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Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Mass for the Commemoration of Saint Patrick

By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – It’s a funny thing about the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade – every year the route seems to get shorter but the number of participants increases.

This year’s parade, held on Sunday, March 15, mostly followed Philadelphia’s grandest boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and had an eye-popping 186 units ranging in size from an inspanidual to a throng. Marching bands, youth groups, dancing schools, Irish associations and Church associations were all there for the grand parade, some coming from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and even Ireland.

It wouldn’t be a St. Patrick’s celebration in Philadelphia without a Mass, and many of the marchers began their day at venerable St. Patrick Church where Cardinal Justin Rigali was the principal celebrant and homilist.

In his homily, the Cardinal quoted from the prayer of the good saint himself in apt words for marchers: “May Christ shield me today. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left.”

Ethnic celebrations “are very important. They are a means to draw people’s attention to the wonderful heritage they have. They all have wonderful things in their culture which are religiously based and must be preserved,” the Cardinal commented before the start of the parade.

This particular celebration has special meaning for the Cardinal, who is three-quarters Irish. “My grandmother, Brigid, was born in County Roscommon,” he said.

Never mind that the cash-strapped city billed the parade organizers for police used for traffic and crowd control. Law enforcement officers who were injured or killed in the line of duty were lauded through family members of the deceased and injured officers in the Ring of Honor near the head of the parade.

“This makes it worthwhile. It shows that people care about what we do,” said Richard Decoatesworth, a Philadelphia police officer who was shot in the face in 2007 but fortunately survived.

It’s axiomatic that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day and sure enough, there was Mayor Michael Nutter, District Attorney Lynn Abraham and assorted members of City Council and Congress front and center. Governor Ed Rendell missed the start but blithely donned a sash and marched with a group further back.

Many of the marchers have been parading for years. For example, Judge Edward J. Bradley, who was Grand Marshal 30 years ago, was on hand with granddaughters Emma Rose and Jane Isabel in tow. “It’s very important to keep up the traditions,” he said.

On the other hand, Msgr. Joseph Prior, rector of St. Charles Seminary, who usually watches the parade on CBS 3, was marching for the first time, with a group of seminarians who are members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

“There are a lot of people, all different ages, and it’s nice to see it. There were wonderful statues of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin in the group in front of us, and St. Patrick’s is a beautiful church,” Msgr. Prior said.

If anything, more people than ever came out this year, and former Philadelphia Councilman Fran Rafferty commented, “The crowd makes it better.”

Rafferty’s been a parade board member for the past 25 years and especially roots for marchers from his own parish, St. Gabriel in Grays Ferry. But his favorite? “The pro-life group,” he said.

Summing it up, another board member Pat Donnelly said, “It’s an excellent day, a wonderful time, and the sun will be out before the parade is over. We’re happy we are honoring our police officers and their families.”

Well, the sun didn’t come out and it really wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day if it had. But Donnelly was right. It was an excellent day, especially for the Irish – which during the parade meant everyone.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.