On the feast of St. Nicholas, Cardinal Dolan welcomed the 765 guests to the 72nd annual Cardinal’s Christmas Luncheon, which he termed the official opening to the Christmas season in New York.
The cardinal credited the line to his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan, whom he said always claimed the luncheon had special standing that ranked it above the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.
“All of this is about a little baby who was born away from home, so that refugees, travelers and immigrants would always feel close to him,” the cardinal said at the Dec.6 luncheon, held for the first time in the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan.
The luncheon benefits the women and children served by the agencies and programs of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York in association with the archdiocesan Ladies of Charity.
“There was no place for him at the inn, so he would know what the homeless go through,” the cardinal said. “It was at midnight because his birth was to shatter the darkness, and those in the shadows of depression, addiction and imprisonment still crave his light. He was born in the cold, so that those who lack the warmth of love and the tender embrace of family could come near him in the stable.”
“Catholic Charities continues to welcome the refugees, serve the homeless, heal those in the darkness of addiction and embrace the troubled,” said the cardinal, crediting Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, as well as board members and staff who make the 100-year-old organization so effective.
The luncheon honorees were Robyn Moreno, co-president of Latina Media Ventures, who received the Christmas Angel Award, and Victor and Tara Menezes, recipients of the Spirit of St. Nicholas Award.
The Menezes are parishioners of St. Augustine in Larchmont. Victor Menezes, who retired as senior vice chairman of Citigroup, was previously chairman and CEO of Citibank. He has served on the board of archdiocesan Catholic Charities for 15 years and is active with other nonprofit boards. The Menezes, who both grew up in Catholic families in India, were married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1975 and are the parents of four and grandparents of five.
Victor Menezes, in accepting the honor, regaled the crowd with poetic verse he titled “The Spirit of St. Nicholas” and offered “with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.” One of its rhyming lines was, “Catholic Charities helps people with respect and grace, as you would want to be treated if you were in their place.”
Ms. Moreno, in her acceptance remarks, spoke about how she was personally at a low point one year ago, due to her older sister’s health issues and an unsettled professional life. As she was driving near home in Cold Spring one Sunday evening, she experienced “a deep sense of sadness” that caused her to call a close Catholic friend for spiritual guidance. He advised her to drive to the closest church and begin to pray. “I prayed to God. I said, ‘God, I feel very empty, can you please fill me?’”
“I felt the Spirit with me, God was there. I felt like I was cradled in the hands of God. I left that church, but the church did not leave me,” she said. “The sanctuary I felt there, I’ve carried that with me. It’s made a profound difference in my life.”
In her role with Latina Media Ventures, she said she feels honored to work “on behalf of my community.” Her sister journeyed from Texas to form part of a vocal cheering section for Ms. Moreno.
Near the end of the luncheon, children from St. John Chrysostom School in the Bronx formed the Christmas tableau as Cardinal Dolan narrated the Gospel reading from Luke. The St. Raymond School Choir, also from the Bronx, sang the closing hymn, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Mary Buckley Teatum, president of the Ladies of Charity, told CNY that the luncheon’s place early in the Advent season “is a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas.”
“It brings everyone together,” she said.