From Umbria to Berrima, St Rita still inspires

Richard and Joanna Andary with their priest at the St Rita shrine at Penrose Park for her feast day celebration held on 19 May. Photo: JAM Photography/Joseph Shalala

By Georgette Bechara

Hundreds of Maronite Catholics met at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy at Penrose Park, in the New South Wales southern highlands, to celebrate the feast of St Rita of Cascia on 19 May.

Despite the autumn chill, this event draws thousands of families and children every year for a Mass and food festival to celebrate this powerful intercessor’s feast day.

Attendees gathered for prayers, hymns and a procession, followed by an outdoor Mass under a marquee in front of St Rita’s mini-shrine. A first-class relic of the saint was present for all to venerate along with a black and gold embroidered replica cloak which was draped over her statue.

Devotional books dedicated to St Rita were also distributed among the pilgrims along with blessed rose petals and holy water which is traditionally blessed by Maronite priests on the feast of Pentecost.

After Mass, pilgrims enjoyed a generously catered Lebanese lunch and traditional sweets. Volunteers also made and served manoosh, traditional Lebanese-styled pizzas.

The St Rita shrine at Penrose Park. Photo: JAM Photography/Joseph Shalala

Families brought picnic rugs and chairs to spend the rest of the day in fellowship, while others made pilgrimages to the surrounding mini-shrines dedicated to other saints.

Rita was born in 1381 in the city of Roccaporena in Cascia, a republic in Umbria in Italy and died in 1457. Her feast day is 22 May.

Although the saint had a difficult life—with ill health, an abusive marriage, and the death of her children—she persevered in faith and never gave up, later becoming an Augustinian sister.

Many women in the 21st century can relate to St Rita’s life. She is now the patron saint of impossible causes, infertility, abusive relationships, widows, the sick and suffering, difficult marriages, parenthood and for those grappling with loneliness, abandonment and despair.

The day was made possible through the dedication and generosity of Richard and Joanna Andary, the event sponsors and the couple behind the construction of St Rita’s mini-shrine on the grounds of Penrose Park.

“Joanna and I have pledged ourselves to St Rita,” said Richard. “This is something that we do on a free basis every year to bring families together and to bring people closer to the church and to St Rita.”

“It is about instilling perseverance, resilience, strength, stamina, determination and the ability to execute these traits in our daily Christian lives so that we can become more faithful like St Rita.

“So many people relate to her because she was a wife, a mother, a widow and a nun. Not many saints have experienced these roles all in one lifetime.”

The couple has organised and hosted the annual St Rita festival for the last eight years with the approval of the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong, to honour the patron saint of impossible causes and desperate situations.

“Upon my first visit to Penrose Park to visit the mini-shrines of other saints, I was disheartened to find no shrine for St Rita. I prayed to St Rita, who has been very dear to my heart since childhood, and wanted to make sure that a shrine for her could be built at Berrima,” said Joanna.

Volunteers make a feast of Lebanese-style pizzas to feed hundreds of hungry pilgrims at Penrose Park. Photo: JAM Photography/Joseph Shalala

“After some small miracles along the way and divine intervention, the unveiling of the new statue of St Rita occurred on 20 November 2016. The statue was sculpted from a stone in Lebanon and brought to Australia via Emirates airline. We then gradually worked on creating the shrine for St Rita and bringing families together to celebrate her feast day each year.”

Over the years, the Penrose Park St Rita festivities have attracted Christians from different walks of life to her intercession.

“Our intention is to strive for the unity of families and all Christians. This is the purpose of the shrine”, Richard said.

The post From Umbria to Berrima, St Rita still inspires appeared first on The Catholic Weekly.

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