Members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Roanoke Rapids celebrated the parish’s 80th anniversary, the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on Sunday, June 26, 2011. The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh, served as principal celebrant and homilist. The Very Reverend Pius Wekesa, Pastor of St. John the Baptist; Reverend Robert F. Shea, Pastor Emeritus; Reverend Mark J. Betti; and retired Reverend Raymond Vaillancourt, M.S., concelebrated.
Although the first Catholic church in Roanoke Rapids was dedicated in 1931, Catholics were living in the Roanoke Valley in the early 1800s. Many of them were Irish farmers, and when a priest was available, they would gather for Mass in private homes. When a church was built, in 1889, it was in Halifax. That church, Immaculate Conception, stands today, one of only two remaining churches in the Diocese built by Servant of God Fr. Thomas Frederick Price. The population drawn to Roanoke Rapids by the textile mills in the 20th century was probably the reason the church was eventually relocated. The parish is currently home to more than 200 families of diverse cultures and ages.
In his homily, Bishop Burbidge invited the congregation to “rejoice and give thanks to God for the gift of our holy Catholic faith and the abundant blessings He has bestowed upon this parish throughout these years.” The Bishop commended the parishioners for their reputation as generous caregivers.
Nineteen young men and women received the laying on of hands and anointing with Chrism, sealing them with the gift of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation. “Young friends, know how much the Church needs you,” said Bishop Burbidge. “We thank your dear parents for planting and nurturing the seeds of faith and your sponsors for accepting the responsibility of helping you to live fully the faith you profess.”
After the closing prayer, in honor of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Bishop led a Eucharistic Procession to four Corpus Christi Altars erected by the Filipino/Vietnamese, Indian, Hispanic and African American communities of the parish. “This ancient devotion is a reminder of what we too easily forget: The Lord must lead. We must follow,” the Bishop said. “We do not walk through this life alone. We will walk together in faith, as brothers and sisters united in Christ Jesus. As Saint Paul said today, ‘We, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.’”