The annual Cardinal’s Christmas Luncheon heralds the season in New York. More so than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, the “real opening pitch” of the Christmas season, as Cardinal Dolan is fond of saying, is the luncheon benefiting the women and children served by the agencies and programs affiliated with archdiocesan Catholic Charities.
The cardinal is not the first Archbishop of New York to make that claim. The 74th annual version took place at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.
“We’re aware of the darkness this time of the year. I have 7 o’clock (morning) Mass at St. Patrick’s and it’s not light yet,” Cardinal Dolan said. “The light of the day is very short. There’s darkness out there too, in the troubles, the trauma, the division, the violence, the tension we see all around us.”
The cardinal described Our Lady of Guadalupe as “a woman, a mother, pregnant with the one we believe is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.”
There was quite a nip in the air walking across midtown to the Hilton that day. The cold faded once guests stepped inside the festive ballroom, with tables beautifully appointed for the occasion. If that wasn’t enough to warm you, the singing of the student choir from St. Raymond School in the Bronx quickly got everyone in the mood.
Add in the friendly patter of Rosanna Scotto, the co-host of “Good Day New York,” who served as emcee, and made it easy to feel right at home, in a very New York City kind of way. If you’re lucky, you might even have met other boldfaced Catholic names like best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark, the luncheon chairperson; comedian Jim Gaffigan, who sat at the table in front of mine; or newly ordained Auxiliary Bishop Edmund J. Whalen, who delivered the luncheon invocation just two days after he was ordained to the episcopacy.
Guests also heard from Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, who said: “What we do here today is rooted in the lives of so many vulnerable mothers and their children. And the success today is not in the dollars raised, but in the lives touched.”
The honorees give the best remarks, and this year’s recipients were no exception. Elizabeth and Thomas Renyi, parishioners of St. Ignatius Loyola parish on the Upper East Side, took home the Spirit of St. Nicholas Award for their long support of Catholic Charities. Their fellow honoree, Mary Walsh Cashin, received the Christmas Angel Award from Cardinal Dolan.
Mrs. Cashin, who was joined by her four adult children, gave an inspiring talk focusing on the life she and her husband, Richard, shared in many countries across the globe thanks to his foreign-service career.
Her Catholic faith provided her not only with a “refuge” for their family, which now includes 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, but also an opportunity for her to put into practice her “belief in helping others.”
During a posting in Accra, Ghana, about half a century ago, she and her husband encountered a young African couple they knew that was in a frantic state about their twin baby girls, who were in failing health. The couple was on their way to a traditional faith healer, who the Cashins knew was likely to propose “one of the twins might be allowed to die to permit the other infant to live.”
At that moment, Mrs. Cashin said, “All of the lessons of my Catholic life converged. Make a connection, reach out and protect life, and improve the lives of others.” She and her husband begged the couple not to see the faith healer, promising to bring them to their own doctor the next day and committed to help feed and support the girls.
Within a short time the young girls began to thrive. They were baptized, and in addition to their African names, they were given the names of Ann and Jane, the same as the Cashins’ daughters. The families remain in touch all these years later.
Mrs. Cashin gave a lot of credit to “her guardian angel,” and now she is an “angel” as well.
The luncheon wrapped up with the cardinal reading from the Gospel of Luke about the first Christmas. Students from St. John Chrysostom School in the Bronx, dressed in costume, formed a Nativity tableau. The choir from St. Raymond returned, and sang “Joy to the World,” as a soloist from the Metropolitan Opera, Amanda Woodbury this year, led them.
Yes, the Christmas season has begun, and I was fortunate to be there to see “the opening pitch” for myself.