Visiting the homeless and the imprisoned

Greetings of the Christmas season.

You may have noticed that like last week, I am preparing my post earlier than the customary Friday. Last week, Christmas fell on a Friday, so I blogged on Thursday. Being that New Years’ Day falls on a Friday as well, I am posting today, Thursday, Dec. 31.

As you may have heard or read from the copious news coverage, the Church has proclaimed two 20th-century pontiffs – Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII – eligible for beatification.

The recent announcement of Pope Pius XII being named Venerable was not without its controversy because of questions concerning Pius XII’s role during World War II. Obviously, as Catholics, we are very anxious to have good relations with the Jewish people and do not want to needlessly offend anyone.


The role of Pius XII has been held up for criticism by many. However, I believe closer scrutiny will certainly demonstrate that Pius XII was not anti-Semitic, and indeed did very, very much to protect Jewish people during the war.

I was in college when Rolf Hochhuth’s play, “The Deputy”, came to Broadway. It was a great media success. The story line is very compelling. It’s the story of a young priest working in the diplomatic corps of the Vatican in Germany who goes to Pius XII to tell him about the concentration camps and the extermination of the Jewish people. The Holy Father was portrayed as inept and backless, and one who did nothing about it. The priest goes back to Germany, pins a Star of David on his cassock, and marches into the extermination camps. It’s a very powerful play, but one that has unleashed a lot of calumnies about Pius XII and his role.

At a time when the United States and Britain were turning Jewish refugees away, the Vatican was hiding refugees in Castel Gandolfo, in Vatican City and in convents and monasteries throughout Italy. I feel the more facts are known, the more people are going to be comfortable with the Holy Father’s decision to advance the cause of canonization of Pius XII.

I was encouraged by a Dec. 28 article published in the New York Post in which Pius XII’s record was explained. It was written by Gary Krupp, a member of the Jewish community from Queens who has extensively studied the Pope’s role during World War II.

The article describes the key elements of his findings that have led him to defend the man he “once believed to be a Nazi sympathizer and an anti-Semite.”

Upon investigation he shockingly found Pope Pius XII to be a friend to the Jews and very critical of the Nazi regime.

Among his findings he mentions the following:

– In 1917, at the request of World Zionist Organization Director Nachum Sokolow, Nuncio Pacelli (who later became Pius XII) intervened with the Germans to protect the Jews of Palestine from extermination by the Ottoman Turks.

– In 1925, Pacelli arranged for Sokolow to meet with Pope Benedict XV to discuss a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

– In 1930, Pacelli supported the German bishops’ orders excommunicating anyone who joined "the Hitler Party."

– In 1938, Pacelli intervened to defeat a Polish anti-koshering law.

– In 1939, A.W. Klieforth, the US consul general based in Cologne, Germany, wrote a confidential letter to Washington reporting on the "extremeness" of Pacelli’s hatred of National Socialism and of Hitler.

– In 1947, at the United Nations, he encouraged the 17 Catholic countries out of the 33 in favor to vote for the partitioning of Palestine to create the State of Israel.

– A 1948 deposition by Gen. Karl Wolff, the SS commandant for Italy, revealed the Nazis’ wartime plan to kidnap the pope, kill countless cardinals and seize the Vatican.

You can read the article here.

Decisions that Pius XII made as far as denunciations, whether to do it publicly or behind the scenes, are things that people might criticize, but I think his intentions and the concrete help that he provided to rescue so many Jews (Some people would say that no one was responsible for rescuing as many Jews as Pius XII during the Second World War.) needs to be taken into account when making a judgment on this man’s character. So, I hope that the investigations will continue and that the Holy See will cooperate as much as possible. I think it is to the advantage of the Church for people to know the whole story about Pius XII. But, I feel confident it will be a very different image from the one projected by Hochhuth and his KGB cabal, which posed that play in order to smear Pius XII and the Catholic Church.

– – –

Now, I would like to share with you how I spent my Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, during the day, I went to Pondville Correctional Center and celebrated Mass for the prisoners with Deacon Jim Greer, who oversees our hospital and prison chaplaincies. Pondville’s chaplain, Mary Beth Robinson, was there and was very welcoming during my visit. Prison superintendent Michael Thompson was also very hospitable.

Following the Mass, we had a reception with the prisoners. Prisoners here are near the end of their sentences, and were sent to this prison to get ready for their after-prison life. The prison reflects the low security, and some of the prisoners are on work release. A number of the prisoners are involved in a program to train seeing-eye dogs, and to help people with disabilities. It was very moving to see how the prisoners take care of these puppies (They were mostly retrievers and black labs – very people-oriented dogs.) and to listen to the prisoners say how happy they were to train these dogs, knowing that the dogs were then going to be able to make such a difference in people’s lives. In fact, they even brought these dogs to Mass. It was a very beautiful liturgy.

Certainly, at Christmas time, people who are separated from their families and in those situations like in prisons and in hospitals, suffer a lot. In our faith, the meaning of Christmas and Jesus’ own deprivation at Christmas are signs of hope and consolation in people’s lives. It was good to see the volunteers there who provided the beautiful music and sang Christmas carols. Mary Beth decorated the chapel very beautifully.

– – –

Later that day, I went to Pine Street Inn to visit the homeless and serve them Christmas dinner.




This is the 25th anniversary of Pine Street. I was accompanied by Lisa Alberghini, the director of our Planning Office for Urban Affairs, and Msgr. Frank Kelley, Pastor at Sacred Heart in Roslindale, who was one of the founders of Pine Street Inn. Also there was Sister Kathy Green who is doing a very impressive job in the women’s unit.


We were able to meet many of the volunteers. There was a group of girls from Weston who sang at the beginning, and another group that provided Christmas carols.



There were quite a number of volunteers. In one family, there was three generations – grandparents, parents, and children – all helping to serve the meals and to be with the homeless people.



Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of the inn, and her staff are doing a great job performing this vital corporal work of mercy.


Admiring the scrumptious meal with Lyndia



– – –

At midnight, I celebrated Mass at the Cathedral.


There was a concert of musica sacra and Christmas Carols before the Mass began. We began with the Christmas proclamation. It was very well-attended. The Cathedral looked very beautiful. So many people helped to decorate it and put up the crèche.



The next morning, I had the TV Mass with the Daughters of St. Paul, which aired on Channel 7, WHDH, as well as its affiliate WLVI. This year we had a full hour for the Mass.

It was a good opportunity to reach shut-ins and a lot of other people throughout New England who were able to receive the Mass. The sisters always provide the singing. CatholicTV’s General Manager Jay Fadden and his family were there participating at the Mass.

– – –

After that, I went to St. Francis House where I had a Christmas service of the Word. Then, we sang Christmas carols and blessed the food.

Christmas dinner 2009 111

Christmas dinner 2009 126

Christmas dinner 2009 148

Christmas dinner 2009 151

Christmas dinner 2009 179

Once again, St. Francis and Pine Street are finding their resources are very, very taxed as the number of homeless people, and even those who are working but have no homes, are depending upon their services.

On Christmas night, I went to visit my family, and upon my return I was pleased to find a message from the Holy Father congratulating me on the occasion of my feast day.

My religious name, Seán, is the Gaelic form of John, in reference to St. John the Evangelist, whose feast day was Sunday, Dec. 27.

When I was a young religious novice, we celebrated our feast days in a very special way. The day before, we would kneel in the center of the refectory and the friars would serve the table but bring you food as you knelt there. But then, on your feast day, there was always a special desert. On the feast of St. John, we had the custom of blessing the wine because the legend was that St. John was poisoned. They put poison in his cup and when he blessed it, a snake came out.

This is the message the Holy Father wrote:

Your Eminence,

On the occasion on the Feast of St. John, I happily convey to you my cordial greetings and an assurance of my prayer that the Lord may sustain you with his strength and fulfill you with his peace. As a pledge of divine grace in the Lord Jesus, I willingly impart my apostolic blessing.

Benedict XVI

I was very touched and honored that the Holy Father remembered. I pray through the intercession of St. John that I will be able to be of some assistance to our Holy Father.

Happy New Year to you all!

My blessings,

Cardinal Seán

19 thoughts on “Visiting the homeless and the imprisoned”

  1. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    That’s so nice how you spent your chritmas with the less fortunate at teh Pine Street Inn. Also those were beatiful pictures of the midnight mass. Hope you had a great Chritsmas and a wonderful New Year.

    Thanks Again,
    Alex Giblin
    Grade 7
    St. Paul’s School

  2. Dear Cardinal Sean, thank you so much for keeping us readers posted on your weekly activities. They are so interesting to read. I must say that the Cathedral you served at for the Midnight Mass, was just gorgeous! I have seen some very beautiful churches before but, this doesn’t even compare to how beautiful this Church is. I also think that you are a wonderful role model. You are always willing to give everything you have to help another. The way that you went to the Pine Street in on New Year’s Eve to spend time with those people is really great. Thank you once more for writing and keeping us posted.

    God Bless You,
    Emma Hofmann
    Saint Paul School
    Grade 7

  3. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Thank you so much for posting all of the wonderful things that you do. I thought that the church looked beautifully decorated. It was nice to see all the kids volunteer at the Pine Street Inn. It was nice hearing from you.

    God Bless,
    Morgan Giblin
    Saint Paul School
    Grade 7

  4. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I am a freshman at BC High, and as a student I can safely say that our religion is a major part of the fuel that leads our daily lives. I think that having a midnight mass on New Years Eve is a great idea to welcome in the New Year with God. I would gladly attend one of these masses if it was offered at my parish, because a New Year is a wonderful thing and being at mass to celebrate it and thank God for it greatly appeals to me. Everyone there looks like they had a great time, without a giant glass ball or ice sculptures. Thank your for the great blog entry and the pictures. God bless.
    Matt Luongo
    BC High Freshman

  5. Dear cardinal Sean,
    My name is Erin Duffey and i atttend Saint Paul School in Hingham MA. I think attending the Christmas Eve dinner at the Pine Street In was a great way to spend Christmas Eve and that the people there enjoyed your presence. I think that all the people that helped with the dinner were appreciated. Thank you for letting us know how your weeks go.
    God Bless You!
    Erin Duffey
    Sint Paul School
    Grade 7

  6. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    Thank you for this wonderful blog. It was nice to see how you were helping out at the Pine Street Inn. Because of this, I have been inspired to do good as well. The Cathedral you celebrated mass at was beautiful. Thanks again for the wonderful blog.

    John Kenneally
    Saint Paul School
    Hingham, MA
    Grade 7

  7. Dear Caridinal Sean,
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! The way you spent Christmas was very thoughtful. Its sad that the prisoners can’t see their families n that special day. It is so moving to read that their lives have been turned around and they are now helping others by training seeing eye dogs! I can’t wait for your next blog.
    God Bless.
    Katie Grade 7
    Saint Paul School Hingham

  8. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    The people in the Pine Street Inn are very special, their dedication to serve the homeless is amazing. At our school we do fundraisers for the Pine Street Inn and it always leaves a great feeling in my stomach when I do something good. The volunteers at the Pine Street Inn are very humble and it goes to show that you can do anything if you work as a group. The Cathedral looked amazing it must have taken a lot of dedication for the people who decorated it. As always you have a busy week, I can’t wait to hear from you soon!
    Sally Stover
    Saint Paul School, Hingham MA

  9. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    That was very kind of you to spend your christmas helping the less fortunate. I enjoy reading your detailed blogs. I hope that you had a Merry Christmas and an excellent new year.

    Hugh Gorman
    Saint Paul School
    Grade 7

  10. Dear Cardinal Sean, I thought it was cool that you used your Christmas to visit the less fortunate at the pine street in. Were they very excited to see you; I would be if you visited me on Christmas. Well I hope you had a merry Christmas and have a great new year.

    Brendan Sullivan

  11. Thank you for talking about Pope Pius XII. I was just reading a book the other day about him. He is a great role model and definitely a person I look up to.

    As always thank you and best wishes,
    Aidan Hogan.

  12. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    The catherdal that you celebrated the midnight mass at looks so beautifuly dececorated. The creche with all of the trees with lights around it looks so amazing in the dark. It is wonderful that people used their time and talents to create it. I hope that you had a blessed Christmas and New Year. Thank you for your wonderful blog this week!
    God Bless You,
    Kathleen Ryan
    Saint Paul School
    Grade 7

  13. Dear Cardinal Seán,

    My name is Chris Flynn and I am currently a senior at Boston College High School. I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank you for the experiences you have provided for the readers of your blog. Alongside your volunteer work in the city of Boston, it is great to see a plethora of other volunteers devoted to helping others locally. In comparison to your post, I can relate as my senior class helped to organize a hunger banquet about a month ago. It truly was astonishing to see how many families and individuals go hungry in the world given the current state of affairs, let alone the growing number in the city of Boston. The freshman, for whom the banquet was provided, seemed to appreciate what they have been blessed with after a mere forty-five minute presentation. Thanks again and I wish you a healthy, happy new year.

  14. Your Emminence, Greetings from south of the great southern land of the Holy Spirit (Melbourne Australia). It is of great comfort to identify with our international catholic community. May the Good Lord bless you and your ministry.

  15. Cardinal Sean,
    Thank you for helping people learn about the real story of the great, brave work of Pope Pius XII, done at great risk to himself, for our “elder brothers” in faith during WWII. It was effective, and created lifelines of safety for the persecuted. It would have been the stupidest thing in the world to jeopardize those lifelines–and the people sheltered in Catholic institutions–by “in your face” public statements that would have stimulated the Nazis to even more radical action against the Church. Jewish leaders at the time entreated the Pope NOT to make any more public statements than he already had precisely for their own protection. The record of Pope Pius is something to be proud of, not ashamed. Few people know that even the author of the Song of Bernadette was Jewish, and he decided to write his book after he had escaped to America, because he had been sheltered by the Church at Lourdes!

  16. Dear Cardinal Sean:

    I greatly appreciate the messages that you send…Please keep doing this…It’s very valuable to me and, I’m sure, to many others…God Bless!


  17. Morning Eminence.

    I Maycon, Brazil. I read your blog for some time. Congratulations on the excellent work.

    I want your blessing and prayers for me and my chaplain of the university (Franciscan friar as Your Eminence). He was killed 30 days.

    NB. Excuse me, do not speak your language very well.

    Thank Eminence.

  18. Cardinal Sean, thank you for the comments you make on this blog
    and the stories you share with us. I found this post very inspiring about volunteering to help the homeless and I feel more inspired to do so. Also, thank you for the pictures that you share. I’m a freshman right now attending Boston college high school.

  19. Cardinal Sean, Thank you so much for the beautiful pictures and sharing the story of your holidays with us. It is very inspiring. Your comments on Pope Pius XII are very interesting. I have a degree in history and have mixed feelings about the canonization of Pope Pius XII. I do know that he helped to save the lives of many Jewish people. I only wish that more could have been saved. Happy New Year and peace and blessings to you.

Comments are closed.

December 2009

Recent Posts