Heavy rains didn’t dampen the spirits of more than 300 who attended the blessing and lighting of the Christmas tree Tuesday night at St. Patrick Church in Providence, R.I.
Chagrined by Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s recent decision to call the State House Christmas tree a “holiday tree,” participants gathered from all parts of the diocese to show their disappointment for the wave of secularism that permeates society and support for Christmas.
Many carried signs that read “Keep Christ in Christmas.”
The enthusiastic crowd joined choristers from Blessed Sacrament School, Mater Ecclesiae College and the St. Patrick Choir and Voces de Los Andes, both led by music director Silvio Cuellar as they sang carols.
At 5:30 p.m., Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin lighted a 14-foot evergreen on the grounds of St. Patrick Parish.
Welcomed by Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Church, Bishop Tobin came to the podium with applause from the crowd.
“I am very proud to be your bishop,” Bishop Tobin told those gathered. “This is a wonderful expression of your faith and devotion.”
For those who propose a secular agenda, the bishop said, “Enough is enough. You may not take Christmas away from us and our community.”
Last week, Gov. Chafee suggested to those staking out positions on both sides of the tree naming issue instead refocus their energy on helping the needy across the state.
Emphasizing that Catholics respond to the needs of those less fortunate in Rhode Island more than any other group, Bishop Tobin asked those present to continue their support of Mary House, a soup kitchen and food pantry sponsored by St. Patrick Church; St. Patrick Academy, the parish’s middle and high school; and “Keep the Heat On,” which, since it was established in 2005, has provided more than $1,000,000 in heating assistance to more than 3,000 households throughout the state.
Fr. Ruggieri described the tree lighting and blessing as a “moment of evangelization” as Christians come together as they prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ.
St. Dorothy Sister Dorothy Schwarz, regional superior of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, said she attended the ceremony to “stand for her belief that Christ should not be eradicated from our society.”
Sister Schwarz, who ministers as a pastoral assistant at St. Augustine Church, Providence, added, “publicly celebrating Christmas is not a violation of the separation of church and state.”
Noting that she has witnessed an “attempt to obliterate Christianity from society” during the past 15 years, Sister Schwarz, a religious for 49 years, added that Christians must stand up for their beliefs and not “be like lambs being led to slaughter.
“We have a right to express our beliefs publicly,” she said.
Matthew Grossi, a diocesan seminarian and a parishioner of Sts. Rose and Clement Church, Warwick, said he attended the Christmas tree blessing “to show his support for keeping Christ in Christmas.”
The second-year theology student said when he first learned that the State House tree was being called a “holiday tree,” he experienced anger and frustration.
“This is what we are called to do – to stand firm and deliver our message peacefully and respectfully,” Grossi said.
Fr. Derek Puleo, assistant pastor of SS. John and Paul Church, Coventry, noted that he addressed the issue of secularism in his recent homilies.
“This is a symptom of a larger issue of the secularists trying to push God and Christianity farther to the margins,” he said. “According to some people, the three most offensive people in our society are Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”
St. Patrick parishioner Jennifer Gederman said that the governor “doesn’t make sense.
“Christmas is Christmas,” she emphasized.
Michael Krzywonos, a parishioner of Blessed John Paul II Parish, Pawtucket, said that the large crowd standing in the rain made a “statement that the Christmas tree does matter.
“It’s a Christmas tree because it’s Christmas time, not holiday time,” he said.
Krzywonos said that the crowd also was a testament to the fact that most people in Rhode Island believe that the evergreen displayed at this time of year is a “Christmas tree” and should not be known by any other name.
Printed with permission from Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.