Day: April 18, 2008

With the Holy Father in Washington D.C.

The Holy Father’s pastoral visit to the United States has already been a great grace and a great blessing for us. I am particularly delighted at the Holy Father’s desire to meet with Boston survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, as I will further explain later in the blog.


I will be focusing on the Washington leg of the Holy Father’s Apostolic trip to the United States on this week’s posting.
At the welcoming ceremony held on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday morning Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush both spoke very eloquently.


Thousands of people, many Catholics, were gathered at that historic place, which is a symbol of our nation, to welcome him and to sing happy birthday to him. It was very moving.



We were very proud to see Marianne Glendon, from Boston, sitting there in the front row as our U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.


Ambassador Glendon also greeted the pope upon
the Holy Father’s arrival to the Andrews air force base

During his remarks at the welcoming program, the president stressed the importance of faith to the American people. He talked about how millions of people every day bend their knees before their maker and ask for God’s help and blessing on their lives. He underscored the importance of the religious message to the community and for the common good. Following the president’s speech, the Holy Father spoke, and it was quite obvious how much he appreciates America — our history and our accomplishments.

Then, the Lord’s Prayer and the Battle Hymn of the Republic were sung, and there was a 21-gun salute. You could see the cannons off in the distance at the end of the Mall. Also, a drum and bugle corps in revolutionary military uniforms paraded by the Holy Father.


Afterwards we were taken into the White House to greet the president and Mrs. Bush and the Holy Father was presented with a huge birthday cake.


The Holy Father acknowledged the crowd
after they spontaneously sang “Happy Birthday” to him


Happy birthday!


The Holy Father met privately with the president
at the White House

From the White House, the Holy Father went to the apostolic nunciature in his popemobile.


The enthusiasm of the people wanting to welcome and greet the Holy Father on the streets of Washington was impressive. The secret service has said there have been more people on the streets for the pope than there were for recent presidential inaugurations.




– – –

Later, I was part of the group of cardinals and officers of the bishops’ conference who had lunch with the Holy Father at the nunciature. The Nuncio had prepared another birthday cake. This time, it was in the shape of St. Peter’s Basilica and was truly a work of art.


Leaving the nunciature after lunch



– – –

That afternoon, the bishops’ conference gathered with the Holy Father to pray vespers and to hear his address to us at the crypt of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.








He was most eloquent in calling us to spiritual renewal, to deepen our life of prayer and to a renewed effort at evangelization and announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ in today’s world.


Pope Benedict answered three questions — one about vocations, another about encouraging Sunday Mass attendance and a third about the challenges of secularization in our culture. The Holy Father’s discourse and his answers were, as usual, clear and filled with that great ability to teach that he has. He is able to teach the Gospel message in a profound, theological way but at the same time in a way that is accessible.



I was happy to see so many youth everywhere we went, greeting the pope


– – –

The following morning, the pope celebrated Mass at Nationals Park stadium in Washington.


There was a great sense of reverence even though it was held in a sport’s arena. It was obvious that the people were very joyful and enthusiastic in their acclaims for the Holy Father. I found the event very uplifting.



Spanish language was often used at the Mass, and other languages were represented in the prayers of the faithful and at other moments.



Placido Domingo sang the “Panis Angelicus” at the end of the Mass and then he approached the Holy Father to kiss his ring. It was “el broche de oro” — the perfect finale — to the event.


In the first row, I could see Justice Roberts and his family sitting next to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and his wife Dorian. It was just a glorious celebration.


The Holy Father’s words were very inspiring. Once again he did talk about the need for the Church to heal the clergy abuse crisis and to express our pastoral love and concern for the victims, all of those who have suffered so much.


His talk was a beautiful call to a second Pentecost. That renewal comes through opening our hearts to the risen Christ so that we can go out and joyfully announce the risen Savior whom we have met and whom we adore in faith. It was just a magnificent homily that inspirited everyone.




– – –

In the afternoon, we gathered in the chapel at the nunciature for a meeting with the Holy Father and a group of five clergy abuse survivors from Boston. Father John Connolly and Barbara Thorp accompanied me at the meeting. I was delighted at the pope’s invitation to speak with these people.

We prayed together, and there were a few moments of silence. Then I addressed the Holy Father and told him that for us this abuse crisis has been a wound in the body of Christ. It has caused so much suffering in the life of our Church, but we welcomed him as our shepherd, representing Christ, the Good Shepherd, to help us in this process of healing and to give us his words of hope and encouragement.

Pope Benedict addressed the group and told us how this issue has weighed heavily on his heart, how he has been praying long and hard for all of those who have been affected by this crisis. He underscored the need for us to pray for holy priests in the Church.

Then, we presented him with a book of first names of victims of sexual abuse. The book had many prayers in it and the Holy Father promised he would pray especially for those whom we recorded in that book. After that, each person went forward and spoke for a moment in person with the Holy Father who in turn gave each a rosary and a blessing.

The meeting was a very moving experience for all who participated. The Holy Father knew that I wanted him to meet with survivors but I never expected it was going to happen on this trip. This was his invitation and I was delighted that it happened.

– – –

Next, we left for the magnificent talk Pope Benedict gave to the college presidents and superintendents of Catholic primary and secondary schools in the United States.



He gave a forceful talk in which he underscored the importance of education. He also praised us for the sacrifices we have made in the United States for our Catholic schools and colleges.


The Holy Father urged us to make sure that the teaching of the faith is uppermost in our educational efforts. He said that learning the faith only enhances people’s understanding of reality and that there is not a contradiction between faith and reason. He spoke about academic freedom and how freedom must be based upon truth. Then, he urged religious orders in the ministry of education not to abandon the schools and urged us all to be supportive of the Catholic schools and to strengthen their Catholic identity.

His address was magnificent and very well received by all the educators there. As I looked out at the crowd, I saw Sister Kathleen FitzSimons, our interim superintendent of Catholic schools and our new superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neil in the front row. I also saw Sister Janet Eisner, President of Emmanuel College and Dr. Joseph McNabb, president of Laboure College.


Mary Grassa O’Neil and Sister Janet Eisner.
Sister Eisner sent me this photo taken with her camera at the event.


Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell, president of
The Catholic University of America, greets the pope

– – –

While in Washington, I stayed with my Capuchin brothers at the Capuchin College friary as I often do.






This was my cell during the four years I spent at the friary years ago

– – –

On Tuesday, I met my old friend Msgr. Peter Vaghi, who is pastor of Little Flower parish in Bethesda.


With him in the photo is Fall River Father Jeff Cabral (right), a Portuguese priest studying Canon Law and living in the parish with Msgr. Vaghi

– – –

For the photo of the week, I have chosen this one showing a commemorative coin that the Holy Father gave to each of the bishops present at his birthday lunch at the nunciature.


Next week, I am hoping to blog on the rest of the Holy Father’s trip, particularly about the Mass at the Yankee stadium on Sunday. There, we will commemorate together with the Holy Father the bicentennial of the Archdiocese of Boston, together with the Archdioceses of New York and Philadelphia and the diocese of Louisville.

This Saturday, I will go back to Boston for a few hours to participate at the Men’s Conference that will take place at Boston College. If you are in the area, I encourage you to attend.

Until my next posting.

In Christ.

Cardinal Seán

April 2008