Hello and welcome!
Last Friday, I went to Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted in Waltham to celebrate the funeral Mass for Father Wallace Blackwood. Father Blackwood was a very gentle and kind priest who had done so much good work with Catholic charities, prison ministry and in the parishes.There was a very good attendance, considering the restrictions we currently have. Among his many relatives who were with us at the funeral was Father Blackwood’s niece, who works with Vivian Soper.Although one of his closest friends, Father Joe Fagan, had been invited by Father Blackwood to preach the homily Father Fagan was unable to be there. However, he was able to participate because the Mass was live-streamed. Father Tom Rafferty preached in his stead and gave a very beautiful reflection on his life and ministry.
Later that day, I was very happy to participate in a birthday Zoom celebration for Father Jack Schatzel, who was celebrating his 86th birthday.The party was organized by Bishop Hennessey, and although we couldn’t share in the birthday cake, we did have a chance to congratulate him and wish him well.
That evening, I visited with John Harrington and Maureen Bleday from the Yawkey Foundation, who were making preparations for the Catholic Charities Thanksgiving meal distribution on the following day.It was not only a chance to talk about the preparations but also an opportunity to thank the Yawkey Foundation for their very generous support of Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities distributed about 4,000 Thanksgiving meals, and I was very happy to join them at their food distribution at the Yawkey Center in Dorchester on Saturday morning.It was very good to see so many students from Boston College there helping us out. In fact, the football team had been there Friday packing the bags, and on Saturday, other students were there to help distribute the food. This year, to ensure people’s safety, the food was distributed in a “drive-through” system, where people would drive up, and the turkey and all the fixings were placed in their trunk.That afternoon, Msgr. Kevin O’Leary also had a Thanksgiving meal distribution here at the cathedral. There was a public meal distribution for about 200 families, but later, there was one particularly for parishioners, which provided meals for about another 100 families. I was very happy to see that a local florist donated about 100 centerpieces for people’s Thanksgiving tables.
I was very struck by that because it took me back to the time, many years ago, when I attended the Puebla Conference in Mexico. At the time, my sister was living in Mexico City, so I spent some time with her there. I was always fascinated by the fact that, in the evening, all the shops would close but two things remained open. One was the mariachis, who were available in the city plaza 24 hours a day in case you needed musicians for an anniversary, the mañanitas to wake someone up for a birthday, or to serenade your beloved. The other thing open were the flower stands, because you never know when you’re going to need flowers!
I thought the centerpieces were a beautiful touch, and I’m grateful to that florist who donated those beautiful flowers that were then distributed along with the food— because Thanksgiving is not just about eating. It is about thanking God for the gifts and graces that he has bestowed upon us as a nation, as a community and as individuals.
In addition to being the feast of Christ the King, Sunday also was the feast of St. Cecilia. So, I went to St. Cecilia Parish in Boston for a Mass to celebrate their patronal feast. They have two Masses on Sunday morning — one is a live-streamed Mass, and the other one is with people present. I celebrated the live-stream Mass because it was a way to be able to celebrate the Mass with the wider parish community even though we couldn’t all be together.I took these pictures of the church because I was fascinated to realize that there are four images of St. Patrick in St. Cecilia’s — an altar, a mural, a mosaic and a stained glass window. I’m very jealous because at the cathedral we only have an altar and a stained glass window to St. Patrick and we have been superseded by St. Cecelia’s! Of course, both churches were built by architect Patrick Keeley, who placed a window to St. Patrick in every church he built, but at St. Cecilia’s, he went all-out and put in four images to his patron saint!
Monday, I had two virtual meetings related to the work of our Catholic schools.
The first was a gathering to recognize the winners of our Discover Today’s Catholic Schools Contest. With us on the call were Tom Carroll and Colleen Donohoe from our Catholic Schools Office, along with many of the children and their parents. The theme was related to the year of the Eucharist, so all the entries were based on that.
Then in the evening, there was a fundraiser for Lawrence Catholic Academy. They are working towards the goal of building a new school to replace the present St. Patrick School building, which is in very poor condition. Lawrence is one of the most distressed cities in the Commonwealth, and the presence of the Catholic schools there is of great importance. Father Paul O’Brien, who has done such a great job with the Cor Unum Meal Center, has now taken on this new challenge. The plan is to build a school that can accommodate up to 500 students. It’s a very ambitious but very important project, and it will be a sign of hope for the community. It will also be a sign of the Church’s commitment to Catholic education, particularly to bringing Catholic education to areas where there is the greatest need.
Tuesday, I went to St. Theresa of Avila Church in West Roxbury to celebrate the funeral Mass of Father Paul MacDonald.
Father David Michael, who had worked with Father Paul at St. John Chrysostom, delivered the homily for the Mass. Of course, the pastor, Father John Connolly was there, along with many members of his family, and even more were watching the livestream from Prince Edward Island and Toronto in Canada.
Finally, I’d like to share my annual Thanksgiving message with you:
Each year I have the privilege of participating in the annual Thanksgiving dinner distribution event at the Yawkey Center in Dorchester. This past weekend I joined Catholic Charities President Kevin MacKenzie, Yawkey Foundation Chairman John Harrington, Yawkey Foundation Chief Executive Officer Maureen Bleday and a team of masked and socially distanced volunteers from the Foundation and Charities staff to bring some relief to individuals and families.
In 2020 we have more people in need than ever before. This year has been especially difficult, as many people experience significant disruption in their lives, particularly reduction or loss of employment and income, leading to food insecurity and homelessness. Expressions of commitment and concern are important, but those who are struggling need assistance, such as the annual Catholic Charities of Boston distribution event, which will feed 12,000 people this week alone. Pope Francis reminds us, “There is always someone who is hungry or thirsty and who needs me. I cannot delegate this to another. This poor person needs me, my help, my word, my commitment. We are all involved in this.” In the midst of the challenges in our communities, it is inspiring to witness the generosity of citizens across the Commonwealth as they assist their neighbors.
Most years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year as millions of Americans take to crowded highways and airports to be with family and friends. Joining together at the Thanksgiving table is an expression of the importance of personal connection in our lives. Unfortunately, in 2020 we have not been able to be together in the ways to which we have become accustomed. The COVID public health crisis has reminded us how precious life is, as thousands of families are experiencing the absence of loved ones who did not survive the virus. In a special way, we hold them in our thoughts and prayers.
This year, many of us have discovered new and creative ways to safely connect through masked, social distanced visits, Zoom or similar video gatherings with friends and families and other means of safely being together. Sadly, many people without such social connections or access to technology are suffering the pains of isolation brought on by the pandemic. The mental health impact of the COVID crisis is significant, as stress and anxiety brought on by the effects of the illness on public health and the economy are increasingly evident. In a particular way, our elderly are experiencing feelings of increased fragility as they watch many of their peers become seriously ill and die. Their feelings of isolation and loneliness were exacerbated, ironically, by the very practices put in place to protect them. The lives of our children and adolescents have been marked by uncertainty and disruption. These are two conditions that are particularly difficult to tolerate at any time, but all the more so when the world around them cannot provide either definitive answers to some of their questions or a rational timeline for when or even if things return to what they have always known. These are serious concerns for all of us.
At Thanksgiving, we seek to be grateful even in times of difficulties. Everything we have and that we are is a gift from God. May gratitude remain at the center of our thoughts and lives, and may those in need experience the blessing of the assistance of others. May we, each day, give thanks for the tireless dedication of our healthcare professionals who are serving on the front lines of the pandemic. In the midst of risks to their own health, they bring care to the critically ill while providing our families and loved ones comfort and assurance. These women and men are exceptional people who deserve our support, our respect and our unending gratitude. May God bless you and your loved ones at Thanksgiving and always.
I’d also like to remind everyone that we will be celebrating a live-streamed Mass from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. We know that many people who would normally gather with their loved ones will be unable to do so this year, but we want them to feel the solidarity of our prayer at the Eucharist. Whether they can be present in person at the cathedral or virtually, it will be an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings of life, faith, family and friends.
A blessed and safe Thanksgiving to you all!