Praying for those affected by COVID-19

Hello and welcome,

Like many of you, I was very moved last week to see the Holy Father’s “Urbi et Orbi” message and lead the people of the world in prayer for those impacted by the coronavirus. It was very powerful, and everyone that I’ve spoken to has commented on how deeply they were affected by it.

We know that many people in our own community are being infected with this virus. As many of you may have already heard, currently there are eight priests within the Archdiocese of Boston who have tested positive for COVID-19. Thank God, none of them have serious symptoms at this point, but we are praying for them and for their speedy recovery.

This week, I’d like to share with you the final three installments of our Virtual Lenten Retreat, which we concluded with my talk on the Eucharist.




I continue to be very gratified by the large number of people who have reached out to tell me that they have been following the retreat. In fact, I received another email yesterday from someone on the West Coast who told me they have been watching. So, it has been seen far and wide and, hopefully, within our own archdiocese it helped to generate a sense of belonging and connectedness as we live our baptismal retreat together, which is the 40 days of Lent.

These six days of reflections on spiritual themes are just part of our longer retreat as we accompany Jesus in the desert. The desert was a place of solitude and, for many of us, these 40 days of Lent are turning into a true desert experience. Social distancing is allowing us to experience that solitude, which can be an opportunity for us to reflect on the meaning of Lent and our own vocation as Christ’s disciples to take up the cross and follow him.

As I mentioned last week, despite the requirements of social distancing, I continue to attend meetings remotely, and this week we had the first-ever virtual Presbyteral Council meeting in the history of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Of course, much of our discussion was about the coronavirus and its impact on the archdiocese. MC Sullivan gave about an hour-long presentation on the pandemic and answered the priests’ questions. She is very well versed in what is happening, and I think the priests were very grateful for the kind of information that she communicated to all of us. She was very frank in her remarks and made it very clear how serious the situation is.

We are very grateful to MC for all she has done as a key person in handling the archdiocese’s response to the coronavirus. She has been very much involved in responding to inquiries from people who reach out to us through the archdiocese’s special email address set up to allow people to ask questions.

Also, during our meeting, Chancellor John Straub spoke about the situation in the archdiocese and plans going forward.

In my remarks to the priests, I tried to stress that we are doing all we can to strengthen the structures of communications that we have. I was able to speak personally with all the vicars forane last week, and I have a weekly meeting with the auxiliary bishops and episcopal vicars. In addition, each morning, there are meetings being held with the vicars, auxiliaries and members of the leadership of the Pastoral Center. After every meeting, different groups are assigned tasks to work on.

This desire to strengthen communications is one reason I was anxious to have the Presbyteral Council meeting. And, in fact, we will have another meeting in two weeks in order to ensure that all the priests feel connected to their vicariate, their auxiliary bishop, the archbishop and the Pastoral Center.

I also told the priests that our greatest danger at this point is that of discouragement. It is only by having a strong sense of unity and solidarity among the priests that we will be able to overcome that and give our people greater strength. This is a time when we have to be aware of our need to grow in our faith and our dependence on God. I said that we must realize that we are called to be men of prayer, intercessors for our people, particularly at times when they cannot personally receive the sacraments, and that they are counting on our prayers for them.

I stressed that in the midst of the economic effects of this crisis, we must be focused on our mission. This is a time to realize that one-on-one contact with people is such an effective way to spread the Gospel, as so much of the contact that we are doing now is one-on-one rather than large in groups. I also encouraged them to do whatever can be done to promote religious instruction in this time, such as over the internet or through CatholicTV. I am pleased that Bishop Reed has committed to working with the Pastoral Center staff to develop appropriate content for Catholic TV.

I also reminded them of Mother Teresa’s famous quote, “God didn’t call me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.” I know that, as we face all of the disastrous consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, many people feel that we are failing in our mission — but our mission is to be faithful, not necessarily successful. We have to witness to that faith in the midst of the trials, realizing that many of our people are going to undergo great suffering because of loss of employment, loss of security and even the loss of loved ones. I told them, this is a moment when we need to turn to prayer and to the power of our faith in Jesus Christ and try to live our mission the best way that we can.

I continue to be delighted to see how creative and energetic our priests have been in their outreach to their parishioners. I mentioned some examples in last week’s blog, and this week I heard of another initiative started by Father Michael Nolan of St. Mary’s Parish in Waltham. He is presenting a series “The Beauty that will save” via Facebook, focusing on artwork in his parish.

The Beauty that will save: Ep 2 Apse Wall

The Beauty that will save: Day III Apse Walla daily video series about sacred art — specifically the art at Saint Mary's, guided by Fr. Michael Nolan.

Posted by St. Mary Parish on Friday, March 27, 2020

Much like our priests who are finding innovative ways to reach people in this time, I am also happy to see that our Catholic organizations are finding creative ways to carry on their missions. One example of this is the Catholic Schools Foundation’s 30th Annual Inner City Scholarship Fund Dinner, which was held in a virtual format Thursday night. I was so pleased to learn that the event raised over $3.6 Million from so many generous donors.

We are so grateful to the Catholic Schools Foundation for the important work they have done in the past and now, in this time of crisis, they are really stepping up to the plate to help our Catholic schools.

We are so grateful to Inner City Scholarship Fund Chairman Peter Lynch, Dinner Chair Mike Minogue, Executive Director President Michael Reardon, and all his staff who worked so hard to make sure this crucial event moved forward, despite the great challenges. We are also very grateful to the teams Putnam Investments and Abiomed for helping produce the gala, and to Ben Simmoneau and WCVB for presenting it.

Finally, I want to share with you this beautiful video that I received this week from one of our friars, Brother Diogo, a Brazilian friar working in Washington. It was prepared by the Archdiocese of Curibita in Brazil and also shared through CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference.

The narration is presented in Portuguese with Spanish subtitles. For those who don’t speak either language, I’ve included an English translation below. It is a wonderful message.

I woke up from a rough night’s sleep, remembering that my church will not be open today. My heart fell from the weight of knowing that my parish will be empty and that I would be without anyone to counsel, without a child to bless, no penitent to absolve, no family to visit, no gathering to participate in. Nothing! I celebrated Mass alone and ate the Bread of Life, knowing that there are souls hungering for the Eucharist. So then I asked myself: do I continue being a priest while the door of my church is closed? How is it possible to be a priest without a people? How is it possible to be a Church without a gathered community? I watch TV and I hear of thousands of ways of taking care of one’s health against this virus; but no focus on the health of our soul.
So I ask myself: is the Church over? Is the people of God canceled? And the Lord replied to me: No. No, because the Church is a fighting mother. There are no people in the church, but there is the Church in the people. There are no processions in the streets, but one can hear the prayer of the Rosary and the litanies from the windows of homes. There are no confessions, but there is repentance. There are no vocations in the seminaries, but there are seminarians with a vocation to love. There are no catechists in the communities, but there are parents teaching their children to be Christians. Priests are finally shut up, many say, but I see them freer than ever. More creative, on the internet. More united in prayer. Stronger in their condition of uniting the people to God and bringing God to the people. And yet with his tired arms, they continue to lift high the King of the Universe who has summoned us to this unforgettable Lent, to gift us with a glorious Easter.

Thank you, people of God — who, although sick, continue to be the Church in their homes and do not get tired of raising their prayers to God, from their altars in the living-rooms of their houses, in front of their television screens, gathered together as a family. Thank you bishops, priests and deacons, for keeping the doors of the churches closed and opening wide the doors of the evangelization in such creative ways. Thank you, those in consecrated life, who remain on their knees in convents, interceding for the world.  Thank you to the Christian people for remembering always that the Church does not close — what has closed is the place of worship — because the Church is each and every one of us, the living body of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and we are everywhere. Stay at home! Stay in the domestic church where everything started; where the Holy Catholic Church was born, which has persevered for 21 centuries and will finish its journey in the house of our Father who is in heaven!

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán

April 2020