Bishop encourages faithful to imitate saint in homily at Blue Army Shrine

Published by the Catholic Spirit

By Anthony Salamone

September 22, 2016

While a seminarian studying in Rome during the early 1990s, Bishop James F. Checchio shared a meal with then Mother Teresa of Calcutta — the missionary nun known for her extensive works of charity.

“I remember as I was leaving,” the bishop said during his homily Sept. 3 at a Mass for the World Apostolate of Fatima USA’s First Saturday Devotion. “I said, ‘Mother, would you pray for me? I’m going to be ordained soon.’”

Mother Teresa agreed to pray for him, but she said: “‘You know, the world doesn’t need more priests,’” the bishop recalled, drawing a large round of laughter from the congregation. “She said, ‘What the world needs is more holy priests. If you are going to be a priest, be a holy priest.’

“Those words have stayed with me and pushed me at times of doubt throughout my priesthood,” he said.

Bishop Checchio’s appearance marked his first visit to the shrine, which is dedicated to the memory of the Virgin of Fatima’s appearances to three Portuguese children nearly a century ago. He also noted Mother Teresa, who was canonized the next day – Sept. 4 — in Rome by Pope Francis, had visited the bucolic site June 13, 1988.

The bishop also encouraged the congregation of about 700 to strive toward a more fuller life in the Church, to imitate the humble yet determined-to-help-poor nun.

“Our celebration today in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary certainly invites each of us to reflect on the nature of discipleship and what it means to be a person of faith,” he said. “Faith is not just a matter of learning more … about Jesus and about his church. But rather faith is truly about our ability and our willingness to act on that knowledge, to act on what we know and what we have learned, and to pursue a transformed life, a life of repentance.”

Referencing the Gospel reading (Luke 11:27-28) — about blessedness — the bishop recalled Jesus’ message: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Bishop Checchio said the woman who yelled out to Jesus in the earlier verse — “Blessed is the womb that carried you …” based blessedness on a physical relationship. “But Jesus says blessedness comes from action,” the bishop said. “Blessedness comes from the willingness to act on our own to pursue a transformed life, a life of repentance in Jesus’ name.

“If we are not striving for holiness each and every day, trying to enter through the narrow gates, then we have become complacent in our discipleship, complacent in our following of Jesus through Mary.”

David and Dorothy Carollo welcomed Most Rev. James Checchio, bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, for the First Saturday program at the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

David and Dorothy Carollo welcomed Most Rev. James Checchio, bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, for the First Saturday program at the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

Early in the Mass, Bishop Checchio thanked David Carollo, executive director of the Fatima shrine, for inviting him to the First Saturday event.

Carollo returned the thanks, telling the audience when the two spoke during the bishop’s May 3 installation, “I told you I would roll out a red carpet for you.” A red carpet ran the length of the center aisle in the open-air church.

“It’s an honor to have you here at our shrine,” Carollo said, “and as our new bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, this will hopefully be your first of many visits.”

Before the liturgy, the bishop greeted many of the faithful, shaking hands and posing for photographs. People used words such as “very personable” and “down to earth” in describing their diocese’s new spiritual leader.

Delia Klemser, who volunteers at the shrine, was among those impressed by the new bishop. “He’s very good, for all the bishops I met here, he’s the one who goes everywhere,” said Klemser, of Hampton. “He comes to everybody, and he had a profound homily.”

John Paul Gutschke, one of several altar servers, called the bishop “very inspirational.”

“I’m really glad we have a good bishop in this diocese who is going to take care of everyone, inspire and lead others in the faith,” said the teen, who is a member of St. Ann Parish, also of Hampton.

Several clergy or religious assisted the bishop, including: Father Wladyslaw “Walter” Wiktorek, parochial vicar, St. Magdalen de Pazzi Parish, Flemington; Father J. Michael Venditti, the shrine’s chaplain; Father David V. Skoblow, parochial vicar, Our Lady of Peace Parish, Fords, who was master of ceremonies; and Deacon Ray V. Raymundo, who exercises his ministry at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish, Easton, Pa.

Members of the Knights of Columbus Council 5170 from St. Joseph Parish, Washington, also participated.

The Sept. 3 Mass commemorated the Five First Saturdays, which traces its roots to Mary’s appearance in late 1925 to Sister Lucia, one of the Portuguese children to whom Our Lady appeared eight years earlier in Fatima. The day also included the sacrament of reconciliation, recitation of the rosary, benediction and the Divine Mercy Chaplet.


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