Nativity Catholic Church celebrates its golden jubilee

June 14, 2023

The Arlington Catholic Herald

By Kevin Schweers

Nativity Catholic Church in Burke celebrated its 50th anniversary on the feast of Corpus Christi June 11 with a standing-room-only Mass and luncheon.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge was the principal celebrant and homilist for the Mass. He commended Father Bob Cilinski’s leadership as pastor, lauded the parish’s “vibrant and varied” 60-plus ministries dedicated to causes such as the poor in Haiti, building homes in Appalachia and  advocating for life, and reflected on the day’s solemnity. 

“We are called to go forth from this altar to be those instruments of unity in a world in such desperate need of it. Thank you for the countless ways you do that through your faithful witness and example and generous service,” Bishop Burbidge said. “We rejoice in the countless blessings the Lord has and continues to shower upon this parish and today we renew our promise that in our lives and here at Nativity the Eucharist will always be firmly believed, devoutly received and intensely lived so that one day we will be joined together as God’s heavenly family and dwell with him forever and ever. Congratulations Nativity parish and God bless you always.”

During Mass, Father Cilinski recalled the parish’s founding in 1973, one year before the Arlington diocese was established.

“We’ve sort of grown up together,” he said. “We’ve always been able to bring forth the old and the new, the best of the church’s tradition and of its renewal.”

Italian Sister Donatella Merulla of the Handmaids of Reparation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has taught religious education at the parish for 33 years. She praised the parish’s welcoming nature and considers herself a spiritual grandmother of sorts, having educated the children of those she taught decades earlier. “Today is a beautiful celebration because God is so good that for 50 years people have been worshipping at Nativity,” she said.

Jim McDaniel, a founding parishioner, recalls attending Mass at Hunt Valley Elementary School before the church was built. He traveled on a parish mission to Haiti years ago, which changed his life. He retired early from his career in the federal government and helped establish Operation Starfish, a parish ministry dedicated to supporting and encountering the poor in the island nation. 

“We have been blessed with strong and loving leaders as pastors. Every one of the pastors that I have had the opportunity to meet has really had a heart of compassion for the poor, for those right around us and those far away,” he said. “I think (of the) love and compassion they have carried to the people in the parish, and you can see it in a number of ministries, and every one is an outreach ministry.” 

“The message of today as we celebrate 50 years on this feast of Corpus Christi is a message of God’s love for us,” Father Cilinski said. “God can’t love you any more than he does. He became one of us and one with us in the incarnation.

“The Lord ‘s particular love for you is unbelievable. You need to know this,” he said. “Often times, we have trouble believing that God loves us. Jesus counters that in the Eucharist.”

“To be together for 50 years, it’s a long time,” he said. “But for people in love, time flies.”

Schweers can be reached at [email protected].