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Faithful pack Long Island churches for Easter services

The 11:30 a.m. English-speaking Easter Mass at St. Anne Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood was packed, filling the pews and aisles and overflowing into the lobby.

"For us, the faithful, it is a time of joy," the Rev. Frank Nelson told about 1,500 congregants. He reminded them of God's promise to be with them, even at times of trouble.

"Here is the truth that has been preached for over 2,000 years," he said. "Christ is risen."

The 9:30 Mass in Spanish was just as crowded, he said, as was the French Creole Mass at 1 p.m.

"It was very uplifting," said Maria Paiva of Brentwood, who attended the 11:30 service with her future daughter-in-law. "I especially like to see the young crowd here."

For Fritz Fanfan and his family, who attend church regularly, the day represents the holiest of Christian holidays.

"This church is going to be filled," said Fanfan of Deer Park as he waited for the French Creole service to begin. "But next Sunday, not so much."

Afterward, Nelson stood on the back lawn with a large white Easter basket and handed out plastic eggs filled with jelly beans.

The children - girls in pretty pastel dresses and boys looking handsome in their suits - posed with the Easter Bunny on the sunny but chilly day.

Jefty Rodriguez, 5, of Central Islip, after showing off his "school shoes," said he liked seeing the Easter Bunny but was ready to leave.

"I'm going to my cousin's house for an Easter party," he said.-- Stacey Altherr

SETAUKET

CHURCH members packed the house yesterdaySunday at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket, clapping and singing praises during an Easter service that lasted more than two hours.

After the congregation's children performed a puppet show to tell the story of the resurrection of Jesus, churchgoers settled down to listen to the Rev. Gregory Leonard deliver a message about the "joy in an empty tomb."

"Usually a tomb is a place of sadness and heaviness," Leonard said. "It is a place of death, a place of decay."

But Easter signifies resurrection and life, Leonard said, just as Jesus's empty tomb signified the uplifting of humankind.

"Resurrection is a confirmation that God is in charge," he said.

After the service, as church members hugged goodbye and children opened their goody bags of Easter treats, 51-year-old Jerome Hall of Selden spoke about what the service meant to him.

"I enjoyed the whole service - the fellowship, coming together, praying and worshiping," Hall said, "thanking God for our blessings."

Hall's wife, Karen Hall, 50, had sung the lead in the church's small choir. She said she was glad to hear the pastor's message of faith and hope.

"What an inspirational service we had today - and of course, I loved the music," she said with a laugh.

For Sybil Johnson, 36, of Coram, the participation by the children was the best part.

"It's about being refreshed, renewed," Johnson said. "I enjoyed the tradition, and that the children are also embracing it."

- Jennifer Barrios

GARDEN CITY

DURING troubled times, it is best to trust in God and believe His plan, the Venerable Theodore Bean told the Episcopal congregation at Easter services yesterdaySunday at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City.

Without making a specific reference to the nation's current economic crisis, Bean told about 1,000 worshipers who filled the 11:15 service that it can be difficult to maintain serenity and inner peace when bad news seems to swirl nonstop.

"Trusting in the providence of God sometimes seems to be asking a lot from all of us," he said. "But you and I don't have to control what happens. God really does have a plan."

The measure of faith, Bean said, is having that trust.

"For most of us," he said, "faith is learning to trust in God's message and God's plan without having all the answers."

- Reid Epstein

GARDEN CITY

HOURS before scores of children romped the lawn outside the Cathedral of the Incarnation yesterdaySunday in search of plastic eggs filled with chocolates, another group was already on the lookout.

"We have squirrels that show no fear," said Charlie Janett, a lay minister at the Episcopal church. "Kids will bring back eggs that are gnawed all the way through."

Janett, the organizer of the Garden City church's annual Easter egg hunt, said he suspects local rabbits "that didn't make it through Easter Bunny school" pilfered chocolate from the brightly colored eggs scattered across the grounds.

It raises the question: Why doesn't the Easter Bunny make a pact with his furry friends to lay off the eggs, if just for one morning. But for that, we will never know the answer.

"The Easter Bunny's identity," Janett said, "is a closely-guarded secret."

- Reid Epstein

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