A report on Project Bethlehem

Hello and welcome!

I had planned to travel to an event this week, but it was canceled at the last minute. That left me with some unexpected free time, which has actually been quite productive. I’ve spent these last few days housecleaning, emptying drawers and sorting books — the sorts of things I neglect all year round.

However, there are still a few items I’d like to share with you this week.

Earlier this week, I received a video from friends of mine in Honduras, where they have been able to enact legislation to protect the unborn. This past Sunday, the president of the neighboring country of Guatemala announced a new “Public Policy for the Protection of Life and the Institutionality of the Family 2021-2032,” which will bring together nearly 100 programs across the government to coordinate efforts to promote the family and ensure the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. As part of the announcement, the National Palace of Culture, the cathedral and surrounding buildings in the main plaza of Guatemala City were lit in blue to represent life. I thought it was very impressive and wanted to share it with you:


They also made me aware of the new initiative to create a pro-life flag, which I had not seen before.FlagIt reminds me very much of the familiar lapel pins in the shape and size of an 10-week-old unborn child’s feet, which are a very stark reminder that the so-called “fetus” is a baby.


Sunday, I celebrated Mass for the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master at their house on West Street.IMG_3492We were very pleased to welcome back to Boston Sister Josephine and Sister Ann. They had formerly been at the Sisters’ house on Staten Island, which is now closed, and so they have now returned to their Boston community. We now have 12 Sister Disciples working here in the archdiocese.IMG_3493We are so grateful for the work that the sisters do, not only through their liturgical centers but also for the help that they provide for us at the Pastoral Center, the care they provide our retired priests at Regina Cleri, and all the many other wonderful things they do for the clergy of the archdiocese. Their witness of service, prayer and Eucharistic adoration is an inspiration to all of us.


On Tuesday, I participated in a virtual meeting with the moderators of the working groups of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, during which we continued our planning for a safeguarding conference with the bishops of Poland in September.TutelaMinorum

Of course, we were very grateful for the presence of Father Andrew Small, who has assumed the role of secretary of the commission.


We were happy that it was announced last week that David Savage has been named Executive Director of The Papal Foundation. David comes to the foundation with many years of business experience and a strong commitment to his Catholic faith. His willingness to serve in this new position will allow us to have greater follow-up with the entities that we are funding throughout the world. PapalFoundation-2This will be a great help to the foundation, which supports many of the Holy Father’s charities and is particularly focused on helping mission countries by supporting numerous pastoral and educational projects that otherwise would go seriously under-resourced.

We are so grateful for the wonderful work of Eustice Mita, the members of the Board of Trustees and all those benefactors who so generously support the work of The Papal Foundation.


One of the most serious social problems in our nation and in our local community is that of homelessness, which is often spawned by a shortage of affordable housing, insufficient access to mental health care and struggles with addiction. As a community of faith, we are anxious to be able to do our part to help find lasting solutions to the problem of homelessness through an initiative we are calling The Bethlehem Project.

In order to determine the best way forward, it is important to look at what is already being done both inside and outside the archdiocese to address this issue. As part of that, we have asked Father Kevin Staley-Joyce to conduct a survey of the efforts our own parishes and agencies are making to combat the problem of homelessness.

The survey project is ongoing but, this week, I have asked Father Kevin to share some reflections on Project Bethlehem and what he has found so far:

The Church’s pastoral care of souls is care for the whole human person: “Body and soul, but truly one.” The COVID-19 pandemic gave us all a chance to renew our efforts to meet the spiritual needs of those who felt the full weight of the pandemic’s impact on both human health and economics. Since last spring, we’ve observed with sadness how the poor and unsheltered appear to have endured the worst pandemic health outcomes — being particularly vulnerable to infection and severe disease — given inadequate nutrition, compromised sleep hygiene, and unmonitored preexisting health conditions. Alongside this, we observed the compounding effects of economic collapse within many underserved families. Many of these victims of the pandemic are invisible; discovering them and offering them the Church’s pastoral care is central to the mission of the Bethlehem Project.

A recent analysis by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests that chronic homelessness was on an upward trend before the pandemic began, with 2020 being the first year in recent memory evincing a greater number of individuals living unsheltered — on the street — rather than in shelters and charity-based housing. To address this concern, local poverty relief organizations — Catholic and secular — have increasingly shifted their focus to medium- and long-term housing for these underserved populations.

Of still greater concern is the largely stalled progress in addressing the needs of homeless families, whose outcomes were still further eroded by economic uncertainties during the pandemic.

For Catholics, parishes are the locus of our life of faith, sacraments, and service. In recent years, parishes have also become a locus of collaboration. A further opportunity for collaboration is underway between the Church’s mission and that of social service groups, and the Catholics who serve the needs of the poor through them.

Speaking to pastors and parish workers across the archdiocese, I found a variety of outreach approaches. Some parishes maintain large, public-facing institutions to serve the underserved. Two conspicuous examples among many are St. Patrick’s in Roxbury, which collaborates closely with Pine Street Inn in providing housing, and the Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence.

Cor UnumThe Cor Unum Meal Center

I also heard from many parishioners and parish workers who spoke of smaller-scale efforts to seek out and assist the poor and unsheltered. Many parish-based organizations coordinate visits to impoverished families, keep track of resettled refugees in need of financial stability and find safe ways to keep in contact with elderly shut-ins during the pandemic — a population still experiencing a true epidemic of loneliness and isolation. In many parishes, groups of parishioners are accustomed to “adopting” local families struggling with finances and housing.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul looms large as a source of collaboration with parishes to serve the poor. Their efforts integrated with parishes range from food drives to restock local pantries, meal distribution for holidays and feast days, gift distribution for children, emergency assistance with rent and utilities, and home or phone visits. One case of longstanding parish collaboration with St. Vincent de Paul is the Sacred Heart and Our Lady’s Collaborative in Newton. Our Lady Help of Christians Parish reported helping more than 75 underserved families and more than 150 children with various forms of aid last year. Parishioners from Our Lady’s regularly visit Pine Street Inn and the Shattuck Shelter to volunteer. The Guild of St. Francis at Sacred Heart Parish has undertaken similar collaborations, conducting food and clothing drives to assist St. Francis House in Boston. Both parishes of the collaborative also render assistance to shelters housing nearby homeless families.

At times our parish outreach to the unsheltered and underserved is visible and public, and at other times it’s a more hidden exercise of gospel charity. Both approaches are necessary. In each case, we find that parishioners broadening their collaboration with partners in charity leads to a greater ability to discover and serve many of the pandemic’s forgotten victims.

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán

July 2021
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