Hello and welcome!
I want to begin this week by sharing with you a column I wrote for this week’s issue of our archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot.
I am very concerned that, in the public conversation about our world situation, many people are instilling a great deal of fear. Obviously, issues of security are very important. But, it is one thing to be concerned about our own security, and it is another thing to completely turn our backs on people who have no security at all and are turning to us for refuge.
Terrorism has taken a great toll in our world. Many innocent people have lost their lives, leaving families, friends and communities racked in pain, consumed by a sense of loss and disbelief. The victims who are killed, shot or injured in terrorist attacks are but the tip of the iceberg. The entire community is affected by these terrible events. People are fearful about travel, or gathering in large numbers. Strangers are looked upon with suspicion and whole classes of people are demonized.
One of the most pernicious effects of terrorism is that it can instill prejudices and group hatred in people’s hearts and minds. All of us are horrified by the evil perpetrated by radical terrorists, but we must not let their inhumanity rob us of our humanity. During the Second World War, Japanese Americans were herded into concentration camps simply because they were of a particular ethnic group. This very un-American reaction was spurred by people’s fear. Fear can cause us to do terrible and stupid things.
We cannot afford to be sloppy about security, but we must guard against letting the darkness of hatred and prejudice poison our own hearts. Since there are so few Muslims in our country, it is likely that there are many Americans who don’t have any Muslim friends or even know anyone personally who professes Islam. American Muslims are much less apt to be radicalized than their European counterparts. The Muslims here are economically better off, better educated and much better integrated into the mainstream. And although Muslims comprise only 1 percent of our population, 10 percent of our doctors (20,000) in the United States are Muslim. My own dentist, here in Boston, is Iranian and Muslim.
While more than 5,000 Europeans have joined the Islamic State, fewer than 250 Americans are thought to have tried to, of whom it is estimated only two dozen succeed. Almost half of the jihadist plots hatched in the United States since 2001 have been foiled by our law enforcement agencies because they were reported by suspicious Muslims who were anxious to prevent any terrorist activities. One of the most dramatic cases involved the parents of a 16-year-old youth, Ali Amin, who reported their son’s interest in IS. In August the young man was sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to fundraising for IS and helping another American teenager to join.
Christian and Muslim Arabs in the Middle East are suffering incredible hardships because of sectarian violence. Among these Arabs are our own Catholic brothers and sisters who are truly martyrs, willing to sacrifice all rather than renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis insisted on visiting Central Africa despite the heavy objections because he was anxious to call people to reconciliation and dialogue. The people there found so much comfort in his words and his presence. Peace in the Middle East and in our own country can be achieved only if people of goodwill actively seek ways to strengthen community and overcome divisions and prejudices.
This Year of Mercy is an invitation to live our faith more fully by seeking ways to reflect God’s love and mercy in the way that we treat each other. In the beautiful parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches us that the true neighbor is the one who shows mercy. In the case of the Samaritan, it was not just a matter of reacting with compassion in the face of a suffering human being, it also required him to overcome any personal prejudice or animosity that he would have felt towards the religion and ethnicity of the wounded man. The Samaritans felt rejected and despised by the people of the chosen race, and often reacted accordingly, as when they refused Jesus and the Apostles hospitality. There was a Cold War between the Samaritans and the Israelites, and so the Samaritan’s act of kindness was at the same time an act of forgiveness, an act of renouncing prejudice and group hatred. Jesus ends the parable by saying: “Go and do likewise.”
As we mull over the debate about refugees, let us remember the doors that were closed in the face of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. We must ask our leaders to be vigilant and protect our citizens, but at the same time we cannot turn our back on so many innocent people who are hungry, homeless, and without a country. I do not believe it is a matter of choosing one course over the other, we can be both vigilant and compassionate. America is truly great when we do not succumb to fear and prejudice, but rather when we walk boldly in the path of the Good Samaritan.
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As I concluded my post last week, I was still in Rome for meetings of the council advising the Holy Father. Our meetings went from Thursday to Saturday.
We were all very moved to hear the Holy Father’s account of his trip to Africa, particularly the Central African Republic, a country that has been so torn by sectarian violence and war.
The Holy Father’s presence there was a great source of hope. It was particularly striking to see him visit the mosque there and pray.
In his visit, he brought Christians and Muslims together and challenged them to work for reconciliation from peace and to resist those radical elements that are inciting people to violence.
This was our twelfth meeting as a council and, this time, we heard a report from Cardinal Sandri, the head of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. He updated us on the congregation’s activities and the work they do in the field of ecumenism.
We also reflected on the pope’s recent address on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, where he spoke about the synodality in the Church and decentralization.
As we continued to look into the next steps to reform the Roman Curia, we also spoke about matters related to the economy and Cardinals Marx and Pell provided us with insight on their work in that area.
I also reported to the council on the work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, particularly around working to develop education initiatives and providing assistance to episcopal conferences as they develop their own guidelines.
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During the time of our meetings was the funeral of Cardinal Carlo Furno, who was for many years a Vatican diplomat and also served as Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
I was among the many cardinals who attended his funeral. Of course there were many Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre present, as well.
Also during my time in Rome, the Holy Father asked me to be one of the principal concelebrants for the Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was held on Saturday afternoon, December 12.
Cardinal Ouellette and I were the principal concelebrants with the Holy Father, who celebrated the Mass in Spanish, and they sang many of the traditional hymns for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Basilica was filled and there was a large contingent of Latin Americans who live in Rome, particularly Mexicans.
The Holy Father gave a beautiful reflection.
And, as I mentioned last week, preparations for Christmas continue around Rome.
This week I want to share with you this photo of the life-sized crèche and the Vatican Christmas tree which are in the center of the plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica.
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And although I was unable to be present, I am so grateful to Bishop Uglietto for celebrating the beautiful Mass for the opening of the Holy Door at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
This is the door that I had sealed at the end of the Cheverus Awards Vespers service on the First Sunday of Advent.
I was so happy to hear that nearly 1,500 people passed through the holy door to initiate our formal celebration of the beginning of the Year of Mercy.
We were also glad that the new bells that have been installed in the Cathedral were able to be rung for this important celebration.
In fact, also this week I celebrated a special Mass for those benefactors who have helped support the restoration and cleaning of the Cathedral and the installation of the bells.
While certainly there is still work to be done, the progress in restoring and renovating the Cathedral has been impressive. The process has gone along in several stages. First was fixing the lower church, then there was the repointing and cleaning of the outside of the Cathedral and, of course, the installation of the bells.
Eventually, we hope to be able to make more improvements to the interior of the Cathedral though already they have renovated the sacristy, which is greatly improved.
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On Wednesday, I was visited by Pierre Marie Dumont the publisher of Magnificat, who came to speak to me about some of their projects and activities.
Magnificat is published in seven different languages, and I understand their plan is now to begin publishing also in Portuguese.
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Thursday, we had one of our regular meetings of the Presbyteral Council of the archdiocese. During this meeting we had an opportunity to hear reports from the various regions of the archdiocese.
These gatherings of the Presbyteral Council are very important for pastoral planning and the life of the archdiocese and we are so grateful for the seriousness with which the members of the Council take their responsibilities.
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Finally, yesterday afternoon we had our annual Advent Gathering for employees here at the Pastoral Center.
As we always do, we began with a Mass followed by a reception.
At the reception there is always a drawing for different small gifts and prizes — including the coveted parking spots in the Pastoral Center garage.
The Advent Gathering is our way of expressing our gratitude to our people for so generously serving the entire Catholic community of Boston through their work.
It is always a joyous celebration and we are grateful for all they do.
Until next week,