||Three of the 21 ‘Belles’ from St. Mary Parish in Milton who attended the Apostolate to the Handicapped Christmas Mass and Party enjoy their dinner December 3 in Monroe. For more photos of the event, click here. (Catholic Herald photo/Sue Klamer Barry)
MONROE -- On Saturday, Dec. 3, despite the rainy weather outside, a beautiful time of sharing, celebrating, and entertaining took place at the Apostolate to the Handicapped's annual Christmas Mass and dinner party held at Monroe High School.
Each year the community of Monroe, with help from many people around the diocese, comes together to transport guests to and from the event and prepares and serves a full course Christmas dinner for over 1,000 disabled and elderly people.
Last year the Apostolate to the Handicapped organization lost its beloved director, Msgr. Tom Campion, who headed the program for over 40 years, but the traditions he started continue without missing a beat.
According to the late Monsignor Campion's nephew, Tom Campion of Chicago, "The program, including the annual Christmas dinner, will continue. My uncle created the program to last . . .. and the community of Monroe makes this happen."
Before the dinner was served, staying with tradition (except for the new translations in the Mass) Mass was offered with Bishop Robert C. Morlino presiding, along with the new Apostolate to the Handicapped Director Fr. Larry Bakke and other priests from around the diocese concelebrating.
In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Morlino started with a tribute of thanks for the late Apostolate Founder Monsignor Campion saying, "We can all be grateful for Father Campion's contributions to the handicapped."
Bishop Morlino said the first point he wanted to make in his homily is that Father Campion and now his successor Father Bakke have been used and chosen by Jesus Christ himself to help the sick and the handicapped.
Witness of those who suffer like Christ
The second point the bishop made in his homily was in reference to the Scripture message of the Mass (Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5-8) as it related to Jesus' mission of healing -- "the main thing Jesus did in his life was heal," the bishop observed.
But the fact is, he added, "People are not always healed. Some are meant to join Jesus Christ and suffer as he did."
Mother Teresa, for example, suffered as she sacrificed her life for the poor but in doing so she felt closer to Jesus as he hung on the cross. Her example of sacrifice is a shining reminder to those who think they don't need God or that they don't need to be healed. We all do, the bishop said.
"Blessed are you Lord, who blessed the broken-hearted, and blessed are you who heal the broken-hearted," he reiterated from the Scriptures. Jesus calls us all to help those in need -- the lame, the sick, and the elderly. In that way we can all take part in Jesus' mission.
"Those who suffer are a reminder to the whole world -- that suffering, that becoming incapacitated -- are being like Christ. The world needs that witnessing. The world needs that image of Christ on the cross. Many are called to share the Lord's cross . . . for that we say 'thank you' to the handicapped," the bishop said.
"Not everyone is healed," the bishop concluded. The joy of the gift of happiness even in the presence of suffering is truly a blessing and an inspiration for all of us.
"I rejoice in my closeness to all those that help the handicapped and to those who partake in the celebration of life, despite the difficulties. We go on with a smile and we do so with peace, love, and joy. Thank you for sharing your splendid joy with us this morning."
Volunteers bring beauty of Christmas
Bishop Morlino's homily set the tone for the rest of the event. Families worked together to bring this celebration to the less fortunate and to those in need.
Young and old worked side by side to bring the traditions and beauty of Christmas to many who might otherwise slip through the cracks of society and miss out on the celebrations and activities of the holidays.
The attendees were entertained with music, Santa Claus' appearance, and the beauty of Christmas trimmings from the lighted Christmas tree to a special gift of an ornament from the Apostolate to the Handicapped program.
The Mass was celebrated with the Diocesan Choir singing the songs and the Monroe High School Band performing. Yellow poinsettias decorated the altar area and the trimmings were festive and bright.
Celebrating God's love
Father Bakke humbly thanked everyone for attending the event, including all those who helped cook and serve and give of their time in many different ways.
In this letter to the attendees, which appeared in the event program, he said, "During the Seasons of Advent and Christmas, we are especially reminded of God's promise of Emmanuel -- to always be with us. God is with us in the challenges of life that we face each day, and in our joyful moments, like today. What a gift for us to gather from across the Diocese of Madison to celebrate God's love, and to be nourished and inspired to continue to be conduits of His love to others, wherever we may be."
The smiles and handshakes and hugs of all the people present at this event truly told the story of Christmas: of giving, of sharing, and of loving each other.