For 29 years, Corpus Christi parish in Aliso Viejo has celebrated Thanksgiving just like most families … with two noteworthy differences: the dinner is served on the Monday evening preceding Thanksgiving and the “family” in attendance is somewhere around 1,000 people.
This year, 60 turkeys were “adopted” by parishioners who took them home, loved them up to 165°, and returned them to the parish kitchen before dinner. As other parish families arrived, the potluck grew and the kitchen filled with all the elements of a savory Thanksgiving feast. Following a formal blessing by the Pastor, Fr. Tim Ramaekers, the parish family gave thanks for the many blessings enjoyed as individuals, families, Americans, Catholics, and members of a vibrant, faith-filled congregation.
A new element was added to the event in 2017 and was even more successful this year when 27 Marines from the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton joined the Corpus Christi family to share the feast. Most of the Marines are 18 or 19 years old and many were away from home for the first time in their lives. After parishioners drove them from the base to Corpus Christi, Marines were assigned to host families and led to dinner tables. When the Marines were introduced as a group, they received a standing ovation. Through the course of the meal and social time, each Marine was greeted by many parishioners and received a gift delivered by Cub Scouts from Pack 700 or Boy Scouts from Troop 700.
Fr. Tim talked to the Marines hosted by the Sigler family, thanked them for their service, and told them how important they were to preserving our freedom. He said in many countries of the world priests are not free to openly practice our Catholic faith and priests can be put in jail for preaching the Word of God. Later in the evening, Private Xerxes Dehghany told Larry Sigler he chose to become a Marine because “many people are not able to fight and defend their freedom, but I can, and I am doing it for those who are not physically able to defend their freedom.” He also said, “I will never forget this night.” He was overwhelmed by the gratitude and love displayed by so many parishioners. It was clear his night at Corpus Christi helped him to feel affirmed in his decision to join the Marine Corps.
At the table hosted by Mark Furlan’s family, two of the parishioners were Vietnam veterans, so there was an intergenerational service connection. Furlan added, “There was also an opportunity to share our faith. At the end of the evening we exchanged more than just contact information. We exchanged warm hugs and an invitation to stay in touch. As they were leaving, one of the Marines turned with a smile and said he was going to ask his commanding officer if he could leave base this Sunday to come to our church. What a blessing!”