Bishop Joseph C. Bambera carries palm branches at the start of Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on March 28, 2021. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

SCRANTON – As Laura Welde celebrated Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter on March 28, she reflected on how much has changed since Holy Week last year.

“It is a blessing because last year we weren’t able to come to church and this year we are able to come and I really missed it last year,” she said.

The Archbald woman called Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral “uplifting.” Welde is glad that the church community is able to gather in-person again even as COVID-19 continues to infect thousands of people daily in Pennsylvania.

“I think with everything going on in the world today it’s very, very important for us to have our religion,” Welde explained.

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as principal celebrant and homilist for the 12:15 p.m. Mass on Palm Sunday at the Cathedral of Saint Peter. Safety protocols, which included masks and physical distancing, were strictly enforced.

Speaking with the media after Mass, the bishop said it is extremely important for the Church to celebrate the Eucharist communally.

“It was so meaningful to be able to see as many people as we did here today, coming together. The Eucharist is meant to be celebrated as a community. While we were able to do that from afar (through livestream Masses and Catholic Television), it clearly resonates with all of our spirits to be able to join with brothers and sisters of faith to affirm our beliefs,” Bishop Bambera said.

While the bishop acknowledged that glimmers of hope are on the horizon in terms of vaccines and lower numbers of coronavirus infections, he said it is important that people not let their guard down with safety protocols. That is why this year’s Passion Narrative was shortened.

“We’ve tried to use shorter readings, we’ve tried to keep at a minimum the amount of time that we are spending together because we are still social distancing but at the heart is the same spirit and the same Eucharist that we always celebrate when we gather, so that is really what gives us hope today,” he explained.

During his homily, Bishop Bambera said that over the last year many people have struggled with questions about life, death, faith and God. The bishop turned to the Passion Narrative itself to address some of those concerns.

With the Twelfth Station of the Cross behind them, two parishioners recite The Lord’s Prayer during Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter on March 28, 2021.

“Jesus said one thing as he hung from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Abandoned by his closest followers, in the midst of his agony on the cross, Jesus questioned whether his Father had abandoned him as well,” the bishop said.

Bishop Bambera said Pope Francis addressed this idea of abandonment in his Palm Sunday homily last year.

“When we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone. Jesus experienced total abandonment…in order to be one with us in everything. He did it for me, for you, for all of us; he did it to say to us:

‘Do not be afraid, you are not alone,’” the bishop said quoting Pope Francis 2020 homily.

During Holy Week, the bishop stressed that people should not forget to focus on the example of Jesus, who teaches us by the embrace of His cross, how to discover the means to life and peace.


Pope Francis is pictured as cardinals walk in procession at the conclusion of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 28, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – A Christian life should be filled with amazement – astonishment at the son of God suffering and dying for humanity and awe at realizing how precious and loved people are in his eyes, Pope Francis said.

“Can we still be moved by God’s love? Have we lost the ability to be amazed by him?” the pope asked in his homily during Palm Sunday Mass, marking the start of Holy Week.

“Let us be amazed by Jesus so that we can start living again, for the grandeur of life lies not in possessions and promotions, but in realizing that we are loved and in experiencing the beauty of loving others,” he said at the Mass March 28.

Palm Sunday Mass, the liturgy that begins with a commemoration of Jesus entering Jerusalem among a jubilant crowd, began with a small procession toward the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica with a few dozen concelebrating cardinals and bishops walking ahead of Pope Francis.

Dressed in red vestments, the color of the Passion, they held large woven palm fronds while the reduced congregation of faithful were sitting distanced in the pews, wearing facemasks and holding small olive branches. Broadcast and livestreamed over a wide range of media, the pope preached in his homily about Holy Week marking an important time to be amazed by Jesus, who completely overturned people’s expectations.

Instead of being “a powerful liberator at Passover,” he arrives on a lowly donkey “to bring the Passover to fulfillment by sacrificing himself” and, instead of triumphing over the Romans by the sword, “Jesus comes to celebrate God’s triumph through the cross,” the pope said.

What is amazing, he said, “is the fact that he achieves glory through humiliation. He triumphs by accepting suffering and death, things that we, in our quest for admiration and success, would rather avoid.”

Even more astonishing is that he endures all this pain and humiliation “for us, to plumb the depths of our human experience, our entire existence, all our evil. To draw near to us and not abandon us in our suffering and our death. To redeem us, to save us,” the pope said.

With his love, sacrifice and salvation, “now we know that we are not alone: God is at our side in every affliction, in every fear; no evil, no sin will ever have the final word,” he said.

“Let us ask for the grace to be amazed,” he said, because not only is a Christian life without amazement “drab and dreary,” how can people proclaim “the joy of meeting Jesus, unless we are daily astonished and amazed by his love, which brings us forgiveness and the possibility of a new beginning?”

Pope Francis asked that people begin Holy Week with this sense of amazement, by gazing upon Jesus on the cross, and saying to him, “Lord, how much you love me! How precious I am to you!”

“With the grace of amazement we come to realize that in welcoming the dismissed and discarded, in drawing close to those ill-treated by life, we are loving Jesus. For that is where he is, in the least of our brothers and sisters, in the rejected and discarded,” the pope said.

After the Mass and before praying the Angelus, Pope Francis recalled this was the second Holy Week celebrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. While last year was experienced more as a shock, this year “it is more trying for us” and the economic crisis has become very burdensome.

The devil “is taking advantage of the crisis to disseminate distrust, desperation and discord,” he said, but Jesus is taking up the cross, taking “on the evil that this situation entails, the physical and psychological evil, and, above all, the spiritual evil.”

“What should we do?” he asked.

People should be like Mary, the mother of Jesus, and follow her son, he said.

“She took upon herself her own portion of suffering, of darkness, of confusion, and she walked the way of the Passion keeping the lamp of faith lit in her heart. With God’s grace, we too can make that journey,” the pope said.

The pope also asked that people pray for all victims of violence, “especially those of this morning’s attack in Indonesia, in front of the cathedral of Makassar.”

At least 14 people were wounded in what police suspect was a suicide bomb attack outside the cathedral. As of March 28, no group had claimed responsibility for the bombing.


Volunteer Mary Ann Wills prepares bags of food to be given out during a special Easter food distribution at Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen and Food Food Pantry in Wilkes-Barre March 30. (Photo/Dan Gallagher)

“Food is not a luxury, it is a necessity”

WILKES-BARRE – Just five days before Easter, Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen and Food Pantry opened its doors to the community for a special holiday food distribution on March 30.

“A lot of people are struggling. We’re here to help them and support them,” Kitchen Director Mike Cianciotta said. “Food is not a luxury. It is a necessity.”

The Easter food distribution was open to anyone in need, no pre-registration was required. It took place at the Kitchen and Food Pantry property on East Jackson Street.

Volunteers Mary Ann Wills and Bill Leonhardt assisted members of the community that came looking for help.

“I feel like I’m doing something to help somebody that needs help, rather than sitting at home on the couch,” Wills said. “This is eye-awakening down here when you see the people coming through that are needy in the community.”

“They are so grateful to be getting something. It does me good (to help),” Leonhardt added.

The food distribution lasted from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Individuals and families were given ham and other essential items to help them cook an Easter feast at home.

“They’re going to have a nice Easter dinner that everybody should have,” Wills explained.

The special Easter food distribution held on March 30 comes in addition to meals served at the kitchen every day of the year, including holidays.

On Easter Sunday, April 4, Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen will provide an Easter dinner to anyone in need. The meal, which will be served in to-go containers, will be a ham dinner, including a starch, vegetable and dessert. There will also be assorted fresh fruit that clients will be able to take home.

The Easter dinner at Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen will be served from 11:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., which is the same time that meals are served on a daily basis.

In addition, Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen plans to reopen its clothing room to the public on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. The clothing room will be open on Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

“We will only be able to allow two or three people inside at a time, with masks and physical distancing measures, but we want to get it open to help people for summer,” Cianciotta said.

Anyone who has spring or summer clothing that they would like to donate to the clothing room can start dropping items off at Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen any day of the week between 9:00 a.m. and noon. The community is kindly asked to refrain from donating winter clothing items at this time.



Saint John Neumann senior Zach Lisi shows off 24 Easter boxes that have been shipped to military members around the world.  

 WILLIAMSPORT – The senior project of a Lycoming County teenager is having an impact around the globe.

Zach Lisi, a senior at Saint John Neumann Jr./Sr. High School, recently sent 24 special Easter boxes to members of the military stationed throughout the country and the world.

“It made me feel good to brighten their day,” Lisi explained.

The Easter boxes were filled with candy and notes of appreciation written by students at Saint John Neumann Regional Academy.

To raise money to ship the boxes, Lisi put together a “Penny War” fundraiser at his school from March 10-19.

“I put jars out in front of the office and each class put money in them. Each penny was worth one point. If you put nickels, dimes or quarters in other jars they lost a certain amount of points,” the high school senior said.

A total of $234 was raised from the “Penny War” fundraiser. The senior class raised the most money and earned a pizza party as a reward.

“I used that money to ship the boxes. People donated the candy and other items to put in the boxes,” Lisi added.

All seniors at Saint John Neumann must complete a service project prior to graduation. In keeping with the Gospel message of helping others, Lisi explained what sparked his interest in helping military members.

“I just felt bad that they weren’t home with their families so I wanted to make them feel appreciated,” he said.

The first Easter box arrived less than a week after it was shipped out.


Students from Wyoming Area Catholic School in Exeter held an outdoor prayer service on March 12, 2021, marking the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down schools in 2020. Students are shown spacing themselves according to health guidelines. (Photo courtesy: Tony Callaio, The Sunday Dispatch)

 EXETER – Exactly one year after transitioning to distance learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students from Wyoming Area Catholic School came together in-person on March 12 to mark the anniversary with a prayer service.

“It was beautiful. It was a chance to reflect and that was the whole point, focusing on where we’ve come and where we’re going and that we are so lucky to be in school now and look at what we’ve accomplished,” principal Eileen Rishcoff said.

Rishcoff said teacher Toni Griseto first suggested marking the anniversary with some type of event filled with hope. School administrators and teachers quickly settled on holding a prayer service. Initially, the event was going to be held inside the school gym but that is when the weather warmed up and they were able to go outside.

“The fact that it was such a beautiful day, it all fell into place. I’m a true believer that God intervenes and we were able to go outside,” Rishcoff added.

Wearing masks and remaining six feet apart, the students all came together on the front lawn of Wyoming Area Catholic School.

The prayer service was actually the first time all 146 students came together for an event in the last year.

“We’ve kept everybody in their own classrooms for the whole year, lunches and everything and this was the first time they were all together anywhere for the whole school year,” Rishcoff explained.

“When I mentioned that, they all started cheering.”

In addition to the prayer service, students also spent time in their religion classes reflecting on how “good things” can come from something that is “bad.”

The gathering of students was visible to many drivers passing by the school. That is because the former Saint Cecilia Church’s abandoned convent, rectory and garages were razed earlier this year.

The demolition has made the school much more visible.

“Our school is beautiful and nobody even knew we existed back here!” Rishcoff joked.


Pictured is the Saint Joseph Altar in the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton depicting the death of Saint Joseph surrounded by Jesus and Mary. During a Mass on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph on March 19, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera encouraged the faithful to give thanks for the example of Saint Joseph’s life and his trust in God’s plan.

 SCRANTON – Saint Joseph was a simple, quiet and humble man who listened carefully to the voice of God and we should all give thanks for the example of his life, his faith and his trust in God’s plan.

That was the message Bishop Joseph C. Bambera delivered in his homily during a Mass celebrating the Solemnity of Saint Joseph on March 19, 2021 at the Cathedral of Saint Peter. The Mass also served as the ‘Closing Mass’ for a Year of Saint Joseph celebrated in the Diocese of Scranton, which began exactly one year earlier.

“It is not at all by coincidence that while we in the Church of Scranton have dedicated this past year to Joseph, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, on behalf of the universal Church, dedicated a year to him as well,” the bishop said.

As the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and caretaker of Jesus, the bishop said Saint Joseph’s life speaks to our lives as well.

“Saint Matthew, in the opening chapter of his gospel, lays groundwork for the birth of Jesus. He reminds us that when Mary was engaged to Joseph – but before they lived together – she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was rightly confused about this and wanted to divorce her quietly, when suddenly an angel appeared to him in a dream saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife,’” Bishop Bambera said. “These are key words in the life of Joseph, ‘Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.’ With these words, God entrusts to Joseph – the carpenter of Nazareth – the mystery of salvation.”

As the result of Saint Joseph’s openness to embrace the mystery of God’s plan, Bishop Bambera told the faithful gathered at the Cathedral that Joseph grew as a man of faith and found himself committed to his vocation.

“Saint Joseph teaches us so very much about our lives in relationship to God, doesn’t he?” the bishop asked. “Despite the fact that not a single word spoken by this great saint is recorded in the scriptures, he speaks eloquently through the example of his life, his faith in God, his generous embrace of his vocation as husband and father and his care for the lives entrusted to him by God.”

Bishop Bambera also mentioned Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), that was released in late 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. In his letter, the pope explained how Saint Joseph, who lived in the shadows of the Holy Family, is like many others that often get overlooked like doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers.

In Patris Corde, The Holy Father writes, “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – and intercessor, a support, a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

As he has done numerous times of the course of the ‘Year of Saint Joseph,’ Bishop Bambera ended his homily by asking for the help of this important intercessor, simply saying, “Saint Joseph, pray for us.”

If you would like to read Bishop Bambera’s entire homily, the text is located on the Diocese of Scranton website. The Mass is also available to view on the Diocese of Scranton’s YouTube channel.


LAFLIN — A year ago, faithful followers of Saint Joseph entered into the Annual Novena to their patron and model at Saint Joseph’s Oblate Seminary with more enthusiasm than ever, uplifted by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera’s declaration of the “Year of Saint Joseph” in the Scranton Diocese. The devotional event proved short-lived as the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shut down the Novena halfway through.

The disappointment only heightened the resolve of devotees in 2021, who were able to return to their place of worship emboldened by Pope Francis’s proclamation in December of a worldwide “Year of Saint Joseph” to mark the 150th anniversary of the foster father of Jesus being declared patron of the Universal Church.

Cathy Mack was raised in an atmosphere of devotion to Saint Joseph as she recalled how the spirit of the Guardian of the Holy Family permeated her home parish of Saint Rocco in Pittston as a child.

The ethnic parish was staffed by the Italian-immigrant Saint Joseph Oblate priests, whose commitment to fostering veneration to their patron saint was also evident to Mack as a student at the former parish’s Saint Rocco Elementary School.

“We were educated to know all about Saint Joseph,” Mack said. “In our home, in our church and in our school, we were always taught that whatever the need, you ‘go to Saint Joseph.’”

Much like the many devotees of the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Greater Pittston area and beyond, Mack was over-joyed with the special designation of the “Year of Saint Joseph” by both the Holy Father and the Bishop of Scranton.

The cenacle leader of the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy and a member of Saints Peter & Paul Parish in Plains, Mack stressed, “Saint Joseph is our protector. We need him now more than ever as Father figure for all of us.”

Mary Jo Chiampi has been attending the Solemn Novena to Saint Joseph at the Oblates of Saint Joseph Seminary in Laflin for the past 55 years. Members of Saint Joseph Marello Parish in Pittston, she and her husband Anthony faithfully attended this year’s nine-day Novena at the Oblates leading up the Solemnity of Saint Joseph on March 19.

Mary Jo, who claims both the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph as her patron saints since her middle name — Josephine — honors the Holy Spouse of the Virgin Mary, said the devotion began for her as a special intention for her niece, who battled health issues since the tender age of six.

“As a little girl, my niece was diagnosed with serious diabetes,” she related. “We were praying devoutly for her condition to improve. It was 55 years ago I said to my sister-in-law (the girl’s mother), ‘there’s a Novena to Saint Joseph on the highway,’” referring to the OSJ Seminary on Route 315.

Despite a multitude of medical problems — including cancer — Mary Jo’s niece defied the odds and lived for 53 years.

“As far as I’m concerned, that was all Saint Joseph interceding for us over the years,” she said. “Prayer is what keeps us going. Our prayer is what gets us through every day.”

She was quick to attribute the power of prayer to her husband’s successful recovery from open-heart surgery years ago, and that the couple was spared from serious illness during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mary Jo is grateful for the peace and solace she finds in the intimate chapel at the nearby seminary, where the spirit of Saint Joseph is constantly present, awaiting prayerful devotion. “Prayers are answered,” she said, “and if they are not, there is a reason.”

Jim Liberski of Saint Barbara Parish in Exeter was grateful for the livestream broadcast of this year’s Saint Joseph Novena, in additon to the services being aired over JMJ Catholic Radio which broadcasts from its facilities within the Oblates seminary.

The noon livestream broadcast of the Novena was an extension of the daily Mass from the seminary chapel that has been airing online since Saint Joseph Oblate Father Paul McDonnell returned to his duties as rector of the religious congregation in the Diocese in July after serving seven years with the OSJ community in California.

“The Masses at the Oblates are very serene and you feel good about going to church during this pandemic,” Liberski said. “If I can’t make it to the (chapel) or watch it on TV, I can hear it on JMJ. The Oblates of Saint Joseph is very conducive to prayer and helps you feel God is close to you.”

A parishioner of Saints Peter & Paul in Plains, Maureen Kelly referred to the Oblates chapel in Laflin as “a special holy place with kind and compassionate priests.”

“We are so fortunate to have the annual novena to Saint Joseph celebrated in our area,” Kelly said, noting the widespread devotion to the guardian and protector of the Child Jesus and Blessed Mother.

“Saint Joseph is known as the patron saint of workers and people in our area relate to that title. He answers our prayers so often, and with this being the ‘Year of Saint Joseph’ I feel it is his time to do great things in our world.”

Kelly is also appreciative of the devotions regularly held at the seminary, including the weekly Holy Hour for Vocations and Novena to Saint Joseph and Saint Joseph Marello, the Italian bishop who founded the Oblates religious order nearly 150 years ago.

“It always makes me smile when I am riding on the highway and look over and see the beautiful grounds of the Oblates, with Saint Joseph the Worker on the building,” she added.