Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán shares his reflections & experiences.

Archive for 2007/03


Erin Go Bragh

Before I move on to more serious matters, I would like to wish everyone a happy and blessed St. Patrick’s day!

As I mentioned in my post last week, there was recently a raid on a factory in New Bedford where the owner had a government contract and employed many undocumented workers and where they were working under very poor conditions. Immigration officials apprehended the undocumented workers, many of whom were young parents, and many were sent off to detention centers in other states. The raid and detentions have caused quite a bit of havoc for those families and quite a bit of upset in the local community.

I was able to have very good conversations with the head of immigration services as well as with Senator Edward Kennedy, who has been a champion in immigration reform. President Bush has also, for a long time, been trying to convince the Congress of the need for immigration reform. Certainly this incident here in Massachusetts underscores for us how important a comprehensive and just immigration policy is needed to protect all concerned. In response to this situation, I wrote the following opinion piece that appeared in Boston Globe March 15 and that I would like to share with you here:

Whenever there is a human tragedy resulting from deeply flawed public policy, as we saw in the immigration raid last week in New Bedford, the immediate response is to seek out the villains. There surely were multiple layers of illegality, failed policy and lack of humane vision in the events of last week. The company involved has been accused of violation of federal law; the response of the federal government was problematical at best; and the coordination with state government appears to the outsider to have been inadequate.

Acknowledging all of this, I hope our first priority is the families who were impacted, not a search for the villains of the episode. It is the case that most of the these families are �illegals�, that is people who do not have the proper legal documents to be in the United States. But before they are �illegal�, they are human, women and men with families, hopes and dreams, a determination to find a better life for their children. Their humanity, human dignity and � most of all � their children have the first claim on our conscience as Americans.

Our attention should be directed to two issues at this moment. First of all, these recent events provide another concrete example of why some form of comprehensive immigration reform is urgently needed. President Bush has called for it, Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain have worked for it, but the objective has been mired in political rhetoric and obstructive tactics at several levels of the political process. This country has dealt fairly and effectively with immigration policy in the past. The Archdiocese of Boston is populated with the descendants of immigrants. This shared past � a country shaped from the beginning by those fleeing persecution and poverty � should give us the foundation to build a future that includes an immigration policy adequate to the needs of our time. It is true that in a globalized economy and an interdependent world, the demands upon policymakers are greater. But, as last week demonstrated, failure to create new immigration policy that recognizes the realities of interdependence will multiply human tragedies.

The other issue that demands our attention is the fact that, while immigration reform is urgent, the needs of the women and children in New Bedford are desperate. Their condition is partly the result of a �broken system�, but the concrete, crying needs of the most vulnerable people impacted by this raid must be addressed before we set out to fix the system.

It is good that steps have been taken by federal and state agencies to respond to the needs of the families that were impacted and that the courts are reviewing this matter. But I am concerned about some of the principles guiding the response. For example, in order to be released from custody those arrested in New Bedford had to assert that they were �the sole caretaker� of their children. The question is intended to guarantee one parent or caretaker for each child, but reports indicate that this goal has not been met. More importantly, the question fails to produce an acceptable humanitarian policy. Mothers can be separated from their children, and perhaps deported, as long as there would be a caretaker for the children remaining in Massachusetts. Immigration law and policy are complex, but a test of �sole caretaker or parent� as the determinant of being able to remain united with one�s children fails the test of humane response. That failure is all too well known by the families impacted by the events of last week.

A policy that meets the immediate needs of those who were caught up in last week�s raid is not yet in place. There are many concerns that must be given consideration in the process of developing an adequate policy and this will take time. But we must not lose sight of the human reality. Those who have been detained and those left behind are mothers, fathers, children, wives, husbands and others responsible for holding families together. At another time in history those people could have been us. Our shared respect for humanity and one faith in the promise of better future calls us to do better.

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On Friday March 9 I led a Eucharistic Holy Hour in the chapel of the cathedral on the first day of a Novena to St. Patrick for vocations.

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If you would like to hear an audio recording of my homily, click the microphone icon below:

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The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II blessed six monstrances, one for each of the inhabited continents, for prayer for vocations. The monstrance for North America is in the diocese now as we make this novena for vocations anticipating our patronal feast � the feast of St. Patrick.

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In Ireland, St. Patrick�s Day has always been a very religious holiday. I remember as a child I was always amazed that the president of Ireland and the Taoiseach, the prime minister, and so many lord mayors of Dublin and other cities would be in the United States for St. Patrick�s day. I always wondered to myself, Why they weren�t home having their own parades?

It was only later on that I came to realize that our celebrations here have always been of a more civic, social nature � with parades and parties and the like � whereas in Ireland it was a day where everyone went to Mass. It was a holy day, really.

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As so often happens, the secular culture can co-op our religious traditions and figures. For example, St. Valentine has been completely lost to the greeting card, florist and chocolate industries. They have completely usurped any memory of the martyr-saint who was St. Valentine. Also take the case of St. Nicholas who is a very important saint in the history of the Church. He participated in the Nicene Council. He is one of the fathers of the council who wrote the creed that we pray at Mass every Sunday. Yet he has been transformed into a fat man in a red suit who wriggles down people�s chimneys to give them Christmas gifts that they don�t need.

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Delivering my homily

St. Patrick has, in some ways, been eclipsed by the green beer and the parties and the silly hats. For this reason, I am enthusiastic about the fact that we are working to make it more of a religious holiday here. St. Patrick is our patron saint. He was a great bishop, a great missionary and a great evangelizer. He faced incredible opposition and difficulties in his ministry but he was on fire with the love for Christ and his desire to share that love and faith with the Irish people, in fact the very people that had enslaved him. He wanted to bring them the Christian faith. So all of us who are of Irish descent have a great debt of gratitude to this apostle who evangelized our ancestors.

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The holy cards which were distributed with the novena prayer

Indeed, St. Patrick had a special knack for turning people into evangelizers and making the country that he converted to Catholicism the center of missionary activity. So many of the countries of Europe were evangelized in the Middle Ages by Irish missionaries, and in modern times our foreign missions, in great part, have been staffed by priests, sisters and lay people from Ireland. The Legion of Mary, in particular in missionary countries, was one of the most effective instruments of evangelization. And all of these things are rooted in the faith and the ministry of St. Patrick.

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So I am very pleased that here in Boston which is in some ways a very Irish place, (though we rejoice in the great diversity we have and if you read this blog regularly you see just how diverse we have become) we are able to look at the Gospel message of the life of this saint and to use it as t time to pray for vocations. We pray that all Catholics will have a sense of their vocation, and discipleship and to be transformed by the love of Christ in the grace of their baptism and feel the Holy compulsion to share with others the faith and the joy they find in knowing Christ and following him.

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This year our Men�s Conference will be on St. Patrick�s day itself and the Women�s conference the following day. I hope that many of the readers of this blog will be joining us for these wonderful events that are coming up this weekend.

Boston is the only place in the United States, I think, where St. Patrick�s Day is a civil holiday � it�s Evacuation Day. We also anticipate St. Patrick�s Day with many celebrations and St. Peter Parish in Cambridge always has theirs a week ahead of time to be one of the first. Father Kevin O�Leary has celebrated a Mass to memorialize the Irish Potato Famine that caused so many Irish to come to Boston and to the United States. And his parish was founded by people fleeing hunger and religious persecution in Ireland. So each year he has that Mass and afterwards a lovely Irish meal and Irish music, and this year he actually had the very famous and outstanding Irish Tenors. When my secretary Father Bob Kickham and I heard the Irish Tenors were going to be performing, we thought it must be some group from Dorchester! We didn�t know it was going to be the real McCoy. It was a pleasant surprise to see that Father Kevin had actually landed such a famous singing group and the parishioners enjoyed it thoroughly. Bishop Boles and his sister were there, and a number of priests from the archdiocese. And of course, it was a sellout crowd with St. Peter�s parishioners.

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Father O’Leary and myself with the
Irish Tenors, Anthony Kearns, Karl Scully and Finbar Wright

They sang traditional Irish songs as well as some hymns. The beautiful Irish hymn from the 8th century, which I love very much, �Be Thou My Vision.� They also sang the �Panis Angelicus� as well as some of the traditional songs that the Irish-Americans love like �Danny Boy� and �I�ll Take You Home Again Kathleen� � those very schmaltzy tunes that we like so very much.

Last year, Father Kevin O�Leary got up and sang and he has a great voice and he�s quite a showman, so it was a lot of fun. But when the singers are this professional I think it discourages us amateurs from putting in an appearance!

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Over the weekend I was pleased to take part in a retreat for women considering a vocation to the religious life. There were 20 young women who joined with a number of sisters representing both contemplative and active religious communities who are present in the archdiocese. It was a wonderful day of prayer and reflection. I gave them a short talk and was able to dialogue with them. I was very encouraged by the deep interest of these women in the consecrated life and I am grateful to Sister Marion Batho for organizing it.

It�s a great concern to me that many of our young people have never met a religious sister and don�t have a clear grasp of what consecrated life is about. A day like this is a wonderful opportunity for Catholic women to become more acquainted with religious life and have the opportunity to actually experience life with the sisters and to pray and reflect with them.

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Also, earlier this week I traveled to Washington D.C. to take part in a board of trustees meeting at the Catholic University of America. I am one of a number of bishops on the board.

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I have a great affection for Catholic University. I studied there, received my doctorate there and even taught there for a couple of years. It�s always a joy to go back to see the progress that they have made. The university�s president Father David O�Connell has done an extraordinary job of advancing the campus life and the Catholic identity at the university.

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The CUA campus with the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception in the background

It was wonderful to hear the report from the campus ministers. The campus ministry office is doing an extraordinary job there and they are using the RENEW program for the students and a great many are participating. Since we are planning to bring the RENEW program here to Boston, that gave me an idea to try to involve campus ministry in the program as well. It�s a way of doing adult faith formation with our university students as well.

Also that day there was a groundbreaking ceremony for a new seven-story residence hall that will be known as Opus Hall.

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The ground breaking ceremony

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An architect’s rendering of the planned Opus Hall.

While I was at CU, I had the pleasure of meeting a student from our archdiocese named Greg Athanas. His home parish is St. Jerome�s in Weymouth and he is a graduate of Archbishop Williams in Braintree. He�s studying and is very involved in the campus ministry there and last year went and worked in their mission in Belize.

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Greg Athanas poses for a photo with me

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On Wednesday, March 14 I was the featured speaker at the first talk of a new lecture series that will be held at St Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown. It is named for the late Father Henry Gallagher who died in 1991 and was especially noted for his love and service of the poor and concern for the young and their education.

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There was quite a good crowd

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It was a very nice turnout. I was surprised to see a big cross-section of the parish. Father Jim Ronan who was a missionary in the St. James Society and who worked in the Bishop�s Conference in the Latin American office is doing extraordinary job, bringing the Catholics of Charlestown together and serving the Hispanic community at St Mary-St. Catherine�s.

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Father Ronan

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Finally, on Thursday afternoon, I attended a meeting of the St John�s Seminary Board of Trustees. We have a number of priests, bishops and lay people on the board who are very dedicated. It was a very productive meeting. It was announced at yesterday�s meeting that, in addition to the other bishops who are already part of the board, Bishop Tobin from Providence will join St. John�s Board of Trustees.

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The board meeting in the seminary library

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This was also Father John Farren�s last board meeting as our rector and the board thanked him for all of his work during this very challenging period of the history of the seminary.

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Father Farren and I speak before the board meeting

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For my photo of the week I have chosen the image which was used for the holy cards used for novena prayer to St. Patrick.

Through the intercession of St. Patrick, may God grant us the courage to announce His Gospel with our words and deeds — even when it seems beyond our strength!

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