Sunrise Mass on Castle Island makes a triumphant return as worshipers mark Easter outdoors


“These awful times are dark, they are bitter, they are scary. And they can leave us still and breathless,” Reverend Liam Bergin told the Castle Island crowd as the first glimpses of the sun’s glow emerged on the scene. “We think, how can I ever get up? How can I move again? But something always miraculously happens. Although the wounds never really go away, we start to see some light. We feel a joy that we never thought we would find again.

Faith, Bergin said, drawing parallels to the upcoming Boston Marathon, keeps people hopeful, optimistic for peace in a time of great conflict.

“Easter makes us run,” said Bergin, the priest-in-residence of Gate of Heaven and St. Brigid parishes in South Boston. “The good news of Jesus Christ risen from the dead brings life and hope to a world so desperately in need. Easter allows us to run when we can. Walk if we have. To crawl if necessary. But that never allows us to give up.

At Castle Island, the crowd, which gathered well before the sun Pink Sunday morning marked the triumphant return of the sunrise over Roman Catholic Mass after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Prior to 2020, the ceremony had been held here every year for three decades.

Not a beat was missed on Sunday. As bitter winds blew from Boston Harbor, some 500 attendees huddled in coats, earmuffs, hats and hoods, listening intently to Bergin’s words. The grandparents stood proudly as their grandchildren watched the sunrise over the harbor in the presence of worshipers for the first time in their young lives. A few family dogs sat eagerly, including a golden retriever who happily munched on the grass as its owners sang a hymn. Planes leaving Logan International Airport descend over water in the distance. Seagulls flew over the harbor.

This Easter morning mass is a treasured tradition for South Bostonians, some of whom have been attending since the first service in the 1990s. A few had traveled from other places, including New Hampshire, wanting to see for themselves what some describe as an experience that puts them in touch with their spirituality much more than a traditional church service.

“It’s absolutely beautiful, it’s a great end to the season,” said Jill Cox, a longtime South Boston resident. “Watching the sun rise over all the islands is a poignant way to celebrate that Jesus is risen. It is a spiritual moment.

Cox, 57, first attended mass a few years ago, “after the kids had grown up and moved out of the house.” Now, she says, it’s an annual tradition.

Others came for the first time this year. Jimmy Marks, from Dorchester, grabbed a Dunkin’ coffee and stood, enjoying the serenity.

“Even though it’s very cold here today, it’s just a great way to kick off this spiritual season,” Marks said. “Being in nature really brings it home. I will definitely be back with my family next year.”

At the start of the service, the sun, just for a moment, was shielded by a string of low clouds. But then the group of religious leaders leading the morning festivities began to sing.

“Hallelujah,” they sang. And the sun broke through the clouds.

Coats and blankets were also out in Waltham, where, in the parking lot of Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted Church, a crowd of more than 500 gathered in rows of lawn chairs for an open mass air.

Families, huddled together for warmth, bowed their heads quietly as the religious leaders of the church prayed for families in Ukraine and for peace in the world.

“Easter is peace,” said Deacon Jim Rice. “May the peace of the risen Christ heal the wounds of violence, terrorism and war. We pray for Ukraine, Ethiopia, Yemen and all other parts of the world. May God’s gift of life be precious to all. And [may] all human life is respected and protected in our country and throughout the world.

The sight of parishioners gathered in this sprawling parking lot is nothing new. Sunday marked the church’s 100th consecutive outdoor mass, a pandemic-era tradition adopted for security reasons that some say has brought the congregation closer together.

This Mass, however, had a greater significance. Easter is a day of celebration, but the suffering of the Ukrainian people was a major concern for many.

“We pray for Ukraine every week and give what we can,” said Lourdes Alvarez, 71. “But on a day like today, when we celebrate the resurrection and the sanctity of life, our hearts are heavier when we think about what’s going on there.”

Andrew Brinker can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.


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