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Priests strengthen bonds at seaside gathering

November 01, 2018

SPRING LAKE — For the scores of men who serve the counties of the diocese — Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Warren — as pastors, chaplains, department heads and spiritual leaders, a three-day convocation in a seaside town served as a chance to both renew friendships with one another and to be enriched by their chief shepherd, Bishop James F. Checchio.

The annual retreat for priests, held Oct. 9-11, offered the clerics Masses, reconciliation, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a keynote speaker and a dinner in honor of their brothers marking milestone anniversaries. The convocation’s keynote speaker was Father William Byrne of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., who teaches homiletics to the seminarians at the Pontifical North American College, Rome. He addressed the priests on preaching in these times of scandal in the Church. On the first day of the convocation, a mobile unit from Saint Peter’s University Hospital, New Brunswick, visited to administer flu shots, check blood pressure, blood sugar and for skin cancer, as well as perform other health tests. Just as the doctors in that unit had cared for their persons, the main focus of Bishop Checchio was to care for the priests’ resolve and spiritual health.

“The bishop gave us a brief update on the things happening in the diocese, but he committed most of the time to make sure we were doing well,” said Msgr. Joseph M. Curry, pastor, Immaculate Conception Parish, Spotswood, and organizer of this year’s convocation. “He answered questions and listened to our concerns. It was very helpful.

“We are the best resource that each other has,” Msgr. Curry concluded. “It is a blessing for us to be together and learn, share, and simply enjoy each other’s company.”

Bishop Checchio presided at a Mass and Evening Prayer held Oct. 10 at St. Catharine Church, where he advised his brother priests to rely on the Lord for the guidance and strength needed to fulfill their many responsibilities as men of God.

“One of the most sincere and important requests in the Gospel was from the apostles: ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’” the bishop said in his homily. “Seek guidance, try to make sure you are praying effectively, are deeper in union with the Father.

“Our prayer and daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours [and] time before the Blessed Sacrament is an act of trust,” he continued. “Jesus asks us to pray as he prayed. We pause throughout the day to listen to him, to hear the Father tell us: ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I delight.’” Calling the Eucharist “the greatest opportunity for transformation we will ever have,” Bishop Checchio said, “Coming to know the Father’s will for us is our primary task and the basis of all the other things we do each day. [Prayer] is what will sustain us in the challenging waters we find ourselves, and where we will find our true identity and our affirmation for who we are and what we do.

“Jesus awaits us in prayer to teach us, to heal us, to lead us, to love us,” the bishop concluded. “May we always persevere in prayer, so that it is always Jesus that guides us in all the decisions we are asked to make and who deepens our communion in one another as priests and those that we serve. Yes, Lord, teach us to pray.”

Priests celebrating milestone anniversaries were recognized at the Mass and later at a dinner in their honor. Those clerics marking 25 years of service to the diocese included: Oratorian Father Peter R. Cebulka, chaplain at Rutgers Catholic Center, New Brunswick; Father Dario Endiape, parochial vicar, St. Bartholomew Parish, East Brunswick; Father Krzysztof Kaczynski, pastor, St. Edward the Confessor Parish, Milford; Father Thomas F. Ryan, pastor, Our Lady of Victories Parish, Sayreville; Father Thomas J. Serafin, pastor, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Three Bridges; and Father Czeslaw Zalubski, pastor, St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Pittstown.

Priests marking 50 years since their ordination included: Father Thomas Maurice T. Carlton, retired, who last served as pastor, St. Joseph Parish, High Bridge; Msgr. Michael J. Corona, administrator, St. Luke Parish, North Plainfield; and Father Manuel Lorente, parochial vicar, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, New Brunswick. Retired priests of the Diocese of Metuchen, Father Kevin Crowley and Father Michael Driscoll, were also recognized.

Priests at the convocation expressed their appreciation for the event and stressed the importance of the brotherhood’s support and bishop’s guidance.

Oratorian Father Kevin P. Kelly, parochial vicar, Holy Family Parish, New Brunswick, who also serves Catholics of Hispanic descent in Middlesex County, noted, “There is more and more consensus among the faithful to how delicate and fragile the Church is. Strength comes from all of us together.”

“There is a feeling of support and camaraderie, a spirit of prayerfulness here,” noted Father John C. Gloss Jr., pastor, St. John Vianney Parish, Colonia. “We pray by ourselves, but it is a good feeling to pray together.”

“It is invigorating here,” Father Carlton said. “The Holy Spirit is so present with this many priests together.”

By Christina Leslie
Correspondent for The Catholic Spirit

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