By Richard Meek
The Catholic Commentator
Perched atop a meandering crescent of the Mississippi River sits St. Gabriel Church in St. Gabriel, the river is a welcome mat to one of the oldest and historic churches in the state.
The community was founded in 1768 and by 1771 the original church was completed, a structure still standing although the invading river has forced relocation of the building on several occasions.
Bishop Michael G. Duca, center, celebrated the 250th anniversary Mass at St. Gabriel Church in St. Gabriel on May 19. Pastor Father Charlie Landry, right, concelebrated the Mass, and was assisted by Deacon Kirk Duplantis. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator
Current parishioners, many of whom are descendants of original settlers who were exiled from Nova Scotia, filled the church on May 14 as Bishop Michael G. Duca celebrated Mass, kicking off the parish’s 250th anniversary celebration, which will conclude with a grander event Feb. 2, 2020.
Bishop Duca began his homily addressing the Scripture readings, calling Jesus the ark of salvation that “renews us. He is the covenant of love.”
“Some 250 years ago, (Acadians) brought that ark of salvation to this place, a place people could gather in Christ,” he said. “Christ was the one who kept us protected.”
Bishop Duca told the congregation that “we are the ancestors. We are the ones who benefitted from that. All of us benefit from the work they have done to build this place, to build this church, to build this ark of salvation, where we can come in contact with Jesus Christ and all of the saving grace he wants to give us.
“It’s a great tradition to know we have that kind of stability and roots in the ground here.”
The bishop also pointed out the early Acadians saw the St. Gabriel area as a place of value, as a place of not only getting away from the world but also a place to strengthen their faith and go out and transform the world. He said St. Gabriel grew and was strengthened “precisely because of the sacrifice and the dedication and the faithfulness of the people before us who were witnesses to Christ.”
“The ark is not just something to keep us from the world,” he added. “It’s a place where we can gain strength and weather the storm. We are called to go and transform the world and make a difference in the world. Amid the chaos bring Christ to calm the chaos, and more important today to bring hope into the world where hope has been lost.
“Maybe that is the most important message today.”
Bishop Duca challenged parishioners to evangelize and invite those unchurched to come witness what the Catholic Church has to offer and ask them if they would like to be a part of it. He said that is the mission of the church, and that as Catholics “we are the missionary disciples.”
“Think about it this way – think about all of the things you learned in church that make you a good Catholic. Now, if you think about all of those things, would one of them be bringing someone to Christ?” he said. “Bring someone to become a member of the church? Did anyone tell you that was part of your mission as a Catholic? Probably not.”
He also encouraged parishioners to take this anniversary year to evangelize themselves. He said he would like for each parishioner to tap into that missionary spirit, to see the ark of Peter, the ark of salvation.
“Build that foundation deep so this church, this ark of Christ, for another 250 years will proclaim and live the light of Jesus Christ by proclaiming with our words and our lives.
“I pray during this anniversary year that you appreciate the tradition of faith and more and more make you witnesses of Christ in the world,” Bishop Duca said.
The community gathered for a luncheon following the Mass.
St. Gabriel was founded in 1768 and the original church, above, was completed in 1771. The church still stands although shifts in the Mississippi River have forced the building to be moved on several occasions.