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Christmas church services focus on peace, caring for others

Deacon Vito Taranto gives Communion during Christmas Mass

Deacon Vito Taranto gives Communion during Christmas Mass at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station on Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

This story was reported by Khristopher J. Brooks and Antonio Planas. It was written by Craig Schneider.

A smile. A hug. A softly spoken "Merry Christmas."

It doesn't take much to share the Christmas spirit, but it goes a long way. That was the feeling Tuesday morning at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station, as parishioners filed in for Christmas Mass.

Rev. Paul Dolan spoke of his wish for "a new year full of peace in the world and light in the darkness."

Across Long Island and New York City, Christians filled church pews and celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. It was a day of thankfulness, hope and prayer. And a lot of singing.

Inside St. Hugh of Lincoln, where no seat was empty, the service began with the congregation singing "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

The church's leader of song, Sarah Reisert, guided the congregation through holiday-themed songs such as "The First Noel," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Silent Night."

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, worshippers came from all over the world and heard a message on the meaning of Jesus Christ’s birth.

“You and I, we need Christmas to remind us of everything that Christ’s birth brought to us," said the Rev. Joseph LaMorte. "We don’t need toys, we don’t need clothes. . . . We need to be reminded about how much we have and how much we need to care for others,”

LaMorte, who told attendees it was his first Christmas Day Mass at the historic cathedral, said Christmas is also a time to reprioritize and open their hearts to peace.

He focused his sermon on the less fortunate, such as people struggling with their marriages, the unemployed, the elderly and those grieving the loss of loved ones.

“As a people of God, No. 1 on our list might be that we need peace," he said. "We need peace in our hearts and in our homes. We need peace in the world. We need peace for our soldiers and their families and friends. And for ourselves, we need the peace that will last and endure and change the face of the earth.”

Attendees at St. Patrick's also heard traditional Christmas carols such as “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Worshippers were met by a large police presence outside the cathedral, with many squad cars and uniformed officers, including the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau, monitoring the area.

Inside, a digital guest book showed residents from all over the world have visited the cathedral in the past 24 hours, including tourists from Israel, South Africa and Paraguay.

Sarah Dekoven, a Texan who lives in the Rio Grande Valley near the border of Mexico, said LaMorte’s message had a “profound” effect on her.

“Jesus tells us we’re to take care of the hungry, poor and needy,” she said. “Sometimes we get too caught up in protecting what is ours.”

Antonio Baldassarre, of Vicenza, Italy, said he agreed with LaMorte’s homily.

He also said he and his family enjoyed attending Mass at St. Patrick’s.

“It was fantastic and unique," he said. "We woke up very early to get here.”

Msgr. Robert T. Ritchie led a nearly packed Mass Tuesday afternoon entirely in Spanish at St. Patrick’s.

Ritchie told worshippers that, while it’s important to enjoy the festive aspects of Christmas — the laughing, drinking and eating — one must not forget the true meaning of the day.

“The most important thing for Catholics is Jesus Christ himself,” he said.

Ritchie added that Dec. 25 must be celebrated for Christ’s birth and the recognition that he died for sins of mankind so they can attain salvation.

Hector Aguiniga, from Tijuana, Mexico, attended the service.

“I loved it. I came to give thanks,” he said in Spanish. “I’m very surprised. I would have never thought I would see Christmas Mass in Spanish in New York City.”

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