Thirty-seven umbrellas

Wednesday 18 January 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Did you know, dear readers, that we recently recognized International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? The theme for 2017 came from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “The love of Christ compels us.” This was a week to reflect on the Protestant Reformation and the pain of 500 years of scandalous disunity among Christian churches. The goal is reconciliation.

The Week of Prayer involved Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, United and Independent churches. That’s a barrage of prayer, but it’s sure taking a long time. We’ve been praying together over this since 1908. 

It seems to me that there are two things that bring people (and churches) together very quickly. One is triumph and the other tragedy. In the Town of Falmouth, we experienced both last month.

First came the triumph of our high school football team, the “Clippers.” I watched as the buses rolled down Main Street, transporting the boys to Gillette Stadium for the Big Game. The Clippers won the state division championship. Go, team!

I watched as our invincible team led the Christmas parade. The whole town cheered. They had done us proud, as people say. Five members of the team belong to this parish, so we were especially proud.

Then came the tragedy. Two of the team members were involved in a horrific auto accident a few days thereafter. I happened to be on emergency call for Catholic patients at Falmouth Hospital. The Rev. Sally Miller is the hospital staff chaplain. Rev. Sally is affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene. She was called in to provide grief counselling to the family and to some 50 dazed teen-agers gathered in the emergency room lobby. I waited for the two accident victims to arrive by ambulance so that I might administer the Sacrament of the Sick. I knew both boys were Catholic. I knew they were both 17 years old. The ambulances never arrived. It was worse than we first thought.

After everyone had left the emergency room, Sally and I stood outside in the darkness, one of us a Church of the Nazarene minister and the other a Catholic pastor. We were both experiencing the numbness that comes from such tragedy. 

One of the young men, James “Jamie” Lavin, was pronounced dead at the scene. The other boy, Owen “Higgy” Higgins, was evacuated to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I. He did not survive. 

The Cape Cod Baptist Church on Nathan Ellis Highway, according to Pastor Ben Feldot, opened its doors as a “safe space” for church youth members.

The Rev. Nell Fields of Waquoit Congregational Church pledged her congregation would support students, teachers, and staff in the weeks and months ahead.

The Rev. Fred Meade, of North Falmouth Congregational Church and chaplain to the Falmouth Fire Department met with members of the football and hockey teams. 

Before the funeral home doors opened to the general public, I led the Vigil Service of the Catholic Church for the Lavin Family. There were at least 500 young people and adults waiting in line. It took more than five hours for the line to pass by the casket.

Tragedy brings people (and churches) together. 

James Lavin had been baptized here at St. Patrick Church, and here he had received his First Communion and Confirmation. It was here that I celebrated his Funeral Mass. The church was packed. There were people standing on the lawn. 

The wake for Owen Higgins was held a couple of days later. Again the crowds arrived in droves. This time, however, it was pouring rain. Due to the weather, the wake was transferred from the funeral parlor next door into St. Patrick Church. Our building was able to accommodate more people under one roof, but there were still hundreds of people outside, huddled under a sea of umbrellas. Msgr. Steve Avila, Owen’s pastor, came to lead the Vigil Service. Our parish volunteers served hot cider and coffee to the mourners in the hall downstairs. 

The Funeral Mass for Owen was held the next day at St. Anthony Church, East Falmouth, and both young men are now buried in St. Anthony Cemetery. 

During this town tragedy, I witnessed many denominations step up to minister in their own particular way. I thought to myself what a miracle it would be if those churches routinely worked together in ministry. For this we pray.

During the Higgins wake, the rain stopped. Afterwards, I went through the church tidying up. I collected 37 soggy umbrellas left behind by the mourners. Well, perhaps the sun would come out tomorrow.

During all this, so many people prayed in this church. Not all of them were Catholic. I know for sure that the love of Christ compels us all.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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