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A Christmas filled with family, faith, food and fun

Parishioners listen as Bishop William Murphy conducts Christmas

Parishioners listen as Bishop William Murphy conducts Christmas Mass on Friday, Dec. 25, 2009 in Rockville Centre. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Islanders marked Christmas Day with faithfulness, generosity and gratitude. A few scenes from the day:

>>PHOTOS: Christmas in St. Agnes Cathedral

Home for the holidays

Mike Hayes, the 13-year-old bicyclist struck last month in a hit-and-run crash near his house, doesn't remember a thing from the accident that nearly killed him.

But after days in a medically induced coma and weeks under sedation, Mike was overjoyed to return home on Christmas Eve to his Brentwood home.

And his parents were ecstatic.

"Through the grace of God," his dad, Russell Hayes, 52, said after making his son macaroni, "Mike is back with us."

Suffolk County police say the driver of the gray vehicle that hit the boy on Nov. 21, at Carleton Avenue near Spur Drive North, didn't stop and has yet to be caught.

Hayes's injuries were serious - to his ankle, his jaw, and more. "My entire face was broken," he said. "so they had to do surgery. They put metal under my eyes."

He has undergone physical, occupational and speech therapy. He had trouble speaking at first. He'd forget the name of common objects, and he'd inadvertently repeat himself.

"Repeating myself got better by itself," he said. He paused.

"Um, what was I saying?" he asked. "That's what I'm talking about - losing my memory."

Back in November, the family had kept the Thanksgiving turkey in the freezer as their youngest son clung to life in the hospital.

It was thawing Thursday afternoon.

Mike can't chew yet due to his injuries. His his mother Nancy, 50, says she'll make him turkey soup.

Murphy shines light on Church

The stained glass windows glowed inside St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre yesterday, as the faithful gathered to hear Bishop William Murphy celebrate Mass on Christmas Day.

He reminded the worshipers that the Church was a family, and there were signs all around of that idea.

Children tiptoed to see the bishop. In an aisle near the rear of the Cathedral, a man sat on the floor with his young son, dressed in Christmas best, playing with a book of stickers.

Murphy recalled his youth, at a seminary in Rome, when he would go out to celebrate Christmas Mass at dawn, then watch the sun light up the sky over that ancient city.

Then he spoke of the light of the church. He said it would continue to illuminate important issues, such as the need for the overhaul of the nation's health care system, but one that would protect "children in the womb."

"Health care should be for all," the Bishop said. "But crafted in a way that does not burden an economy that is already strained."

The crowd inside the Cathedral included Bob and Kerri Kaufmann, who had come from London with their 14-month old son Michael. With them was Pat Walsh, 70, of Rockville Centre, Kerri's mother. She said she has been going to church every Sunday for her entire life.

Her daughter said Christmas is the time "to be grateful for everything we do have, not to look at what we don't have."

Annual dinner feeds many

A Ten trays of take-home meals were piled on the table where Henry Davis had sated himself during the Christmas dinner at Gloria Dei Evangelical Lutheran Church in Huntington Station.

"They're for the rest of my siblings," said the Huntington Station resident, 22. He has been coming to the church dinner since he was 8. "They wanted to stay home, watch TV and play video games."

About 130 people supped on huge helpings of the holiday spirit at the church's 24th annual Christmas dinner, open to all and complete with music from a pianist and toys for children. In the kitchen, John Llano put his back on the line. He bent over turkey after turkey, interspersing carving with back stretches. He's here every Thanksgiving and Christmas, carving, and his back always aches from bending: "It's kind of my lot in life."

More than 30 volunteers work to serve people such as the three generations of the Jones family, who face health and money woes.

"This might be our last Christmas at the house," said Pedro Jones, 60, there with three daughters and five grandchildren. "We're falling behind on the rent."

Deacon Dick Thyden helped start the dinner tradition at the church when a friend wanted to help the homeless in his father's memory. But like the story of Jesus' parents looking for a place to stay, his friend's idea could not find a home from government officials and other groups. "It was like no room at the inn," Thyden said. "Nobody wanted to do it, so we stepped up."

Toys of Hope delivers holiday wishes

The toys gleamed in their see-through plastic bags under the lights in a parking lot at a homeless shelter in Suffolk County on Christmas night.

Dora the Explorer dolls, Build-a-Bears and Matchbox cars were laid out on tables or tarps. Nearby were stacks of warm clothing, deodorant sticks, toothbrushes, bedsheets, blankets, childrens' blue jeans.

A caravan of volunteers' cars and vans, from the Huntington Station charity Toys of Hope Inc., had carried the thousands of Christmas gifts to the shelter.

Now, waiting for a signal to come forward and claim the holiday goodies were more than 100 children and their parents.

Then came the go-ahead - and the children rushed to the tables, each carrying a plastic bag they quickly stuffed with toys while the parents accepted the more practical items. Many adults got winter coats.

"I got six tractor-trailers," said one boy, Aaron, 10.

Some parents, though, had a hard time accepting the idea of such generosity.

"I'm shocked that someone would do this," said a woman who identified herself as Carlyne. "Give away something for nothing? There's always a catch. I've never gotten anything for free."

Carlyne said she has lived at the homeless shelter with her two children, ages 9 and 12, since she lost her job in July.

Some of the parents had lost their jobs, then lost their homes to foreclosure, before ending up at the homeless shelter on Christmas.

Newsday is not disclosing the location of the shelter or the last names of the residents because it also serves as a refuge for domestic violence victims.

Melissa Doktofsky, who runs Toys of Hope, said the charity - which delivers 50,000 toys a year to children in need - was still short about 20,000 toys by year's end.

>>PHOTOS: Christmas in St. Agnes Cathedral


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