By Galen Holley
NEW ALBANY – A scrim of tall pines shaded the altar, and even in the late summer heat, a cool, long shadow provided relief for Mass, during which the members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish honored their patron saint.
Strong men carried St. Francis from his niche, overlooking the front courtyard. They placed him alongside the altar, as the faithful strewed bouquets of flowers at his feet. St. Francis watched over our celebration with a benevolent countenance.
The faithful sat in lawn-chairs and on blankets, some standing, some on tailgates, watching as Father Jesuraj (Raj) Xavier lifted high the Bread of Life. Here, amid nature, the saint would be pleased to see the parish celebrate the church’s highest form of prayer.
After the great commission, Aztec dancers from throughout northeast Mississippi invited all to the festivities. They danced northward, toward the delicious scent of frying chorizo and carne asada, garnished with the sharp, fresh scent of cilantro and onion.
“Today, we are part of nature, and part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Barbra Weaver, as she sipped her rusa – a drink with lime and cliantro and watched children scurrying around the midway. “As Father Raj said, St. Francis is known internationally, and we have a diversity of cultures and nationalities celebrating together, today,” Weaver said.
The lyrics of “Mexico Lindo,” rang out over the celebration. “The voice of my guitar, sings it’s joy,” sang Betty Acosta, of Tupelo, as children squealed with delight, bouncing, like popcorn, in the bounce-house, while others formed a circle for a soccer-ball kick-about.
Humble, Hispanic men sat on the ground, clustered, under shade trees. Women served food and tended beautiful children, the little ones dressed in celebratory costumes — girls in elaborate dresses, boys in starched, white shirts, with red and green neck-ties — honoring St. Francis.
The church was open for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Some ate, while others prayed and danced. Strong, hardworking men danced with their good, holy, loving women, all celebrating our respective, mutual roles in the glorious design of God. It was a good day, a holy day. We enjoyed the wonder of children, the sacredness of marriage, and the goodness of the Catholic faith.