Dolan Held Christmas Eve Mass For Inmates At Rikers Island

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Timothy Cardinal Dolan was to lead midnight mass on Christmas morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and in the hours beforehand, he said the lead-up to this holy time can be hectic.

As WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dolan acknowledged that while Christmas is joyful, the weeks ahead of the holiday are almost inevitably stressful.

“Holy Mother Church is wise because she said ‘get all this stress and all this preparation and all this frantic readiness over during advent so that once Christmas comes, you can truly have a silent night. You can begin to just sit down and take a deep breath and savor what’s important in your life; your faith, your family, your friends,'” said Dolan.

Dolan said Midnight Mass is a very big moment for the cathedral and for him.

“As I walk in and we go to the crib – and of course, the crib, the manger is empty. And I have the honor of placing the baby Jesus, the savior of the world, into that crib. And I make that a special prayer, the emptiness, the franticness, the frantic pace of my life, the yearning that I got deep within, that hole that I have to admit, that all of us have to admit is at the deepest part of our being – let the gift of Jesus fill that,” Dolan told Lamb.

Dolan said that brings peace and centers and focuses him.

As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, Cardinal Dolan presided over a special Christmas Eve Mass for some inmates at Rikers Island Tuesday.

The New York Archbishop offered some meaningful words for men looking for some hope this holiday season.

“It’s always difficult to be in prison, but especially at Christmas time,” Dolan told the inmates. “Even though you might feel sad and homesick and alone and discouraged on Christmas, you remember God is with us.”

Crowds from all around were out ahead of time for the mass. As 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported, Cindy’s parents recently died, and she decided to come to New York from Atlanta to attend mass at St. Patrick’s.

“This is our first time to be in New York City for Christmas, and we love Christmas. It’s our first time for the holidays without both my parents being with us, and so we decided to get away and come and celebrate someplace with lots and lots of people,” she said.

Penny Pepe of Harrison, N.J., never misses a Christmas midnight mass at St. Patrick’s.

“We come here every year,” she said. “My mom brought me when I was a kid, and I brought (my son) when he was a baby.”

Services were also held at churches of various denominations across the Tri-State Area. At St. William the Abbot Roman Catholic Church in Seaford, Long Island, it was a time of faith, reflection and celebration.

“It’s such a joyful time and it gives us a chance to remind people to celebrate the birth of Christ,” the Rev. Robert L. Hayden told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco.

But above all, it was a time of togetherness.

“It’s very special to be here with my brothers and sisters and families, and some people don’t have that opportunity,” said Dominick Raffaele.

A variety of different offerings were available at churches across the area. Worshipers were treated to music and performances at the historic Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, and guests enjoyed a lively performance of the Christmas story at Marble Collegiate Church in the Flatiron District.

At the Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, an afternoon service was held for children and families with a Christmas story retelling, and carols, anthems and scripture readings followed in a service later in the evening.

Earlier in the day, Cardinal Dolan made a point to visit Rikers Island. He has visited a correctional facility around Christmas for each of the last three years.

Dolan said the visits are as meaningful to him as they are to the inmates he prays with.

“I pray with you and for you and I pray with and for your families,” said Dolan.

The audience may have been a bit more eager for words of salvation than at a usual mass, Brennan reported.

“Traditionally, faith and religion is a very important part of the renewal and the reform and the rehab that we hope goes on,” said Dolan.

Dolan said the inmates were reminded of the goodness of the season, with the hope that it stays with them far beyond the holiday.

“My Christmas wish is that probably the humility, the innocence, the hope for forgiveness and mercy and a fresh beginning that I experience in these prisoners here on Rikers Island would be all of ours,” he said.

About 100 inmates attended mass Tuesday. Cardinal Dolan made it a point to personally shake the hand of each one of them.

And thousands of miles away in the Vatican, people from around the globe gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve with the pope.

Pope Francis walked up the main aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica and was greeted with a sea of smart phones, hundreds of people trying to capture an image of the pope on his first Christmas Eve Mass, Brennan reported

Many worshipers weren’t able to get inside the Basilica and instead gathered at St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis may be popular but his emphasis has remained on the plight of the poor.  During his homily he noted Jesus’ humble beginnings, Brennan reported.

The new pope is known for doing things his own way, such as riding in a simple car, or being accessible to the public.  But this Christmas Eve, the Catholic Church’s newest pontiff kept with the traditions carried out by popes for hundreds of years.

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