The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Brazil this past week was quite significant. Probably half of the Catholics on the planet are in Latin America and they face many challenges, not least of which is aggressive proselytizing by the Pentecostal groups. They also have limited resources, both human and economic. I am sure the Holy Father’s presence with the bishops of Latin America was much appreciated.
In Latin America, the Holy Father was trying to tie in the quest for social justice to the Church’s teaching on our eternal destiny, eternal salvation and the moral conversion that is necessary to truly bring about a revolution in society. Pope Benedict was there to visit Brazil and to officially open the fifth general conference of the Latin American bishops, also known as CELAM. The bishops will continue to meet for the remainder of the month. They face many challenges. We pray that during this time, when the Church begins as we did yesterday our novena for Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit will lead all of us on the path that God wants us to be on and to give us the strength, courage and wisdom to be able to lead God�s people in these challenging times.
I was privileged to be at the Pueblo Conference, which Pope John Paul II opened in Mexico in 1979. It was his first trip after his election. Of course, he was a very young man, and it was a spectacular event. When I was in the West Indies, I participated in other CELAM meetings through the Antillies bishops conference as an official observer for the nine years that I was there. So I have many friends and many wonderful experiences related to the CELAM, and I am praying for the success of their conference.
I have just begun to read some of the talks that Pope Benedict gave in Brazil, so I cannot comment further, but I would also like to share with you that I just received �Ges� di Nazaret,� the pope�s new book which looks just wonderful. I am enjoying that thoroughly, and I understand that it is now being published in English. I would encourage everyone to read �Jesus of Nazareth.� Pope Benedict is such a wonderful teacher who makes the teachings of the Church so clear. He also helps people to understand how interconnected our teachings are.
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Christopher West, a lay theologian, came to Boston to speak on May 11 to the priests of the archdiocese about �Theology of the Body,� a collection of talks given by Pope John Paul II. I was able to attend one of the conferences at St. John�s Seminary and pray with the priests.
Christopher West speaking in Peterson hall at St. John’s Seminary
It was a fantastic day and many priests and religious were there. I know that the priests were glad to have the opportunity to hear West speak.
Many priests and deacons attended
The event was part of the ongoing formation of all priests and deacons in the archdiocese of Boston. We are grateful to the priests who attended because priests need to be constantly studying and deepening their theological sense.
Father Bill Kelly, who heads the Office of Clergy Support and Ongoing Formation, has been very good about bringing in other programs to help priests and deacons in their ongoing theological formation. He has organized the visits of Cardinal Dulles and Cardinal Stafford in the last two years.
�Theology of the Body� is an important topic that is so timely because it is one of the areas where the Church�s teaching is most challenged by the secular culture. We can no longer just count on teaching by authority. We want to explain to people the origins and the reasons for these teachings, and �Theology of the Body� does that in a cogent and poetic way. We need to be able to respond to people�s questions, real questions that people have today.
A workbook helps participants follow the flow of Christopher’s talk
One of my concerns is that we, as Catholics, develop what I call a new apologetic to go with the new evangelization. The Church�s teaching on chastity and sexuality is challenging in our culture, which is so hedonistic. Pope John Paul�s �Theology of the Body� makes it so clear as to how all of our teachings fit together. They are truly a part of leading a human life � a life that will lead to fulfillment, happiness and eternal friendship with God.
I had heard much about Christopher West before but it was the first time that I had heard him speak. His presentation is so clear. He uses the scriptures and shares with us the beautiful insights of Pope John Paul II into the scriptures. He also shares Pope John Paul�s insight into the teaching of the whole Church and breaks it open for people.
I was pleased that Christopher addressed the laity the following day at the Spiritual Life Center in Medway. We are grateful to him for coming and being available to us. He currently works out of the Diocese of Harrisford, Penn. and is in great demand around the country as a lecturer and as a teacher.
Christopher speaking at the Marian Center in Medway
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We also recently held another St. Andrew�s Dinner for young men discerning a call to the priesthood at St. John�s Seminary. There were around 60 high school students there, accompanied by their pastors, youth ministers and teachers. I was particularly pleased that the young men there represented so many ethnic groups. There were Haitians, Vietnamese, Brazilians and Hispanics there. We began with vespers and then there was a dinner and we had a number of the seminarians come to give personal testimony on their vocations, including Carlos Suarez and Greg Vozzo.
The St. Andrew�s Dinners have been particularly successful, and we want to encourage people to contact the Vocation Office to find out more information or suggest names of young men who may be interested in attending a future dinner. Our hope is that more young men will come to discern their vocation earlier, which would allow them to spend more time in seminary formation. Certainly, college seminary is an important way to train priests.
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On May 16, I attended a dinner to honor retired priests at the BC Club, which is located on the 36th floor of 100 Federal Street in downtown Boston. There is a panoramic view of the entire city from up there. The club runs as a sort of a restaurant/social club and its proceeds go toward BC student scholarships. For the last couple of years, the BC Club with chairman of the board Jack Joyce and the Order of Malta with Jim O�Connor have sponsored the Regina Cleri Dinner to honor retired priests of the archdiocese. It is always a lovely affair.
The dinner always features entertainment that appeals to the retired priests. One group that performed was the Treasury Notes, started by former Massachusetts treasurer Robert Crane. Another singer was former senate president Bill Bulger, who gave a rendition of a number of Irish songs. Additionally, there was a man who gave a dramatic recitation of a poem about Ted Williams and the Red Sox. Then, they had a pianist and clarinet player.
This year, as a big surprise, they had a whole group of bagpipers with a drummer come in with their kilts and Scottish dress. Of course, if you get a half dozen bagpipes in an enclosed space, and it makes a big noise! It was really wonderful, and everyone enjoyed it. But I think everyone was most impressed by the animated rendition of the BC fight song sung by none other than Msgr. John D. Day who belted out several verses of it. He is 95, and his mind is still as sharp as a tack. He remembers everybody�s name and birthdays.
We were expecting some photos of the event to share with you, but unfortunately they have not arrived on time to be published with this week�s blog. We will post them here as soon as they arrive.
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On Thursday, I celebrated Mass for the Ascension in the auditorium of Pope John XXIII High School in Everett. I enjoyed my visit very much.
Heading into the school
I was impressed by the student body there, and I had a chance to meet with some of the students in the library. The student population is very representative of the ethnic groups that reside in that area. In the past, it has been very heavily Irish and Italian. Now we see Asians, Vietnamese, Brazilians and Hispanics all represented in the school. That is a good development. Their enrollment is beginning to grow again, so that is a very hopeful sign. The headmaster, Dr. William Fitzgerald was very much involved in the Catholic worker movement as a young man. He has a great love for his faith, the Church and Catholic education.
Spending some time visiting with the students
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Finally, as my photo of the week I have chosen the cover of the Holy Father’s new book “Ges� di Nazaret,� which is recently available in English. Once again, I encourage all of you to find an opportunity to read our Holy Father’s inspiring words.