Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Month: July 2008

Visiting the Capuchin mission in Papua New Guinea

As I write this post, I am still in Australia where I have accompanied the Holy Father for the celebrations of World Youth Day. After the events with the Holy Father over the weekend I traveled to Papua New Guinea to visit the Capuchin mission there. Today, I am back in Brisbane, Australia, from where I will fly back to Boston over the weekend.

This post continues where last week’s ended.


Like any other pilgrim, I carried my official
World Youth Day backpack

As I said in last week’s post, the WYD organizers arranged 200 catechesis each day for three days in different locations and in different languages so all the youth could receive them.

Friday morning I gave my third catechesis. It was at St. Patrick Church in one of the suburbs of Sydney called Blacktown.

A lovely woman drove us there, a volunteer who was actually an Anglican. Hundreds of people volunteered to drive the bishops to the different locations for the catecheses. This woman would leave her house every morning at three o’clock, take the train into town and then drive the bishops to the catecheses. It was a very lovely gesture on her part. We went with a bishop from Croatia who was giving a catechesis in the same town.

This parish of St. Patrick is beautiful, a very vibrant parish with three schools — a grade school, a boys’ high school and a girls’ high school. The pastor there, Father Arthur Bridge was very much involved in planning the music for World Youth Day. There were about 1,000 youngsters at that catechesis which was followed by a Mass. There were lots of questions, and a very lively discussion. Many of the questions reflected the need for apologetics among our young people. Many of the questions indicate that fundamentalists are challenging the faith of our youth. It was a wonderful experience.

In the afternoon we celebrated the Stations of the Cross. The stations were very, very impressive.


There were a couple hundred people participating as actors and actresses performing the Stations of the Cross. The man who played the role of Christ and the woman who played the role of the Blessed Mother were particularly effective, I thought.





People were very moved by the Stations of the Cross. It really provoked a great sense of reverence.


One of the nice touches was choosing an aborigine
as Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross


Friday night there was a concert at the Sydney Opera House. They played the Missa Solemnis of Beethoven. It was a magnificent presentation. They had young people singing, which was a very nice gesture. In fact, young people were part of choirs and bands everywhere,  in consonance with the spirit of World Youth Day.


An evening view of the Opera House

Saturday morning we went to another St. Patrick Church, this time in the city itself for a Mass with the Boston pilgrims.


I had catecheses and Masses four days in a row. The first day was in a Capuchin parish, at St. Fiacre, who is an Irish saint although it is now an Italian parish. But the next three days we were in St. Patrick parishes. The fact is that many churches in Australia are named for St. Patrick. Interestingly, the church where we were on Saturday is a very old church, a beautiful church built by the Irish convicts.


A view of St. Patrick’s

As people know, Australia was a penal colony and many Irish were sent there, particularly for political crimes. At one point they didn’t allow priest chaplains, so some priests would come through and say Mass for the convicts. There was a blacksmith, who had been a convict and who lived where this church is now, who kept the Blessed Sacrament in his home. And out of that, when the ex-convicts later on built the church they maintained the tradition of perpetual adoration in that church.


The pastor there is from a part of Australia from where the ship that rescued John Boyle O’Reilly came. The priest was very well acquainted with the history of the famed editor of The Pilot who was once a prisoner in Australia.


Bishop Adalberto Martinez from Paraguay concelebrated at the Mass.
Bishop Pierre Bürcher from Reykjavík, Iceland, (not pictured) also concelebrated at the Mass


We had a wonderful turnout for the Mass, over 400 people from Boston with their priests, including members of the deaf community, the Cape Verdean community from St. Patrick in Roxbury, and other large parish groups from St. Anthony of Padua in Cambridge, St. Anthony of Padua in Lowell. Also Life Teen was very well represented with groups from St. Mary, Dedham and St. Mary of the Scared Heart, Hanover. And members from the Neocatechumenal Way from Our Lady of the Assumption in East Boston and from other parishes of the archdiocese were also there.


The largest group was the one organized through our Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults that incorporated members of many of our Catholic high schools and parishes. It was a very beautiful celebration.





I am very grateful to the priests who accompanied the pilgrims, Fathers Jeremy St. Martin (Deaf Ministry), Matt Williams (Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults), Ed Riley, (St. Joseph, Holbrook), Bill Lohan (St. Mary, Dedham), Chris Hickey, (St. Mary of the Scared Heart, Hanover), Michael Nolan, (St. Mary, Waltham) Dan Hennessey, (Archdiocesan Vocation Director), Jose Borja (St. Patrick, Roxbury — Cape Verdean Ministry), Mark Riley (St. Paul, Wellesley), Carlos Flor (Immaculate Conception, Revere); and Tony Medeiros, rector of the Redemptoris Mater House of Formation, who came with all his seminarians.


We took a lot of pictures after the Mass and then the kids went off to the park.




After that Mass, I went to a lunch with all the bishops participating in WYD. At that lunch they brought in crocodiles, koala bears, snakes and lizards so we were able to see them.



My big disappointment is that they did not bring in any kangaroos!

Also on Saturday, the Holy Father dedicated the new altar in the St. Mary Cathedral in Sydney. The relics of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti were present in the cathedral at the Mass. The cathedral, needless to say, was packed. Every event was full of pilgrims. In fact, they were everywhere. It was wonderful!





That evening was the vigil. It was chilly but without rain, mercifully.


A view of the event from the bishops’ area


There was time for Eucharistic adoration and then some youth gave their witness.


For me the most moving one was a young woman who gave a magnificent witness on her deafness being a gift, helping her to love God and to pay more attention to people. It was just a beautiful witness.

On Sunday morning there was the Mass with over 400,000 people.



The Holy Father asked the youth very deep and important questions that require an answer, I would say not only from the youth but from all of us. I want to share that part of his homily with you:

Cardinal Sean Sydney 2

With Chicago’s Cardinal George right before the Mass

Dear young people, let me now ask you a question. What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure? Are you living your lives in a way that opens up space for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God, or even rejects Him in the name of a falsely-conceived freedom? How are you using the gifts you have been given, the “power” which the Holy Spirit is even now prepared to release within you? What legacy will you leave to young people yet to come? What difference will you make? The power of the Holy Spirit does not only enlighten and console us. It also points us to the future, to the coming of God’s Kingdom. What a magnificent vision of a humanity redeemed and renewed we see in the new age promised by today’s Gospel! Saint Luke tells us that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the Messiah who fully possesses the Holy Spirit in order to bestow that gift upon all mankind. The outpouring of Christ’s Spirit upon humanity is a pledge of hope and deliverance from everything that impoverishes us. It gives the blind new sight; it sets the downtrodden free, and it creates unity in and through diversity (cf. Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2). This power can create a new world: it can “renew the face of the earth” (cf. Psalm 104:30)!


Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished – not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships. Dear young friends, the Lord is asking you to be prophets of this new age, messengers of his love, drawing people to the Father and building a future of hope for all humanity.


The world needs this renewal! In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair. How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns (cf. Jeremiah 2:13) in a desperate search for meaning – the ultimate meaning that only love can give? This is the great and liberating gift which the Gospel brings: it reveals our dignity as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. It reveals humanity’s sublime calling, which is to find fulfillment in love. It discloses the truth about man and the truth about life.

The Church also needs this renewal! She needs your faith, your idealism and your generosity, so that she can always be young in the Spirit (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4)! In today’s second reading, the Apostle Paul reminds us that each and every Christian has received a gift meant for building up the Body of Christ. The Church especially needs the gifts of young people, all young people. She needs to grow in the power of the Spirit who even now gives joy to your youth and inspires you to serve the Lord with gladness. Open your hearts to that power! I address this plea in a special way to those of you whom the Lord is calling to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Do not be afraid to say “yes” to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others!”

At the end of the Mass the Holy Father announced that the next World Youth Day would be in Madrid in 2011, with great rejoicing by the Spaniards who were there in large numbers, and who made a very joyful sound unto the Lord as they were flying their flags.



They were really enthusiastic

The whole week was an unmitigated success for the Holy Father, following so close upon his magnificent visit to the United States. Australia is a difficult, very secularized country, where the Church faces many challenges and the Holy Father was able to make himself present to the people and, I think, inspired the Australians. Also, the presence of the throngs of young Catholics was a very powerful witness to the Catholics of Australia.

I am so impressed by the volunteers, as I said, even there were non Catholics who volunteered.


The Holy Father also met with the volunteers on Monday morning to thank them for all their work and effort.



It was a great success and a great blessing for the Church in Australia and for all the young people who participated and certainly will take back to their own communities the sense of joy and solidarity that they experienced here in Sydney.

I hope you had a chance to follow the events through our CatholicTV station. If you missed them or you want to watch them again, just go to 


With Father Matt, Stephen Colella and Kathy Stebbins from the
Office of the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults

– – –

On Monday, my secretary, Father Jonathan Gaspar, and I flew to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, to visit the Capuchin mission there.  First, we went to the Capuchin seminary. It was a blistering hot day. The coast of Papua New Guinea is very, very tropical. We celebrated Mass with Father Dom, the superior there and all the brothers.The next day we flew to Mendi in the Southern Highlands, which is one mile above sea level and around one hour and a half flight from Port Moresby. 

View Larger Map

The Capuchins have been entrusted with the care of the diocese of Mendi. We have other houses outside of the diocese but the principal ministry of the Capuchins of my province — the St. Augustine Province – has been in the diocese of Mendi.We flew there in the morning.


When we arrived, we were welcomed by Bishop Stephen Reichert, some villagers and 800 children from the cathedral school who escorted us to the bishop’s residence.



With Bishop Stephen Reichert



The New Guinea’s flag was flying at the airport

The friars were on retreat. There are about fifty friars there, about half from my province in the U.S. and the other half made up of Papua New Guineans. I participated in preaching at their retreat and I had the opportunity to see the mission there. It is very inspiring to see what has been accomplished in such challenging circumstances, and to see first hand the faith of the people.


With my Capuchin brothers in front of a straw hut

Papua New Guinea is a country where the people have been very isolated from the world and that isolation has kept them for developing the types of infrastructures, language, government, and so forth that are in place in the rest of the world around them.

Father Jonathan with some locals




They are so isolated, even among them, that different languages are spoken in the area although they have a Pidgin language, which is a lingua franca. I celebrated Mass in Pidgin at the cathedral.


Celebrating Mass in Pidgin   with Bishop Steve and the friars.
It was a daily Mass but the church was filled.


The cathedral itself was built by an Irish lay missionary who met the Capuchins there. He came from Ireland as a sewing machine repairman and decided to be a missionary. The lay brothers taught him carpentry and he built the cathedral, which is a magnificent structure incorporating many of the native art and artwork.


This man is preparing sweet potatoes,
which is the main food available in the Highlands. They call it kaukau

When I was in the seminary, this was a very new mission for us. Our father provincial, seeing that we were blessed with many vocations and our mission in Puerto Rico was flourishing, wrote to Rome asking for the Holy Father to give us another mission, and he asked him to “make it the most difficult mission in the world.” The Vatican immediately gave us this mission in Papua New Guinea!




The superior of the Capuchin College was sent as the vicar apostolic and eventually the bishop. Some brothers followed and the conditions were extremely primitive when they arrived — as they still are. In the nearly sixty years we have been there we have now a diocese of almost one hundred thousand Catholics, many vocations, schools, clinics.


A health clinic run by the Church


There are also Franciscan Sisters working in the diocese.
In the photo, Sister Lucas and Sister Claire

When I was in the seminary, my great heroes were these missionaries who went to Papua New Guinea. In those days, they would come home every five years to visit – now they come every three years – and they would always share with us what was happening in the mission and fill us with great love for the Mission ad Gentes, or as we used to say, the foreign missions. Their spirit of sacrifice and devotion to the people of Papua New Guinea was very inspiring and caused us to be blessed with many vocations and a wonderful church.The founding bishop, who was our superior in Washington, Bishop Schmidt died a couple of years ago. He was replaced by Bishop Stephen Reichert who was at the seminary with me. He has been in Papua New Guinea for 39 years. He is the sort of the “John Wayne” strong type. I think he is probably the tallest person in the diocese. He told me that in the local clinic, the largest baby born ever was named after him!



In this close-up of the previous photo you can see tin shells around the crucifix
which are very typical from the area


At the cathedral, there is an altar to St. Peter To Rot
who was a catechist and was martyred at the time of the Second World War



The cathedral is named for Our Lady Mother of the Divine Shepherd,
which is a Capuchin devotion

It was a wonderful week, particularly to be able to be with the friars, to pray with them and experience their life there and to see first hand the outstanding work that has been done and have a greater understanding of the challenges that faces the Church in a developing nation such as Papua New Guinea.



 Leaving Mendi was quite challenging because they kept canceling our flights, but finally we arrived in Port Moresby and made our connection to Brisbane. Over the weekend, we will travel back to Boston.Please pray for the spiritual fruits of World Youth Day and also for the works of so many missionaries who devout their lives to announce the love of Christ to men and women everywhere.


This crucifix which is at the friary chapel is a replica from the original
which the friars brought from Germany to the United States years ago.
It is a few centuries old and it is one of the most beautiful depictions
of the crucifix. A couple of years ago they made a mold and sent copies of it
to our mission in Puerto Rico and in Papua New Guinea

In Christ,Cardinal Seán

July 2008