By Tim Lilley
The Message editor
Editor’s note: See a complete list of the St. Maria Goretti honorees in the March 19 issue of The Message.
For the first time since 2018, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel welcomed 48 young people and their guests to St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville for the annual St. Maria Goretti Youth Distinction Mass and awards presentation, which occurred March 7. Four of the 52 honorees were unable to attend.
Bishop Siegel concelebrated Mass with nine priests of the Diocese of Evansville, then recognized the honorees for their outstanding contributions to the lives, missions and ministries they provide to their families, parishes, schools and communities.
With St. Benedict Cathedral undergoing renovation in 2019, St John the Evangelist Parish in Daylight hosted the St. Maria Goretti Mass and award presentations. Last year, COVID-19 forced cancellation of the gathering.
Returning to St. Benedict Cathedral offered a far different look than in 2018, when The Message reported that the sanctuary “was almost standing-room-only” for the Mass and presentations. This year, COVID-19 restrictions limited attendance to the honorees and two guests. Concelebrating priests used seats on the cathedral altar, behind the baldacchino, and all were socially distanced. Honorees sat in the front section of the cathedral, while their family members and other guests were seated in the back half of the sanctuary. Like th concelebrating priests, all were socially distanced and wore face coverings.
This marked only the fourth diocesan event held in 2021 because of COVID-19. The others included the January Mass for Life, the Catholic Schools Week Mass in February, and the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, also held last month. All events had very limited attendance with social-distancing and face coverings required. Practically all diocesan events were cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Bishop Siegel encouraged the honorees to always look to St. Maria’s example of courage and faithfulness when they face struggles in their lives, when they are tempted to take the easy path and go against what they know is right.
He likened what we all are going through during Lent to the concept of spring cleaning – getting rid of the clutter and dirt that can slowly build up in our homes and workplaces. He suggested that Lent provides an opportunity for spring cleaning in our spiritual lives.
The bishop suggested that we sometimes don’t realize how the “clutter” in our spiritual lives has accumulated. He also referred to the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent (John 2: 13-15) as an example of Jesus’ work to clean clutter from the temple, not that, after Christ’s death and resurrection, he would become the new temple.
Bishop Siegel said that baptism made us temples of God, and that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a key to our ability to cleanse our spiritual lives. He noted that St. Maria Goretti’s life was joyous and hopeful, and rooted in receiving the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Bishop Siegel recounted that, during her 1950 canonization, Pope Pius XII noted that all of us are not called to die a martyr’s death like St. Maria Goretti – but we are called to pursue the way of Christian virtue.
He concluded his homily by telling the honorees that their families, parishes and the diocese are proud of them, adding that his prayer was that God would bless and guide them in the years to come.
Following Mass, each of the 52 honorees received their awards from the bishop. A unique group photo, which appears in this issue, followed the presentations.