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By Anthony Salamone
Correspondent, The Catholic Spirit
EAST BRUNSWICK – Josie Taddeo attended the Aug. 15 blessing of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Holy Cross Cemetery with a heavy but hopeful heart.
Her brother, Frank DeFina, had been laid to rest at the diocesan cemetery in Middlesex County just two weeks earlier -- and few feet away from a newly dedicated marble figure of Mary.
“It was just like a miracle [for him] to be buried so close,” Taddeo said of her brother, a faithful Catholic devoted to Mary who died unexpectedly at 61. “It’s very touching.”
She and her family members were among 200 people who attended a morning liturgy – held intentionally on the day of the Feast of Mary’s assumption into heaven – said Mary Ellen Gerrity, director, diocesan Office of Cemeteries.
“I chose this day, because it is symbolic to our mission,” said Gerrity, “that is to serve our families who have lost your loved ones and have chosen a Catholic cemetery for their final resting place.”
During the 30-minute service, Gerrity and Msgr. William Benwell, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, removed a white cloth that unveiled the 6-foot, white-marble statue of the lovely Madonna. Msgr. Benwell then blessed the statue with a branch dipped in holy water.
In his reflection, Msgr. Benwell, noted there was no better day in the Church calendar to dedicate a statue of Mary than the solemnity of the Assumption.
“We come here for hope, comfort and peace,” he said of the cemetery, “and this particular feast day is a feast of hope.”
Msgr. Benwell spoke about how Mary was not assumed into a special section of heaven, but she was taken up, body and soul, into the “heavenly bliss, the heavenly joy, the identical bliss and joy that we have been invited to share.”
Catholics also can get to heaven, he said, “if we persevere to be people of prayer, to be people of charity, in ordinary, simple ways. We don’t have to do overwhelmingly heroic deeds. God doesn’t ask a lot of us. He makes the heavenly destination within reach, within the potential reach of each and every one of us.
“May this statue … inspire us not only to be people of hope but people of love. Hope and love – may those be the two themes that we celebrate today and every time we are in the presence of this beautiful statue.”
Afterward, people went to be near the statue. Some touched the Blessed Mother figure, which shows her with outstretched arms. Others placed roses at Mary’s feet.
Gerrity said she purchased the Italian-made statue from Biondan North America Inc. The statue rests on a granite platform. Rosebushes in a horseshoe configuration and three granite benches surround the statue, offering people a place to pray, reflect and memorialize loved ones.
The ceremony and display affected those who attended.
“I came here, I’m different now that I’m leaving,” said Dalma Lipari of East Brunswick, whose parents, Sally and Russell Lipari, are buried at Holy Cross. “It emotionally stirred me without a doubt in my heart, especially when they sang ‘Ave Maria.’”
Soloist Christina Leslie performed “Ave Maria” and led those gathered in the hymn “Immaculate Mary.”
Kristen Silwoka, who is Holy Cross’s office manager, read the Gospel from Luke, 1:41-55, regarding Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, a passage that includes her song of praise to the Lord, The Magnificat.
Gerrity acknowledged those involved in the liturgy or its preparation leading up to the ceremony. They included Ed Czuba, an architect and planner, who assisted with the design and layout, and Anthony Agliatta, cemetery superintendent, along with his staff.
Many, including Taddeo, held back the tears of remembrance for loved ones who have been placed at Holy Cross, which opened in 1970 and is one of two diocesan cemeteries. Resurrection Cemetery in Piscataway is the other.
“To be able to be here and to know that he’s here in such a beautiful place, and with the Blessed Mother, you can’t ask for anything more,” she said. “That he can see her every day … it’s just amazing that it happened the way it did. And we’re very touched. This place is beautiful.”
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NOTE: This message was also published in the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, on August 27, 2015.