Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Month: October 2023

Praying for Lewiston

Hello and welcome,

Our nation, once again, is witnessing a horrific and senseless act of violence with the rampage of deadly shootings in Lewiston, Maine.  We again see innocent people gunned down while living their lives with family and friends.  We again hear calls for thoughts and prayers, and we should.  But that is not enough.  There is a crisis in mental health in our country that, coupled with a crisis in gun violence, leads to a disastrous loss of our humanity.  Today, we pray for the people of Lewiston and the entire State of Maine. We pray for peace, understanding, and support for Lewiston and surrounding communities.  They have experienced great anxiety and fear being on lockdown while a search for the suspect is being carried out, at the same time mourning the loss of family, friends, and neighbors. We ask God to heal those who were injured in the shootings, to bring comfort to the families of those who have experienced tremendous loss, and we give thanks for the courage of our first responders, who put the lives and well-being of others ahead of their own.  We commend to the Lord those who were lost, consoled by the promise of eternal life.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the members of the synod gathered with the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square to pray for refugees and migrants.  In our own Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there has been a constant stream of people seeking refuge, and the state’s resources are being exhausted.

As an archdiocese, we are trying to cooperate and do what we can to help provide these people with basic needs.  We are so grateful for the wonderful service that Catholic Charities, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children and the St. Vincent de Paul Society have provided.  And, of course, many of our parishes have offered assistance, but more help is needed.

So, this week, I sent an appeal to our parishes to help us gather the resources needed to support these families who are arriving in Massachusetts.  I’d like to share it with you here:

Dear Monsignor /  Father:

I write to you today to speak about a major humanitarian and societal crisis that is building in the State of Massachusetts and within our Archdiocese.  Please take the time to review this letter with your parish staff and prepare your parishioners to be ready and willing to assist.  The challenge is the fate of immigrants arriving daily in Massachusetts, and in need of basic shelter and compassionate care and welcome.

First, allow me to give a brief explanation of the crisis that we are currently facing, but which is sure to become much larger.  Next, I will outline what we have done and what we are doing.  Finally, I will ask for specific help, so that we can act now before the need becomes overwhelming.

  1. The Situation: Presently there are 7,000 families being cared for in state sponsored shelters (approximately 20,000 individuals); by October 31st the expectation is that 7,500 families will be with us. Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll have been deeply committed and determined to care for a rising immigration population, but they have also been honest in saying that the Commonwealth faces a mounting crisis beyond its capacity to respond effectively.
  2. What we have done: The Archdiocese, through Catholic Charities, St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children and the Archdiocesan Planning Office for Urban Affairs has worked closely with the Healey-Driscoll Administration and with other non-profit agencies even as the flow of immigrants has increased geometrically in the last few months. All three of those agencies have expanded capacity to address both the short and long-term needs for housing and supportive services.  Over these past months, we have offered the State the use of 8 of our buildings, which we hope it will be able to authorize and use.  In addition, some of our parishes have already received new shelters and people into their communities as the Commonwealth has greatly expanded its shelter capacity.  The Archdiocese has offered assistance to those parishes, and we will continue to offer help to any parishes and communities we are not yet aware of needing assistance.  As noted above, our three Archdiocesan affiliated agencies are deeply engaged in this crisis.  Our relationship with the Healey-Driscoll administration has been constant and consistent.  Recently, we have partnered with our very effective Saint Vincent de Paul Society to plan for how we can prepare for the cold weather coming; most of the recently arrived families are from warmer climates.

III.  How can each and every parish help: The challenge is a local one in the sense that only some of the neighborhoods and parish communities will deal with shelters in their areas; however, the challenge is for all of us as an Archdiocese.  The Saint Vincent de Paul Society has the appropriate storage and ability to collect and distribute items directly to those in need.  Therefore, my request is that you work with them in your parishes/collaboratives for a drive this November prior to the cold weather.

Accordingly, I am asking parishes to consider the following:

  1. If you do not have a St. Vincent de Paul bin in your parish, I urge you to please contact their vendor directly, CMRK, which delivers their bins to parishes. Simply call (508) 351-9000 and ask for Patrick to schedule a delivery.
  2. Announce this invitation and the reason for it to your parishioners and invite them to donate winter coats, boots, and socks which will be picked up on November 18 just prior to Thanksgiving.
  3. The St. Vincent de Paul Society will pick up the clothing, store it at its facility in Stoughton, and then distribution will be made to those in shelters throughout the Archdiocese.
  4. In addition to winter clothing, other resources which can be donated at the same time and in the same bins include the following items: diapers, toothbrushes (adult and child size), toothpaste, soap, deodorant, mouthwash, combs, lotion, shampoo, washcloths, and Kleenex tissues.
  5. Beyond these immediate actions, there may arise a time when all shelters are filled to capacity and weather conditions require immediate assistance for families in the New England winter. If this occurs, offering short-term critical care and shelter in the biblical sense of “welcoming the stranger” will be the appropriate response from the Archdiocese as a whole.  If you have buildings for this short-term purpose, please contact Fr. Bryan Hehir’s office at (617) 746-5738 or (617) 746-5733.

I stress that this is a crisis but is only going to expand.  I offer this invitation in the spirit of Pope Francis who has asked us as Catholics to watch the “peripheries” of society where suffering is located.  In our time, migrants and refugees are among the most vulnerable individuals and families in the United States.  It is my hope and desire that as a Church we respond generously and effectively.

With the assurance of my prayers and gratitude for your service to the Church,

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Cardinal Sean O’Malley

This week, we continued the work of the synod, which will draw to a close soon.

During the course of the synod, we have moved from table to table so that we are with different people for the discussions, and there are people from all over the world.  It’s a very interesting and engaging way to encourage dialogue and conversation.

A photo of my table.  In the background, you can see the Camaldolese monks who lead us in singing the prayers.


Sunday was, of course, World Mission Sunday, and there was a reception at the Urbaniana, which is the university run by the Propagation of the Faith.  The last time I was there was for the canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who studied there.

The Urbaniana is right next to the North American College and has a very commanding view of St. Peter’s Basilica and the square.

Many synod participants were invited, and it was organized by our own Msgr. Kieran Harrington, the head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.  There was a witness talk by one of the seminarians, Cardinal Tagle addressed us, and there was a film about the work of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Wednesday night, we had a rosary procession at St. Peter’s Basilica to pray for peace, which Cardinal Mauro Gambetti led.

It had originally been scheduled to be outside, but it was moved into the basilica because there was a chance of rain.  The interior of the basilica was all illumined, and we were the only ones there.  It was very impressive.

There were many prayers and reflections offered by the synod participants for the end of war and violence, for respect and dialogue among nations, and for compassion and solidarity with the most vulnerable.

During this week, I was very happy to see several people from Boston who were visiting Rome.  One of them was Jim Driscoll, the head of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of Massachusetts on public policy matters.

Jim was here because every 10 years, they have a meeting of all the state Catholic Conference directors in Rome.  So, I invited him for lunch at Casa Santa Marta, and when we walked through the door, we ran into the Holy Father.  So, he also got a brief personal audience!

Also visiting Rome this week were Bishop Bob Reed and Andrew Skonieczny from St. John’s Seminary and The Seaport Chapel.

We are so glad that the campus ministries in the archdiocese are holding retreats this time of year.  For example, I was happy to receive this picture from Father Kevin Staley-Joyce and the group from Boston University who are in retreat at the St. Methodios Center in New Hampshire.

Finally, at every synod, it is customary to issue a letter to the people to inform them of what has transpired.  There will, of course, be another document coming out of the synod that will be more fulsome and more about the content of the synod.  But this document gives an overview of our work and a message promoting synodality, which is, of course, the theme of the synod.

Letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God

Dear sisters, dear brothers,

As the proceedings of the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops draw to a close, we want to thank God with all of you for the beautiful and enriching experience we have lived.  We lived this blessed time in profound communion with all of you.  We were supported by your prayers, bearing with you your expectations, your questions, as well as your fears.  As Pope Francis requested two years ago, a long process of listening and discernment was initiated, open to all the People of God, no one being excluded, to “journey together” under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, missionary disciples engaged in the following of Jesus Christ.

The session in which we have been gathered in Rome since 30 September is an important phase of this process.  In many ways it has been an unprecedented experience.  For the first time, at Pope Francis’ invitation, men and women have been invited, in virtue of their baptism, to sit at the same table to take part, not only in the discussions, but also in the voting process of this Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.  Together, in the complementarity of our vocations, our charisms and our ministries, we have listened intensely to the Word of God and the experience of others.  Using the conversation in the Spirit method, we have humbly shared the wealth and poverty of our communities from every continent, seeking to discern what the Holy Spirit wants to say to the Church today.  We have thus also experienced the importance of fostering mutual exchanges between the Latin tradition and the traditions of Eastern Christianity.  The participation of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities deeply enriched our discussions.

Our assembly took place in the context of a world in crisis, whose wounds and scandalous inequalities resonated painfully in our hearts, infusing our work with a particular gravity, especially since some of us come from countries where war rages.  We prayed for the victims of deadly violence, without forgetting all those who have been forced by misery and corruption to take the dangerous road of migration.  We assured our solidarity and commitment alongside the women and men all over the world who are working to build justice and peace.

At the invitation of the Holy Father, we made significant room for silence to foster mutual listening and a desire for communion in the Spirit among us.  During the opening ecumenical vigil, we experienced how the thirst for unity increases in the silent contemplation of the crucified Christ.  In fact, the cross is the only cathedra of the One who, having given himself for the salvation of the world, entrusted His disciples to His Father, so that “they may all be one” (John 17:21).  Firmly united in the hope brought by His Resurrection, we entrusted to Him our common home where the cries of the earth and the poor are becoming increasingly urgent: “Laudate Deum!” (“Praise God!”), as Pope Francis reminded us at the beginning of our work.

Day by day, we felt the pressing call to pastoral and missionary conversion.  For the Church’s vocation is to proclaim the Gospel not by focusing on itself, but by placing itself at the service of the infinite love with which God loved the world (cf. John 3:16).  When homeless people near St. Peter’s Square were asked about their expectations regarding the Church on the occasion of this synod, they replied: “Love!”.  This love must always remain the ardent heart of the Church, a Trinitarian and Eucharistic love, as the Pope recalled on October 15, midway through our assembly, invoking the message of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.  It is “trust” that gives us the audacity and inner freedom that we experienced, not hesitating to freely and humbly express our convergences, differences, desires and questions.

And now?  We hope that the months leading to the second session in October 2024 will allow everyone to concretely participate in the dynamism of missionary communion indicated by the word “synod”.  This is not about ideology, but about an experience rooted in the apostolic tradition.  As the Pope reminded us at the beginning of this process, “communion and mission can risk remaining somewhat abstract, unless we cultivate an ecclesial praxis that expresses the concreteness of synodality (…) encouraging real involvement on the part of each and all” (October 9, 2021).  There are multiple challenges and numerous questions: the synthesis report of the first session will specify the points of agreement we have reached, highlight the open questions, and indicate how our work will proceed.

To progress in its discernment, the Church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, starting with the poorest.  This requires a path of conversion on its part, which is also a path of praise: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10:21)!  It means listening to those who have been denied the right to speak in society or who feel excluded, even by the Church; listening to people who are victims of racism in all its forms – in particular in some regions to indigenous peoples whose cultures have been scorned.  Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body, and to commit herself concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again.

The Church also needs to listen to the laity, women and men, all called to holiness by virtue of their baptismal vocation: to the testimony of catechists, who in many situations are the first proclaimers of the Gospel; to the simplicity and vivacity of children, the enthusiasm of youth, to their questions, and their pleas; to the dreams, the wisdom and the memory of elderly people.  The Church needs to listen to families, to their educational concerns, to the Christian witness they offer in today’s world.  She needs to welcome the voice of those who want to be involved in lay ministries and to participate in discernment and decision-making structures.

To progress further in synodal discernment, the Church particularly needs to gather even more the words and experience of the ordained ministers: priests, the primary collaborators of the bishops, whose sacramental ministry is indispensable for the life of the whole body; deacons, who, through their ministry, signify the care of the entire Church for the most vulnerable.  She also needs to let herself be questioned by the prophetic voice of consecrated life, the watchful sentinel of the Spirit’s call.  She also needs to be attentive to all those who do not share her faith but are seeking the truth, and in whom the Spirit, who “offers everyone the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery” (Gaudium et Spes 22), is also present and operative.

“The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission.  It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium” (Pope Francis, October 17, 2015).  We do not need to be afraid to respond to this call.  Mary, Mother of the Church, the first on the journey, accompanies our pilgrimage.  In joy and in sorrow, she shows us her Son and invites us to trust.  And He, Jesus, is our only hope!

Vatican City, October 25, 2023


Until next week,

Cardinal Seán


October 2023