Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Day: December 22, 2006

Leading up to Christmas

Good afternoon everyone. I hope you are enjoying these last few days before Christmas and that you have finished all your shopping!

This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting Massachusetts only state prison for women, MCI Framingham. I try to visit all the major prisons once a year and do the confirmations and baptisms. The auxiliary bishops also visit the prisons in their regions on a regular basis and will celebrate Christmas Masses in some of them.


A view from outside MCI Framingham

I was a prison chaplain for two years myself, and Ive always had a great regard for this ministry. Its such an important one and a way for the Church to be present to people and their families during a very difficult time in their lives.

Here in the Archdiocese of Boston, were very lucky to have wonderful ministers in our prisons priests, deacons and lay people.

Deacon Bill Kane, the director of the Office for Prison Ministry, does a wonderful job visiting the 25 prisons and jails in the archdiocese. In fact, most of the states prisons are located in our diocese.

There are 22,000 men and women incarcerated within the archdiocese and over half of them are Catholic. There is also a large Hispanic population in several of the prisons. Each of the prisons and jails has a full-time chaplain that recruits volunteers. In some prisons there are as many as 300 volunteers! Those people sponsor religious programs like the RCIA, Bible study and retreats, which are so important. In the Framingham prison, they have retreats two or three times every year.

The chaplain there, Sister Maureen Clark, CSJ organized a retreat where the prisoners mothers could come in and be with their daughters. Actually they were having a retreat the very night we were there. The retreats are very popular and have had a very good effect on those who are incarcerated there. Its sad to see how many of the people in our prisons are very young. Sister Maureen has truly done a wonderful job in her many years in prison ministry.


Sister Maureen and Deputy Superintendent Ed Foley

Typically when I visit the prisons, I meet with the administration and then visit everyone in solitary confinement and the people who are in the hospital. Then I celebrate Mass and often confirmations. At the prison in Framingham they have a very large chapel where I celebrated Mass. I would love to show you a picture of it but, as you can understand, there are many restrictions on taking photographs in prisons.

While I was there, I was very pleased to hear that once again Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington is supplying Christmas gifts for the mothers in prison to give their children. Sacred Hearts pastor, Father Colletti has done a great job in organizing the effort.

Another program that they have for mothers in the Framingham prison is sending videotapes to their children. The women read to their children on a video, so that the children can see their mother and hear her voice. Its very, very hard, particularly at Christmas time, for these young women to be far from their children.

As I mentioned before, I was a prison chaplain for two years in the 1960s in Butler County, Pennsylvania. I always tell the story about giving my first sermon in prison. I was very nervous and searching for a topic when I had this inspiration of great escapes in the Bible. So I talked about Daniel in the lions den, the three lads in the furnace, St. Paul going over the wall in the basket and St. Peter in chains. I had their rapt attention, but the problem was, that night six prisoners escaped from the prison. I thought my first prison assignment was going to be my last!

One of the interesting things I did when I was in prison ministry was to start a painting company. In those days no one could get parole unless they had a job, so I would hire the prisoners. As you might expect, it was very hard for a prisoner to get a job while they were still in prison. Nobody would want to hire somebody sight unseen and behind bars.

So I started this painting company, but I knew nothing about painting or starting a company! I got a thousand dollars from my father to start the business. I bought paint, I bought brushes, I bought ladders and with the money that was left over I bought a car. The problem was that the car could only go in reverse, so the first job we had, we had to get there driving backwards to get money to repair the car!


Another view from outside

– – –

On Saturday morning I attended a breakfast with Women Affirming Life. Im very grateful to Frances Hogan, Laura Garcia and Marianne Luthin for all that they do to promote this wonderful organization. They had a great turnout at the breakfast and I thought the speakers were dynamite! The panelists were Kerry Cronin, Karin Venable Morin and Jacqueline Nolan Haley. I was very impressed with everything they had to say. Both Kerry Cronin and Laura Garcia work in the philosophy department at Boston College.


Laura Garcia, Kerry Cronin, Karin Venable Morin and
Jacqueline Nolan Haley


I said a few words at the gathering

I was also happy to see so many students university women at the breakfast. Its important for Catholic women to have an opportunity to look at these different cultural issues from a womans point of view and from the point of view of a believer. Our society today in many ways is rudderless and its critical to look to people who are committed to the mission of Christ. It was so encouraging that many young people availed themselves of the opportunity to be there and be a part of what Women Affirming Life is doing.


It was wonderful to see such a diverse
group of women at the breakfast

– – –

I attended the Mass for persons with disabilities at St. Patrick Parish in Stoneham on Sunday. Karen Murray, the director of the Office for Persons with Disabilities, did a very good job organizing the event.



Karen Murray


The procession into the Mass


There was also sign language translation
for the hearing impaired


Bringing up the gifts

One of the readers was a young man, Tim Vernon, whom I knew from St. Marys Parish in Mansfield, and he did the first reading in Braille. He was an excellent reader. It was very moving to see a young person there who was able to participate at that level. The person who played the organ was also blind. It was wonderful to see how people with different disabilities were participating and using their talent to be a part of the liturgy. Thats the whole purpose of this Mass to celebrate their gifts. Our desire is to make sure theyre included in the community: that they are able to participate actively in the life of the Church and feel like a part of the Church.


Tim Vernon read the first reading in Braille

There was a reception afterwards in the parish hall, which had just been refurbished last year. Its a wonderful venue for this kind of event. The pastor, Father Schmidt, his two associates and the parishioners were all very welcoming.


It was great to greet the participants after the Mass



At St. Patricks we also ran into one of the Palestinians who contacted the archdiocese through the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. We have been asked to allow representatives from the Holy Land to come and sell their handicrafts here in the United States.

The Christian Palestinians are a population that has suffered so much because of the violence in the Middle East. The man I met, his name is Gabriel, presented me with an olive wood statue of St. Francis and spoke about being a Christian Catholic from Bethlehem.


Gabriel presenting me with the statue of St. Francis


Gabriel and I

He said that, formerly, almost all of the residents of Bethlehem were Catholic but many have been forced out by the war. Those who remain are struggling economically. They havent been able to pay the school teachers in the town for months, and now the school teachers are going on strike, so the schools will be closed. The people have no work, and there are no pilgrims or tourists coming, which was once an important source of their livelihood. So selling these statues, rosaries, crosses and carvings that they make out of olivewood from Bethlehem is a great help to the Catholic Palestinians. I thought it was a good reminder for all of us to pray for peace in that part of the world. It is important to realize that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as terrorism have a connection with the tensions in the Holy Land. We must also respond to the needs of our Catholic brothers and sisters there and remember the universality of the Church.


He had a great variety of carved goods for sale




The detail of the carving was remarkable


– – –

This week I also celebrated Mass at St. Johns Seminary in Brighton for the chancerys annual Advent Gathering. It was nice to see so many people join us for the liturgy, and then to have a nice lunch with the staff from the different offices. Even the people from the Tribunal (which has been relocated to West Roxbury) came to join us. I was also happy to see that several retired employees were able to be with us. Father Erikson thanked everyone for their participation with the giving tree, which is one more sign of the generosity and goodness of the people on the staff. At Christmas time theyre reaching out to the needy. Were very grateful for those who work in our central administration. And we know that these have not been easy times to work for the Church, so were grateful for their loyalty, their devotion, their generosity and for what they do that makes the life of the diocese possible.


Delivering my homily


We celebrated the Mass in the St. John’s Chapel


It was great to greet the employees after the Mass



After the Mass I joined everyone
for a light lunch in the refectory

– – –

Id like to share my Christmas message with you which is printed in this weeks edition of The Pilot, our archdiocesan newspaper.

Only a couple of days until Christmas, we all ask ourselves: Is there anyone I forgot? We want to give gifts to family, friends and loved ones as well as to those whose kindness and service we appreciate.

Some people are hard to buy gifts for. They seem to have everything they need or want. Still, we struggle to get the perfect gift. The question we all need to ask is, What am I giving to the One whose birthday we are celebrating? We undoubtedly think that Jesus is in the has-everything-category. But at Christmas, Our God makes Himself small and vulnerable so that we need not be afraid to draw near, so that we realize that He has come in poverty and simplicity to teach us about love and about what really matters. Does Jesus want something from me? Yes, He does. Thats why He came into the world. He seeks our friendship. He calls us to be disciples and friends.

Our gift to the Lord must be our friendship. Friendship is not inexpensive. It demands sacrifices of time, energy and resources. Friends become friends by communicating, by talking, by getting to know each other.

In the legend often told to children, there is a noble and good monarch who is anxious to get to know his people so he assumes a disguise as a peasant so he can live among his subjects and experience their pains and wants and feel their aspirations. At first glance, the story might seem to parallel Christs coming at Christmas. But actually, Christmas is quite different. Our God came not disguised as one of us. He has become one of us. And He does not come into the world to get to know us. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He is our Creator, our Father. He comes into our world so that we can get to know Him and to be His friend. And in discovering who God is, we come to understand who we are and why we are here and what we need to do with our lives.

Christmas is the Birthday of the One who wants to be our best friend. His name is Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas is a moment to renew and deepen our friendship with the Lord. The gift the Lord is waiting for, longing for, is our heart. At Christmas, God makes a gift of Himself to us. All other gifts are as nothing compared to Christ. Every gift, nevertheless, that is given with love reflects the goodness and love of Our God who made Himself homeless so that we could find the way home. Merry Christmas!

– – –

Finally, as you may have already heard through the news, I would like let you know that I have recorded a Christmas massage in several languages that will be available Christmas Eve as a podcast through Boston Catholic Televisions newly redesigned Web site. I see this as yet another tool I can use to reach the young people in our Church who more and more are turning to the Internet for their information.

As time goes on I plan to record periodically other segments that will be available as a podcast.

I hope all of you take the opportunity to hear it and explore the new Web site.

The photo of the week:


This nativity scene sits in the window of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Downtown Boston. It is a wonderful sign of the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas Seasons amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.

Until my next post, a Merry and Blessed Christmas to you all!

Cardinal Sen

December 2006