DELRAN — Bishop David M. O'Connell stood in front of a packed auditorium of students, teachers and community members at Holy Cross Academy and told them the importance of good news.
"In our gospel, in our community of faith, good triumphs over evil," he said in his homily during Monday's Mass. "That's the good news we hear today."
"Catholic schools are a very important part of the good news," added O'Connell, bishop of the Diocese of Trenton.
O'Connell was on hand to help the Route 130 school kick off the annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week, which runs through Saturday.
"Every year we celebrate Catholic Schools Week. It's something I believe in. I spent my whole life in Catholic schools," O'Connell said after the Mass. "To come and experience what these kids are experiencing is really a joy to me. I just love being with them."
After the Mass, O'Connell took the opportunity to eat lunch with 10 students.
Senior Rachel Benson said she enjoyed the personal experience with the bishop.
"I was glad that I got picked to have lunch with him," she said. "It's been something that I've always wanted to do. I've gone to Catholic school my whole life, and it was really nice getting to talk with him."
For freshman Kyle Holler, being able to meet the bishop meant a lot, as he would like to follow in his footsteps.
"It was a great experience," he said. "I actually want to be a priest when I grow up."
The national event, which began in 1974, traditionally takes place the last week of January. This year's theme is "Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service."
Holy Cross students will spend the rest of the week celebrating one another as well as helping out the community. On Tuesday, they will put together utensil packages for Cathedral Kitchen, a soup kitchen in Camden. Wednesday is Teacher Appreciation Day, Thursday is Student Appreciation Day, and the school will host a Special Olympics basketball clinic on Friday.
Among the local elementary schools that attended Monday's service at Holy Cross were: St. Paul in Burlington City, St. Charles Borromeo in Cinnaminson, St. Joan of Arc in Evesham, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Maple Shade, St. Mary of the Lakes in Medford, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Moorestown, Sacred Heart in Mount Holly, Pope John Paul II in Willingboro, and St. Raphael in Hamilton in Mercer County.
Last Sunday, St. Paul kicked off its Catholic Schools Week with an open house and video podcast from two parents, who interviewed local guests and students. Parents and community members can attend open houses throughout the week as well as a special breakfast for grandparents on Friday.
Our Lady of Good Counsel is celebrating Mass on Wednesday and holding a Green and Gold Spirit Day on Friday. Sacred Heart started off its week with a living rosary on Monday.
At St. Mary of the Lakes School, students are participating in a special assembly on Tuesday before celebrating their benefactors on Thursday and faculty on Friday.
Celebrating good news this week was O'Connell's main message to all the schools during his visit.
"Evil catches our attention more quickly than the good," he said in his homily. "Sometimes it's hard to see the good news."
O'Connell emphasized that the students should try to find the good, especially this week, through creating relationships with classmates and serving their community.
For students like sophomore Jacob Richardson, that means being more thankful for his teachers.
"I think it's mostly the teachers," he said. "The teachers make Catholic education a lot better."