About 500 graduating eighth graders from Catholic schools convened at St. Mary Cathedral in Portland March 22 for a Mass and blessing as they head to high school.
"Let's pray together for a good conclusion to our academic year," said Msgr. Patrick Brennan, pastor of the cathedral. He welcomed the students before Mass, giving them a quick tour of what he told them was their church.
"A cathedral is everybody's home," said Msgr. Brennan, who pointed out stained-glass windows showing saints from North and South America.
This was the fourth annual eighth grader Mass. A handful of pastors from parishes with schools attended.
"We give thanks for the blessings we have enjoyed throughout our years of Catholic education," said one of the prayers, read by a student.
Archbishop John G. Vlazny, celebrating his last 8th grader Mass before retiring, told students that God shows great love for them, love that comes through parents, teachers and friends.
"This is a time of transition, so we are asking God to bless you over these months," the archbishop said, walking right up to the congregation and speaking informally on the day before spring break.
He asked the students to pray for Pope Francis and urged them to attend the April 2 installation of new Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample. That's the day, Archbishop Vlazny said, that he gets to go on his own spring break and start a "very long vacation."
The archbishop, as he did from his start in Oregon more than 15 years ago, urged listeners to build up the Kingdom of God, "a world that is loving for everyone, just for everyone and full of forgiveness."
He concluded by reading the youths a prayer penned in the 16th century by St. Teresa of Avila:
"Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now."
— Ed Langlois