- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2011

The archbishop of Washington encouraged Catholics this Christmas to renew their faith and remain mindful of God’s presence in their lives.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl led celebration of Mass on Sunday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast.

The 71-year-old cardinal called on thousands of worshippers to honor Jesus’ birth by remembering the important role he plays in helping them through life’s challenges.

“We have responsibilities — some to spouses, children, family, work, jobs, vocations,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “But Christmas is the time when we recognize there’s more. There’s more to life.”

Celebrants packed the pews inside the 91-year-old church, the largest Catholic church in the country with seats for 3,500. Hundreds more stood during the service, lining the marble walls of the massive basilica.

The Mass drew a diverse group of celebrants whose ages ranged from infancy to elderly, and whose dress ranged from pressed suits and colorful hats to jeans and tennis shoes.

Nkeiruka Unaegbu of Bowie said she came with family to honor the holiday’s religious meaning, rather than its more secular aspect.

“We want to just stay focused so we can remember the reason for the celebration,” she said.

Many arrived early for the noon Mass to snap photos and gaze up at the church’s stained-glass windows and painted murals before settling in to pay rapt attention during the 90-minute service, reciting prayers, singing hymns and receiving the Eucharist.

The service began with a procession of priests, choir members and altar boys during which Cardinal Wuerl smiled, shook hands and exchanged greetings with churchgoers.

“He was shaking everyone’s hands and his joy just spread,” said Pat Schooley, who drove from Hagerstown, Md., with her husband, Dave, to attend the Mass. “It’s so uplifting. We came last year, and we’ll be back next year.”

Cardinal Wuerl delivered a 15-minute sermon focused largely on the importance of Christmas as a time to recharge one’s faith by recalling the story of Jesus’ birth.

However, he added that people should look beyond the holiday’s imagery of Jesus as a newborn in a manger to realize his greater importance and magnitude.

“This is the reason church calls us year after year,” he said. “To proclaim once more that proclamation that Jesus is truly God with us.”

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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