Altar servers picnic in Reston

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Aug. 10, the day of the annual Arlington Diocese altar server picnic, started out with gray skies and a threat of rain. That gloomy forecast didn't stop more than 280 people, including altar servers, seminarians, priests, families and chaperones from coming to Lake Fairfax Park in Reston to honor boys and girls who serve their parishes.

The picnic is organized by Father Joel D. Jaffe, Arlington diocesan vocations director. Father Jaffe said it's a job that he couldn't do without the help of local Knights of Columbus councils and parish chaperones.

Bob Canter, a Knight from the St. Joseph the Worker Council No. 14516 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington, sees his volunteering at the picnic as a ministry.

Parish chaperones are key to the event's success. Many have volunteered for years.

Deacon Steve Clifford from St. John Bosco Church in Woodstock has chaperoned for four years and brought 11 altar servers. He said the boys love the picnic, and he and the other chaperones enjoy the time spent with other parish leaders.

And the altar servers are enthusiastic about socializing with fellow servers.

Mark Ostrand from St. John Bosco Church in Woodstock said he enjoyed meeting other diocesan altar servers.

Paul Roberts, also from St. John Bosco, said, "I've just recently become an altar server. I came to be with other servers from the diocese."

Larry Cerruti, a Knight from Cathedral Council No. 6790, has been managing the picnic logistics for many years. He knows the numbers - 240 hot dogs, 364 hamburgers and about 600 soft drinks were bought for this year's event. And the food is a big draw.

"This is fun," said altar server James Murray from St. John the Beloved Church in McLean. "I'm looking forward to lunch."

But the biggest attraction was Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. When he arrived, servers and their families gathered to shake his hand and have their picture taken with him.

His arrival also signals the start of lunch, and after the bishop's blessing, and his usual "buon appetito," servers rushed to load their plates with food.

This year, Cerruti added a new communications device - a whistle - and he blew it with impunity at appropriate attention-grabbing times. When the servers heard the whistle and Cerruti's booming voice, they knew something was up.

The final whistle came after lunch to signal the door prizes. The contest is open only to servers, and they rushed to the table where Bishop Loverde was stationed with a plastic jug of tickets held by Father Jaffe.

Cerruti held up each prize - baseballs, footballs, basketballs and fishing poles - as the bishop reached deep into the bucket, swirled the red tickets and picked a lucky winner. The altar servers ran to the front and took their prize and the congratulations of the bishop.

The grand prize was a $100 gift card. This year's winner was Bobby Annunziato, 13, from St. William of York Church in Stafford.

After the drawing, altar servers and their families left Lake Fairfax Park fortified by food and inspired by the bishop to serve their parishes in the coming year.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015