After four days of carnival, races, and celebration, St. Peter's Fiesta returned to its roots Sunday morning as Boston Archdiocese leader Cardinal Sean O'Malley returned to Gloucester to deliver the annual outdoor Mass — and a message drawn from the patron saint of fishermen.
Residents and visitors alike filled the chairs and bleachers in St. Peter's Square, some returning for the umpteenth time, others for their first. The Mass essentially kicked off the climactic day of the five-day festival — which began as a religious celebration in 1927.
O'Malley, who was joined in the service by local clergy and who was making his first Fiesta visit since 2008, said it was a joy to celebrate both the patron saint of fishermen, and of the Catholic Church itself.
Peter, he said, weathered many a storm on the sea of Galilee, and knew the danger that all fishermen and their families know. He recalled that, while serving as the bishop of Fall River, he was asked to hold mass in the Seaman's Bethel in New Bedford — a church with a bow-shaped pulpit and walls adored with plaques remembering men fallen at sea. He also recalled, during his time at Fall River, presiding at the funerals of fishermen lost at sea.
"There was no coffin, just young Portuguese widows dressed in black and surrounded by young children," O'Malley said, recalling a scene that's also played out in Gloucester many times as well.
The nation's labor department, he said, notes commercial fishing as the most dangerous profession one can choose, both economically volatile and physically dangerous. But it wasn't to that danger that St. Peter and members of the church are called, he added.
St. Peter, he said, was called to be a "fisher of men," and Christians have the same call. He called on those present to be fishers of our youth, bringing young people into the church's family.
Rev. John Kiley and Rev. Matthew Green of Holy Family Parish and Rev. Eugene Alves of Our Lady of Good Voyage stood on the St. Peter's altar with O'Malley. They were joined by Bishop Donald Lippert of the Diocese of Mendi in Papua, New Guinea. O'Malley ordained Lippert in February.
Joan Low said she came to the Mass hoping to see O'Malley; she said she and her husband Bob have been coming to the Fiesta for eight years, and that he enjoys the energy and the spiritual part of the celebration.
Low said she saw O'Malley when he first became a cardinal, and he spoke at a woman's retreat in Boston that she attended. She remembered his humility — and his wearing sandals.
"He has a presence," she said.
"May St. Peter intercede for us, and protect those who leave from this port," O'Malley said, giving the blessing.
As the service closed, O'Malley — again wearing sandals — stepped off the altar to let the procession begin.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.