by Anne C. Heymen
With strains of “O Come Divine Messiah” echoing throughout the packed Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine Nov. 30, the religious from the Diocese of St. Augustine ushered in the Year of Consecrated Life during a 5 p.m. Mass conducted by Bishop Felipe Estévez.
“I am more free in life expressing myself” than ever before, Father Slawomir Podsiedlik, a Carmelite priest and pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Bunnell, said, as he shared the homily with the gathering which represented 15 orders of women religious and 12 male religious orders. August 8, 1994, was the date which changed his life, Father Podsiedlik said, as it was the day he made the decision to enter the priesthood. “All my friends from my former life were against it.” However, he decided to change everything. “I wanted to try.” As a result, he said, “I am more free in life,” to express himself than ever before.
The vow of obedience provides “freedom from myself. You learn humility.” The vow of chastity also gives you freedom. “I am not affected by human relationships.” And the vow of poverty gives freedom from things. Holiness, he said, only happens in community. There is no holiness in isolation – isolation has no community, no family. Community is always staying in the truth. If one wants to experience love and peace, one has to long for God, pray for God, and his blessings will come.
Bishop Estévez expressed thanks to Father Podsiedlik and all the consecrated for their their love of the church. “Thank you and your communities for your witness.”
Reaction of the faithful in attendance was also one of gratitude. Marcela Medina, a native of Colombia now residing in Palm Coast, suggested that the religious are known for their vows of poverty and their love – “they teach us to be like them.”
The religious “give a strong sense of foundation,” said Jason Romulus, 17, also of Palm Coast; and his 16-year-old sister, Zolie, added that the religious “give meaning to other people.”
Pope Francis proclaimed the Year of Consecrated Life to begin the First Sunday in Advent (Nov. 30). It continues through Feb. 2, 2016, calling attention to the importance of religious life in the church. The 17-county Diocese of St. Augustine’s 15 orders of women religious includes the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, the Irish Sisters of Mercy, Dominicans and Claretian Missionary Sisters. The 12 male religious orders includes Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, the Holy Ghost Fathers and the Missionary Fathers of St. Francis de Sales.
The celebration at the Cathedral Basilica was held amidst scaffolds and other construction equipment as the Cathedral undergoes its own renewal, a transformation in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine. “Rejoice and Restore” is the theme for the 2015 renovations, projected to cost $4 million. Cathedral Parish’s goal is $2 million, with a challenge goal of $2.5 million, according to Father Thomas Willis, pastor of the Cathedral. The Diocese of St. Augustine will provide up to $2 million in matching funds. Fifty years ago the Cathedral Basilica underwent extension renovations in celebration of the city’s quadricentennial.