In his first Christmas address to parishioners in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, Bishop John Barres shared a message of compassion for the less fortunate and particularly for refugees.
The new bishop echoed Pope Francis’ Christmas homily at the Vatican, discussing Mary and Joseph’s plight and how it reflects the circumstances of modern-day migrants and refugees.
“So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” Barres said, quoting the Pope, who delivered his Christmas blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. “We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”
Barres, who was previously bishop in the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, said before the Mass he felt grateful to minister to the hundreds of people crowding the pews of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre and to those watching the service on television.
“It is such a beautiful experience to be able to serve everyone on Long Island, not only the Catholic community but the entire community in the common good of Long Island,” Barres said. “It’s a very special place, and it’s something I give thanks for this Christmas morning.”
Before the service, Barres wove in and out of pews, greeting longtime parishioners and new families such as the Hartmanns of Rockville Centre. The bishop took a seat next to the family and smiled at Olivia, 5; Felix, 3; and 18-month-old Emmett who grabbed at Barres’ crosier, a gold hooked staff. He asked the tots about Santa and then pushed Felix’s small blue race car along the seat, delighting the boy.
“It’s joyful,” the children’s mother, Allison Hartmann, said as she balanced Emmett on her knee.
In his homily, Barres also urged parishioners to think of the disadvantaged on Long Island and in the “poverty-stricken” regions around the world.
“We remember the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, those who suffer with mental illness, chronic physical illness and pain,” Barres said. “We remember those who for one reason or another experience an intense loneliness this Christmas.”
He ended his address by remembering NYPD Det. Steven McDonald, who died in January, and Deacon Patrick Logsdon, who was stabbed to death last month while operating a transitional home in Roosevelt.
Megan Tyhacz, 58, of Rockville Centre, said she was touched by Barres’ message of inclusion.
“He covered all the bases,” Tyhacz said. “He didn’t leave anyone out. He prayed for the whole world.”