November 16, 2011 // Local

Thanksgiving dinner at St. Matthew Cathedral conveys God’s graces

Parishioner Paul Blum carves a turkey in preparation for last year’s Thanksgiving dinner at St. Matthew Cathedral.

SOUTH BEND — “Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ, ‘We are unworthy servants.’” Luke 17:10.  — Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est.”

As Americans prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, images of family, friends and fellowship sharing a meal come to mind. But for many people, the holiday is fraught with loneliness, financial hardship or suffering. Pope Benedict’s message of outreach for helping others is especially important for those where human comfort or interaction is largely absent in their lives.

Two years ago in October at St. Matthew Cathedral, Msgr. Michael Heintz, rector, approached the parish council and suggested the idea of parishioners serving a Thanksgiving dinner to the church’s neighboring families.

“I think it is simply part and parcel of what a parish is: No parish exists simply to look inward, but should always look outward, toward the larger community. We do this as a form of hospitality to our neighbors,” Msgr. Heintz explained.

“Some may have no extended family; some may have nowhere to go; some may not have much to celebrate with,” he continued. “We simply open our doors and members of the parish provide the turkeys and all the fixings. We also hope to send food home with those who come as well.”

Becky Monnin, parish council president at St. Matthew, said because of advertising and preparation timing concerns, the council decided to wait until last year to hold the Thanksgiving dinner.

St. Matthew volunteers offer prayer before serving Thanksgiving dinner to last year’s guests.

According to Monnin, many volunteers helped in the advertising, preparation and serving of the Thanksgiving dinner. “Parish council members were asked to prepare turkeys, and the students of St. Matthew School were asked to bring desserts or volunteer time for serving the meal on Thanksgiving,” she said.

Side dishes of mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans and rolls rounded out the dinner that was served family style on platters to those attending, she added.

Volunteers canvassed the surrounding church neighborhood with invitations about the dinner, and the number of people expected to attend this year’s event are estimated to be double that of last year, Monnin noted. The dinner is free and anyone is welcome to attend, regardless if they live in the neighborhood, she emphasized.

Dianne Phillips, a parishioner at St. Matthew, looks forward to this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. “The whole event — from planning to execution — is a wonderful experience that combines work with a whole lot of fun. We get the chance to meet our neighbors by distributing invitations door-to-door in the neighborhood and then welcome them at the dinner itself. Shopping for food and preparing the meal and the tables helps us to think about the needs of others, and reflect on the reason for the day — that giving thanks to God by serving others is our calling and joy as Christians,” said Phillips.

She expressed her added joy of the fellowship at the meal. “Personally, I love the event even more because my husband and I came to the U.S. from Canada many years ago and have no family nearby. Now, instead of Thanksgiving being just a quiet day for us and our son, it feels great to be celebrating it as part of a caring community.”

Monnin concluded with the importance of outreach from the Catholic community at large. “Helping others is a way for people to give thanks for their abundant blessings. Monetary donations for the side dishes that are purchased or volunteers outside the parish are always welcomed.”

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner will be served in the St. Matthew School cafeteria, 1701 Miami St. in South Bend on Nov. 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information contact Monnin at (574) 272-0917.

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