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Palm Sunday service offers messages of change, redemption

Slain teen Kayla Cuevas was remembered during Palm Sunday services at St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood on April 9, 2017. After the service, Kayla's father, Freddy Cuevas, spoke about his daughter and the community.   (Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger)

Delivering his first Palm Sunday sermon since becoming head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Bishop John Barres told a packed St. Agnes Cathedral to apply the lesson of the “Wheel of Fortune” to their own lives.

“With all due respect to Vanna White and Pat Sajak, I’m not talking about that wheel of fortune,” Barres said in reference to the television game show. Barres, who came to the diocese in January with a message to young Catholics to energize the church, said he was talking about the wheel of fortune in Boethius’ writings in the Middle Ages.

“Sometimes in certain moments and stages of our lives we are on top of the wheel, and people are praising us and respecting us,” Barres said. Lives can “change dramatically and we can find ourselves at the bottom of the wheel of fortune.”

Barres used the allegory to talk about the shift in fortunes that Jesus experienced as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem amid praise and exaltation — the event celebrated by Christians on Palm Sunday — and was betrayed and crucified before his resurrection — which Christians will celebrate on Easter Sunday next week. He called on worshippers to dedicate themselves this Holy Week to allowing the story of the resurrection to “breathe light into every nook and cranny of our daily lives.”

Barres was appointed bishop in January to lead 1.5 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk counties’ 133 parishes.

Similar themes were echoed at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood where Father Eden Jean-Baptiste preached that God’s will must be followed, even though it requires suffering and sacrifice.

The Mass at St. Anne’s was offered for Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, the two girls murdered by MS-13 gang members in Brentwood in September.

Kayla’s father, Freddy Cuevas, who attended the Mass with his 7-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, said coping with his daughter’s death has been difficult.

“I’m trying to take it one day at a time,” Cuevas said. “Change, that is what we are looking for.”

Cuevas said the message of Palm Sunday — Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice to redeem mankind — “Heals in some ways.”

Parishioners who exited St. Agnes Cathedral after Sunday’s 11 a.m. service to a clear, blue sky and sunny day after a long winter said they felt a fresh start.

“It’s kind of the end of our journey,” said Carmen Dordal, 68, a retired nurse who walked with a cane on a healing broken ankle while carrying a palm frond in her other hand. “During Lent we’re supposed to repent and do good things. For me it’s the starting of rebirth; it’s like being reborn.”

Richard Laws, a 65-year-old retired editor from West Hempstead, said Holy Week is “regenerative” to “my spirit, my faith, all of it.”

Laws said he liked the new bishop.

“He came across to me as very humble,” Laws said. “He still seems like a regular priest. I know that in time he will seem to glow with magnificence, but today he seems like one of us.”

Palm Sunday was marred this year by terrorist attacks in Egypt on Coptic Christian churches that killed dozens attending services.

“We express solidarity with those Coptic Christians and with persecuted Christians in the Middle East,” Barres said in an interview before the service.

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