By Christie Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Nearly 6,000 Catholics gathered for Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul and an outdoor procession to show their love for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi Sunday, May 25. {{more}}

The big crowd included 1,200 children who earlier this year made their first Communion. They were personally invited by Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was the main celebrant and homilist for the Mass.

Ann Christina Alexandre, a first communicant and second grader at Holy Cross School in the Mount Airy section of the city, said the day was “like a party.”

After the liturgy, Cardinal Rigali led the first communicants – all wearing their first Communion finery – in an outdoor procession around the perimeter of the Cathedral.

Ann watched the Mass on a big screen in the Cathedral’s parking lot, which was filled with row upon row of white folding chairs. She and her family were seated toward the back, near the fence line facing 17th Street.
They didn’t mind. For Ann, the best present she got at the “party” was the same one given to her at her first Communion: “I get to have Jesus in my heart forever,” she said.

To accommodate the crowd, the majority of the first communicants were seated inside the Cathedral, accompanied by one parent or guardian. The other parent or guardian and other family members were seated outdoors.

“This is a wonderful testimony to the faith of each family that is here, the faith of each person that has come to join this wonderful celebration, professing our one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith in Jesus Christ, present in the Bread of Life,” Cardinal Rigali said as he welcomed the youngsters and their families.

“I’m here for Communion,” said 7-year-old Evan McCarter, a second-grader at St. Joseph School in Collingdale.

Bryan Cruz, 9, a third-grader at Ascension of Our Lord School in Philadelphia, said his first Communion day and Sunday’s Feast of Corpus Christi were two of the best days of his life.

Jacob McGowan, 9, a third-grader at St. Laurence School in Highland Park, was happy he snagged a coveted seat in the sanctuary – “10 feet from the Cardinal,” he said.

The message of the day was “to always love God,” said 11-year-old Charell Simmons, a fifth grader from St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish in the Mount Airy section of the city.

“It was cool,” said 8-year-old Ian Mountain, a second-grader at St. Joseph School in Downingtown.

Being a first communicant requires accepting bigger responsibilities in life, said Gregory Damas, 9, a third-grader at Our Lady of Hope School in Philadelphia. Gregory plans to be more helpful to his family and friends now that he’s received Christ.

Twins Alexa and Brenna Crowder, 7, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Doylestown, were awed by the Cathedral.

“I thank God for giving us this beautiful day and for letting us go to this beautiful church,” Brenna said. “It was a special privilege,” said her sister, “and it was really exciting because it’s a really big church.”

The honor of being the gift-bearers at the Mass belonged to the Lipscomb family of St. Matthew Parish – first communicants and 9-year-old quadruplets Richard III, Elizabeth, Alexandra and Sarah, and their parents, Richard and Maureen.

After 8-year-old Grace Young of St. Dorothy Parish in Drexel Hill opened the Cardinal’s invitation, her family made the Mass a top priority.

“Sometimes, it’s good to have the children celebrate with the bigger Catholic community,” said her mother, Annette Young.

On the car ride to the Cathedral from his parish, Our Lady of Calvary in Northeast Philadelphia, 8-year-old Kevin Neilson read to his two younger brothers, Steven, 6, and Ryan, 2, from the Bible he received at his first Communion.

Among the most charming RSVPs for the Mass came from first communicant Catherine Anne Horiel of St. Andrew Parish in Drexel Hill. She was certain that Cardinal Rigali received her address from the late Pope John Paul II, to whom she once sent a get-well card.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or