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More Plates at the Table for Basilica's Christmas Dinner

Clifford Boakye, left, Regina Lagasca and Jennifer Rimando, holding her son, John Paul Rimando, were among hundreds of area residents treated to Christmas dinner at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the District. Difficult economic times increased the number of diners, and volunteer helpers, at the church this year.
Clifford Boakye, left, Regina Lagasca and Jennifer Rimando, holding her son, John Paul Rimando, were among hundreds of area residents treated to Christmas dinner at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the District. Difficult economic times increased the number of diners, and volunteer helpers, at the church this year. (Richard A. Lipski - The Washington Post)
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By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 26, 2008

Financial hardship brought more people this year than last to the annual Christmas dinner at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the country's largest Catholic church. But tough times brought out more volunteers, too.

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In the D.C. church's cafeteria yesterday afternoon, Bethesda resident Shannon Oussoren guided her daughter Allison, 6, and son Mark, 8, as they wobbled toward through the room serving heavy trays of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pie. The kids had received fewer presents this year, Oussoren said.

"We scaled back this year. Given the economy and how everyone's been feeling, it didn't feel appropriate" to spend lavishly, she said. "We wanted to do something on Christmas to give back, and this makes the holiday so meaningful for us."

All around the Washington region, area churchgoers attended Mass and other religious services to mark the Christmas holiday, with many taking time for acts of charity large and small.

Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl walked through the cafeteria after his noon Mass, stopping to speak with volunteers and those who had come for a warm meal and companionship.

"This is a time when so many people are suffering, and we have to remember how Christmas calls us to the spirit of hope and caring for one another," he said.

In all, the church planned to serve more than 1,400 meals this year, up from 1,200 the year before, Basilica spokeswoman Jacquelyn Hayes said.

"As need has increased, so has the number of people generous enough to give their time," she said. About 300 people volunteered this year.

One of the beneficiaries was District resident William Coates, 79. He finished his dessert and was planning to go upstairs to wait for the Spanish-language Mass, even though he barely knows the language.

Coates said he knew the ceremony so well that it wasn't hard to follow along. "I like the sound of different languages," he said.

Thousands of parishioners crowded into the Basilica for Wuerl's midday Mass, the church's eighth in 24 hours.

As clouds of incense swirled up to the towering arches and gold-painted frescos, Wuerl urged the parishioners to hew closely to the teachings of the Gospel.

"As the world around us that once seemed so sure is experiencing national economic weakness . . . it is the word of God that offers us a solid foundation to build a world of peace," he said.


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