Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Lenten retreat in Puerto Rico

Here in Massachusetts news reports have been filled with alarming news about a situation in New Bedford in which over 300 undocumented workers were apprehended by immigration services last Tuesday. The problem seems to be compounded by the fact that the owner of the factory had a huge government contract and then used that money to run a sort of sweatshop in which the workers were treated very poorly.

We are concerned that some parents were apprehended and their children were separated from them. I understand that the government is trying to rectify that.

The other problem is that some of the immigrants are being shipped off to other parts of the country to be put in detention centers. That will certainly make it more difficult for them if their relatives and friends are here in Massachusetts.

I have appealed to Sen. Edward Kennedy and the head of immigration services to see what can be done on behalf of the workers so that those families will not be separated. They were very receptive to my appeals, and both of them assured me that they would do whatever they could.

This event underscores the great need we have for immigration reform in the United States. In many areas of the country, we do not have enough workers to perform certain types of labor. Our economy is dependent upon immigrants. It is, therefore, important that people be allowed to immigrate in an orderly and legal way so that they will have the protections that all workers have. In that way, their human rights and dignity will be safeguarded.

In the past there has been too much exploitation of workers who are allowed to be in the country when it is convenient for us and then are often exploited or expelled when it becomes inconvenient. That is not a way to treat people. We are hoping that the United States Congress will approve comprehensive and fair legislation that will take into account the needs for security and the protection of workers� rights.

– – –

Last weekend I made a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving for the 50th wedding anniversary of Frank and Marleen Veraat at the St. Thomas Aquinas University parish. Frank was my vice-chancellor in the Virgin Islands. Originally from Holland, he migrated to the Netherlands Antilles and then made his way to the Virgin Islands where he ran a bakery. He was a master baker, and so we were all very happy to have him working in the chancery because he brought all kinds of wonderful pastries. He baked chocolate cake called �death by chocolate� which was wonderful� lol!

Frank worked practically full-time volunteering for the diocese in the Virgin Islands and was instrumental in setting up many social programs. He was a wonderful example of the ministry of deacons in the Church. I was delighted to be a part of the celebration with his family.

– – –

From Virginia I flew to Puerto Rico to give a day of recollection for the diocesan priests of the Archdiocese of San Juan. I had been invited by Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez, who was formerly an auxiliary bishop here in Boston. I was pleased to be a part of it.


San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves

I have known Archbishop Gonzalez since before he was a priest. When I met him, I was a young priest, and he was a seminarian. Of course, I have known him as auxiliary bishop here and now as archbishop. It is always a joy to be with him. He is a dear friend.

He has very fond memories of Boston and, of course, many questions about the priests and people here. We also have a large Puerto Rican community in Boston that is close to him and identifies with him.

The theme for the retreat in Puerto Rico was the mercy of God and the priesthood. I spoke to the priests about God�s mercy in the Gospels and how it expresses itself, particularly in the sacrament of reconciliation, of which we are the ministers. I spoke about the Cure d� Ars � St. John Vianney � Padre Pio and our own relationship with the sacrament. I tied that into the Lenten season and the spiritual renewal to which we are all called.


Spending time in prayer

The priest has a special role as the dispenser of God�s mercy. As priests, we need to take time to deepen our own relationship with the Lord and experience His mercy so that we can dispense His mercy to His people. We also celebrated a holy hour and benediction with the priests.


Holding forth

The day of recollection was very well attended. Nearly all the priests in the archdiocese were present. I could see that they enjoyed being together and many of them took advantage of the opportunity to go to confession. There were about 150 in all, along with the retired archbishop of San Juan, Cardinal Aponte, and auxiliary bishop Msgr. Negron. Some religious priests who work in the archdiocese also attended.


Around 150 priests were present

The day of reflection was held in Carolina, in the church of the Inmaculada Concepcin. I knew many of the priests from the days I was in the Virgin Islands. I also had been the apostolic visitator at the seminary there. So some of the men who were seminarians when I visited are now ordained and working in the archdiocese.


The retired archbishop of San Juan, Cardinal
Luis Aponte Martnez also attended the retreat


Greeting the priests during the retreat



To my right, Piarist Father Rafel Crespo and
Monsignor Hermn Negrn, auxiliary bishop of San Juan



I had worked in Puerto Rico when I was a sub-deacon back in 1968, in a town called Utuado, which was in the mountains where the people have coffee farms. In those days they did not have highways, so the trip from Utuado to San Juan took a full day. Back then, the only cars you saw in Utuado were Jeeps, and people rode horses.

The Capuchin church there was 300 years old and there were many chapels in the mountains. Our job was to go out and visit the people in the countryside. I was only there for a few months but it was a wonderful experience. I thought I would go back to work in Puerto Rico after my ordination, but as I told them, �El destino me burlo,� �My fate tricked me,� paraphrasing the lyrics of a popular Puerto Rican song, �En Mi Viejo San Juan.�


An aerial view of San Juan


A close-up of “El Morro,” a 16th century fortress
that is the best known landmark of San Juan.
It is the largest fortress in the Caribbean

I ended up never going back there to work. However, when I was in the Virgin Islands, it was only 40 miles away, so I went to visit the friars and people often in Puerto Rico. I received a great deal of help from Puerto Rico when I was in the Virgin Islands.

This is a portrait of Fray Pablo Benigno Carrion de Malaga, OFM Cap. who was bishop of San Juan in between 1857 and his death in 1871. He assisted at the First Vatican Council.


And people say I look like Santa Clause…

There is a great history in this Archdiocese. The first bishop of San Juan, 500 years ago, was Don Alfonso Manso. He arrived at Christmas Eve 1512. He was also the only bishop who attended the funeral of King Ferdinand, the husband of Queen Isabella, who helped Columbus in his voyages to the new world. He was bishop for almost 30 years. Many bishops, of course, have followed and the current Archbishop Gonzalez carries on a great tradition in the archdiocese of San Juan.

As we are preparing to celebrate our bicentennial in Boston, it�s good to remember that San Juan is preparing to celebrate its 500 years as a diocese!


St. John the Baptist Cathedral in San Juan.
It is one of the oldest churches in Puerto Rico


An aerial view of the cathedral

In the very old Cathedral, nearly 500 years old, one of the Spanish conquistadors, Ponce de Le�n, is buried.

29.jpg 30.jpg

The tomb of Juan Ponce de Le�n in the Cathedral and his statue which stands outside.
Ponce de Le�n founded the first settlement in Puerto Rico in 1508

The following pictures show some of our Puerto Rican friars. The community has grown in Puerto Rico over the last couple of decades and we are we pleased that we have our first Puerto Rican provincial, Father Alfonso.


With Archbishop Gonzalez, also a franciscan,
and a group of Puerto Rican friars


Fray Roy, me, Fray Francisco, Fray Alfonso (the provincial)

– – –

After I returned to Boston, we had a planning session on Wednesday with our cabinet to discuss the priorities for the upcoming years. It was a day long meeting with all the cabinet members and in the afternoon several pastors came in to critique the ideas that had emerged. A number of very interesting things came up: evangelization, morale of priests and the need for religious formation for our young people. It was a good meeting.

– – –

On Thursday, I visited Lawrence Central Catholic High School. They have 1,300 students there, and the Marist brothers have served at that school for quite a long time. There are still several brothers on the faculty including Marist Brother Rene Roy, who is the president of the school.


Joseph Reganto, Betty Desjardin,
me, school president Brother Rene Roy and Sister Terry Gauvin


With the faculty and staff

I celebrated Mass for all the students in their gymnasium, and the liturgy was beautiful. I was impressed by how attentive they were. They participated and paid attention to the homily. They have a wonderful group of musicians and a choir that did a very nice job. The singing was exceptional! After the Mass, they gave me some socks to wear with my sandals in the cold weather and a huge umbrella. It�s one of these big golf umbrellas, and it has red on it!



Delivering my homily


Students bringing up the gifts


Members of the Classes of ’07 and ’08 at the reception after Mass.

Following the Mass, there was a reception with the student council, teachers and students involved in campus ministry. It was encouraging. They told me that this year 800 youngsters took the entrance exam to attend the school next year. They will not be able to take them all, but it goes to show how that school is thriving.


Great joy and energy in this group

– – –

This week I also met with Carmelite Father Stephen Watson, definitor general of the Carmelite community for six Carmelite provinces: The Dutch Province of the Netherlands, Malta of Malta, the Anglo-Irish Province excluding Australia which is a Regional Vicariate, and the three United States Provinces, that is, the California-Arizona, the Washington and the Oklahoma Provinces.


Carmelite Father Stephen Watson,
definitor general of the Carmelite community

The Carmelites have been active in the archdiocese for many years and, in fact, a Carmelite Father, Father Herbert Jones is a member of our Presbyteral Council. They have a house right next to St. John�s Seminary in Brighton. They are planning to make it their house of formation again, so I was encouraging him to send his seminarians to St. John�s. We already have several religious communities sending their men here and we would be very pleased to have them join us.
The Carmelites also look after our titular church in Rome, Santa Maria della Vittoria.


My titular Church in Rome

– – –

I also met with the Consul General of Venezuela in Boston, Mr. Carlos Osorio Escobar. He is a Catholic and the meeting was cordial. Though it was a courtesy visit, it gave me an opportunity to inquire about the relationship between the Church and his government.


Consul General of Venezuela in Boston, Carlos Osorio Escobar

I asked him about his government�s views on the role of the Church in education. I said the Church is very concerned about the schools, and he assured me that the government was respectful of the Church�s role. I also expressed my concern about restrictions on the freedom of the Church to evangelize and to have access to the means of communications.

He also assured me that the relation between the government and the Church has improved recently. He acknowledged that there have been tensions but that the government and the Church are now working together.

– – –

As everyone is most likely aware, St. Patrick is the patron of the Archdiocese of Boston. We will begin a novena to him on Friday. I realize that for some St. Patrick�s Day implies parties, parades, drinking green beer and eating what we call the �Irish Seder� meal of corned beef. But in the archdiocese, we are trying to underscore the religious significance of St. Patrick�s Day as they do in Ireland where it is a very religious day. It is a holy day of obligation, and everyone goes to Mass there.

In anticipation of our patronal feast, we will start a novena for vocations. St. Patrick, a great missionary bishop, will intercede for us. We hope that his life and service to the Church will be a source of inspiration for young people to say �yes� to a life of service in the priesthood and consecrated life. You can find the schedule of the Novena here.
We are also looking forward to the Men�s and Women�s Conferences that will take place on St. Patrick�s Day and the following day. They are an important part of our Lenten renewal. Once again, we want to urge all those who have not yet signed up to check out conferences� Web sites. Many of our blog readers will hopefully be present. I will be glad to greet you all there.

I leave you with my photo of the week: A view of the golf umbrella I received at the Lawrence Central Catholic School — no bad luck opening this one inside!


Yours in Christ,

Cardinal Se�n