This is so important,” Lago said. “When you see the smiles on the faces of the people who come here each month, when you see the friendships that have been made, you don’t need any more of an explanation than that.”
The operation runs as smoothly as a well oiled machine thanks to the planning of the Kronicz who divided the program into two components: one where the floor supervisor manages set up, serving, greeting and cleaning up. Lago, the kitchen supervisor, is in charge of cooks, preppers, dishwashers and the bagged lunches that every guest takes home for the next day.
Frank Kronicz does most of the cooking and Isabel oversees keeping the pantry full.
“Everyone is just wonderful,” Lago said of the crew. She said that while she actively recruits helpers, many approach her with interest in serving.
And organizers are mindful of keeping an eye to future gatherings. Even before the August luncheon began, the group of directors gathered together, clipboards and notebooks in-hand, to plan out some of the food selections and themes of future luncheons.
Marie Cavallaro, who supervises the dining area of the luncheon, said that the event goes beyond providing just a hot meal. In addition to fresh offerings on the table, guests are invited to pick up a free book to take home, and prizes are raffled off. Organizers also select a theme for each month, and spend time decorating the parish hall to spice up the space.
“They get a kick out of it,” she said, smiling. The servers would later put on hula skirts for guests, fitting with the Hawaiian theme of the lunch. “It really picks the people up.”
“We are serving the mind, body and soul,” Cavallaro said of the program, which has been operating at the parish for four years and three months, to be exact. “It is a way to reach out to the community.”
The most recent luncheon offered a summer favorite – hot dogs with relish and mustard – accompanied by pasta and potato salads, fruit cups, and ice cream sandwiches for desert, not to mention a host of beverage choices ranging from iced tea to coffee.
A recent addition to the program is the singing of “Happy Birthday” to guests celebrating the month of their birth, something volunteer Phyllis Carpenter said is part of the fun.
“They get sung ‘Happy Birthday,’” she said. “I just like to help people. It makes you feel good.”
Father Albert Ricciardelli, pastor of Visitation Parish, said that the community event is just that. Guests include those outside of the parish community, with some living in poverty, and others just looking for fellowship.
“It isn’t just for the needy, but also for those feeling low who want some fellowship,” he said. “It is what Christ in the Church is all about.
Posted with permission from The Monitor, official newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.
Tampa, Fla., Sep 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Those seeking public office should remember the primary goal of government is to serve its citizens, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said at the Republican National Convention.
In his benediction closing out the Aug. 27-30 event, Cardinal Dolan prayed that all those currently serving, as well as those running for office be “worthy to serve you by serving our country.”
“Help them remember that the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself,” he said Aug. 30.
During the convention, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin formally accepted their respective nominations as the Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidates.
Cardinal Dolan's prayer follows the Aug. 28 unveiling of the 2012 Republican party platform which contained a significant section on the importance of religious freedom.
The party explained that its positions respect “God-given individual rights,” including the freedom “of every American to follow his or her beliefs.”
An outspoken critic of the Obama administration's contraception mandate, Cardinal Dolan prayed for a revival of “respect for religious freedom” in America.
“Renew in all of our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first most cherished freedom,” he prayed.
In his closing prayer, Cardinal Dolan thanked God for the “sacred and inalienable gift of life,” and the “singular gift of liberty.”
He asked for God's special blessing “upon those yet to be born” and those who are “about to see you at the end of this life.”
The cardinal also prayed that “a new sense of responsibility for freedom's cause,” be instilled in Americans and entrusted to God's “eternal care” all those who have died in defense of freedom and all military men and women.
In praying that Americans “know the truth of your creation,” he asked that man “not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.”
“Give us the good sense not to cast aside the boundaries of righteous living you first inscribed in our hearts even before inscribing them on tablets of stone,” he prayed.
Cardinal Dolan has accepted an invitation to give the benediction at the Sept. 3-6 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Archdiocese of New York spokesperson Joseph Zwilling has stated that neither appearances at the conventions should be seen as an endorsement of either political party's candidates or platforms on Cardinal Dolan's part.
Tampa, Fla., Sep 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Prominent members of the Republican Party highlighted faith and family values as being intrinsic to America’s identity as a nation at the party’s 2012 national convention.
America is unique as a country because it “was founded on the principle that every person has God-given rights” and that people should be free, said Florida Senator Marco Rubio on Aug. 30.
Rubio – a Catholic – was among the party leaders who spoke at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in recent days.
He explained that America stands out because it is united as a country “not by a common race or ethnicity,” but “by common values.”
These values include the conviction that “family is the most important institution in society” and that “almighty God is the source of all we have,” he said.
“Our national motto is ‘In God we Trust,’ reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all,” he added.
Americans are “a blessed people,” enjoying opportunities beyond those experienced by most nations throughout human history, Rubio said. He contrasted the American experience of freedom with that of Cuba, which his parents left in order to seek a better life in the U.S.
Rubio described the 2012 election as “a choice about what kind of country we want America to be” and whether the nation will apply “the principles of our founding to solve the challenges of our time.”
While the GOP convention was focused heavily on the struggling economy and millions of unemployed Americans, matters of faith and values were also raised by several speakers.
Former Pennsylvania senator and one-time presidential contender Rick Santorum explained that “healthy families” are critical to the success of the nation.
“We understand many Americans don’t succeed because the family that should be there to guide them and serve as the first rung on the ladder of success isn’t there or is badly broken,” he said.
Santorum, who is also Catholic, argued that “if America is going to succeed, we must stop the assault on marriage and the family,” adding that “married moms and dads” must be “pillars of strong communities” in the United States.
Marriage has become a key issue in the 2012 election, as the Democratic Party has drafted and will likely approve a platform embracing “gay marriage” for the first time in history.
Also of serious concern to religious communities in the 2012 election is a Obama administration mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The regulation has drawn widespread criticism from both the Catholic community and members of other faith backgrounds who object to the threat it poses to religious liberty.
The mandate was referenced several times at the convention, including by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who responded to commentary on GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.
“People wonder whether guys like me, an evangelical, would only support a fellow evangelical,” he said.
He observed that the only self-professed evangelical on the ticket this year is President Obama.
“And he supports changing the definition of marriage,” he said. “(He) believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb, even beyond the womb. And he tells people of faith that they have to bow their knees to the god of government and violate their faith and conscience in order to comply with what he calls, health care.”
Huckabee is one of numerous Christians who have joined in the protests against the mandate on the grounds of religious freedom. He explained that “this isn't a battle about contraceptives and Catholics, but about conscience and the Creator.”
“Let me say it as clearly as possible, that the attack on my Catholic brothers and sisters is an attack on me,” he said.