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Bishop Fisher Catholic Life Features

St. Philomena hosts vicariate Mass for Southern Cattaraugus

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During a beautiful summer night, the faithful filled St. Philomena Church in Franklinville that served as the host church for the diocesan 175th anniversary Mass for the Vicariate of Southern Cattaraugus.

Deacon Matthew Wenke and Bishop Michael W. Fisher prepare the celebrate the Eucharist at the Southern Cattaraugus Vicariate Mass on Aug. 11 at St. Philomena Parish in Franklinville. (Photo by Jennifer Forney)

Bishop Michael W. Fisher celebrated the Mass in honor of this significant diocesan anniversary. This Mass is the third in a series of special Masses that will reach every vicariate in the diocese.  The Aug. 11  Mass celebrated the churches in the Southern Cattaraugus vicariate that include – in addition to St. Philomena – St. Bonaventure, Allegany; the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, Olean; St. John, Olean; Holy Name of Mary, Ellicottville; and Our Lady of Peace, Salamanca.

Bishop Fisher welcomed his fellow priests, altar servers and all in attendance and said he had an enjoyable ride, yet a circuitous journey to Franklinville.  “I am so glad to celebrate with you tonight, but I’m not exactly sure how I did get here.” The bishop, a Maryland native, said his GPS took him down some roads where he was surprised he ended up in Franklinville.

Following a reading from Ezekiel and the Gospel from Matthew, the homily was delivered by Deacon Matthew Wenke, from St. Mary of the Angels. 

“In today’s Gospel, we learn of a king’s outrageously generous and merciful act of forgiving his servant a significant monetary debt. Then the servant is outrageously ungrateful for the mercy and forgiveness he’s received as he selfishly refuses to pass along to another servant that compassion he was given,” Deacon Wenke explained.

“Let’s think how receiving forgiveness in compassionate mercy as individuals and as a church. At this Vicariate Mass let’s ask ourselves whether this thing of extending and receiving forgiveness and mercy has special meaning for us as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Buffalo, and we notice and appreciate the many mercy-filled blessings we’ve received from God,” he continued.

“Decisions and policies made by individuals and leaders of Church institutions and agencies have not all been holy or inspired by unselfish or wholly innocent motives, and as the Church we made some serious mistakes and questionable decisions,” Deacon Wenke said. “In the future we will still struggle as a Church made up of powerful individuals throughout the 21st century and beyond. But we take courage and gain confidence in the reassuring elements of today’s Gospel. Our God is not jealous, and  infinitely merciful, and our savior forgives us commensurately for how forgiving we are of others.” 

“Accepting forgiveness has always come easier to me than to forgive. However, as my life has progressed, it has become easier to forgive as I become more and more aware of my own faults from the gentle, and not so gentle, feedback from family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. The more we become aware of our own imperfections, the easier it becomes to cut others some slack,” he continued. 

“Our mission is to teach one another to share the love and compassion we’ve received. Over the past 175 years, our vicariate in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has worked hard to share God’s love, mercy and compassion. When the diocese started out in the 1840s we were a wilderness. Our people, including immigrants, the disabled and orphans suffered from lack of medical care, rampant poverty, poor roads, permanent transportation issues and infrequent epidemics. The few local pastors and Franciscan missionaries were sometimes replaced every year or two due to fatigue and trauma from the troubling situation they faced. Many times, in our local history it might appear that our mission might be extinguished,” Deacon Wenke said.

Deacon Matthew Wenke speaks about compassionate mercy during a homily at the Southern Cattaraugus Vicariate Mass in honor of the diocese’s 175th anniversary. (Photo by Jennifer Forney)

“However, like a phoenix, the Church had to rise again, and again, literally from the ashes of frequent fires, floods, natural disasters, and the daunting complications of fluctuating poverty from increasing uncertain economic conditions. It appears we still haven’t achieved immunity from this cycle.” 

“This theme seems to be a regular element of the history of the kingdom of God in our vicariate,” the deacon continued. “In 1909, the church burned in Ellicottville and literally while the ashes were still red hot and smoldering, the pastor was saying Mass in the courthouse across the street so that parishioners wouldn’t miss the chance to receive the sacrament that day.”

“We must pray always that our churches in this vicariate are effectively living out with integrity and authenticity the compassion called for in today’s Gospel. We feed the poor through Catholic Charities, and the Warming House, our soup kitchen in Olean, and via Catholic food pantries throughout the vicariate. We accompany grieving people in their journey to heal through support groups and we visit and comfort the sick in their homes. And in hospitals via pastoral care, and we visit and encourage those in prison via prison ministries. We accompany the poor and disadvantaged all through their lives.”

“Think of 175 years of the Catholic Church in Western New York, helping each and all to be touched by God’s love in some way,” he said. “People who give generously through their donations to the Church, and by their prayers. Every single one of us is needed in this mission. And we can’t do it without everyone.”

“We’re not perfect. But with God’s grace, we’re trying to be the best we can be … humble, grateful, compassionate, and merciful just as we are called to be in today’s Gospel,” Deacon Wenke concluded. 

The next 175th Anniversary Vicariate Mass is the Allegany Vicariate to be celebrated at Immaculate Conception Church, Wellsville, on Sunday, Sept. 18.

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