- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2012

As D.C. resident Orlando Olmo looked around the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Tuesday, he stopped to take in the scene.

“There were people from all colors and walks of life,” he said. “It was beautiful and a little bit more elaborate than the regular Masses through the year.”

Mr. Olmo was one of the thousands of people who packed the Catholic church in Northeast Washington on Christmas to celebrate Mass, which was led by the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl.

The 72-year-old cardinal called on Catholics to honor Jesus’ birth by remaining faithful to God even during their most difficult times.

“Each one of us needs to be reassured that God cares for us, that God is concerned for each of us,” said Cardinal Wuerl, who referenced the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., as a crisis to overcome. “Even in the face of such terrible tragedies as we have witnessed we need to understand that God is with us.”

A processional makes its way to the altar as Catholic Cardinal Donald ... more >

Celebrants packed the basilica for multiple services on Christmas Day, filling its 3,500 seats while leaving hundreds more people to stand along the building’s marble walls.

Cardinal Wuerl presided over the noon Mass, which attracted the largest crowd, leading celebrants through a nearly two-hour service that included prayers, hymns and receiving of the Eucharist.

Clergy, staff and volunteers at the 91-year-old facility, which is the nation’s largest Catholic church, also hosted a Christmas dinner on Tuesday that was expected to attract about 1,400 people. Volunteers delivered meals to needy residents in the District and its Maryland suburbs.

The triumph of good over evil was a repeated theme during Tuesday’s Mass, as clergy made multiple references to the shooting in Newtown by offering a prayer for its victims and painting it as a tragedy that people can overcome with God’s help.

Mr. Olmo said crime and tragedy have been on his mind often of late, in the wake of national events and a recent killing near his Northeast home, but he added that Mass was a reminder of the good that exists in the world.

“Crime is so oppressive to the heart, but I’m glad that these things are available,” he said. “It helps you balance things and gives you a positive outlook. Don’t lose hope. There is hope.”

As celebrants departed from Mass on Tuesday afternoon, many of them were in high spirits, discussing the service’s themes, taking pictures outside the massive basilica and chatting with family and strangers alike.

Sarah Diagne of the District said she often attends Mass at the basilica, but that she considers it especially important on Christmas.

She said that while humanity has yet to fully realize the lessons taught during Jesus’ life, she still thinks there is hope.

“He came down from the heavens to show us the way, so we can live in peace and harmony,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll get there one day.”