Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán shares his reflections & experiences.

Archive for 2008/02/01


Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle

Welcome all,

I’m pleased to begin this week’s post with the announcement that the Archdiocese of Boston is making available 3,000 tickets to the papal Mass in New York on April 20.

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Although we would have loved to have Pope Benedict XVI come to Boston, we realize he was not able to visit every city. Still, we are excited about his visit to the United States, and the New York Mass marks the bicentenary of Boston, Louisville, New York and Philadelphia. We are urging the people of Boston to go to New York — which is the nearest point of his visit — to greet the Holy Father.

Although it is clear that not everyone will be able to attend, we are encouraging everyone to consider the possibility of accompanying the Holy Father to the Mass at Yankee Stadium. For more information about entering the ticket lottery, visit the bicentennial celebration’s Web site at www.Boston200.org.

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This week it was quite a shock for all of us that a young priest ordained last May, Father Daniel Kennedy, died suddenly of a heart attack in his brother’s home.

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Father Dan

I had seen Father Dan recently, and I asked him, “How are things going?” He replied, “Cardinal, it’s wonderful to be a priest.” I could see how enthusiastic he was. He had been working in the chaplaincy program with the Navy, and he was very engaged with his parish ministry. He also wrote on this blog last summer of his experience as he was just begining his ministry.

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Father Dan greeting parishioners at
St. John the Evangelist Parish in Winthrop

Because he was a young man who was apparently so healthy and who had participated many times in the Boston Marathon, of course there was no warning of his imminent death. As a result, the surprise and grief at his passing was very, very great.

Our sympathy goes out to his parents and family. Dan was very close to his family — a beautiful family.

As today was his funeral Mass, we ask people to pray for him and pray for his family. We also pray that other young men will be inspired by his generosity and enthusiasm for the priesthood. Although his ministry here was short, we know that he is a priest forever.

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This year the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle is celebrating the 50th anniversary of is foundation. Last week, I traveled to Peru to be a part of some of the celebrations and special events that are taking place there.

I stayed at their center house in Barranco, a section of Lima. Not only were the men currently serving with the society present, also many of the former members of the St. James Society as well including Father Jim Ronan and Bishop Robert Hennessey.

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A group photo with all the priests members of the Society

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These are the new priests who joined the Society in 2007, posing with the society’s director, Msgr. Finbarr O’Leary, and me: Father Derek Leonard, Msgr. Finbarr, Father Colm Hogan, Father Thomas Bierney, Father Jonathan Hart and Father John Keane

I gave a keynote address on evangelization, and there were a number of other talks.

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Priests spoke about the situation of the Church, the history of the society and projections for the future. Father Patrick Byrne, SVD, the secretary of the Holy Childhood Association, gave a very interesting talk about his international organization, founded in 1843 and dedicated to fostering awareness of the missionary nature of the Church among children. There was also an address by the retired Bishop of Sicuani, Msgr. Albano Quinn, about the repercussions of the influx of foreign missionaries in the local communities.

Archbishop Antonio Arregui Yarza, the Archbishop of Guayaquil, Ecuador was also there at the center house with us, and celebrated one of the Masses.

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Archbishop Arregui Yarza of Guayaquil
presiding at Mass

On Sunday, the Apostolic Nuncio to Peru presided over a Mass in the neighborhood of El Salvador, one of the pueblos jovenes. Bishop Hennessey delivered the homily at the Mass.

Pueblos jovenes are shanty towns inhabited by squatters who have come down from the mountains and the rural areas. In fact, millions of them have simply set up shacks on the sand dunes. Because of the Humboldt Current, the cold ocean current that extends along the West Coast of South America, it does not rain along the coast.

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Bishop Hennessey

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One evening, I was able to arrange to take the Boston priests out for dinner in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima that is right on the water. I was very surprised to see how modern the shopping center in which the restaurant was located was. The situation in Peru is slightly calmer now than it has been historically, and there have been some positive developments in the economy. Unfortunately, the country still has some of the poorest areas in the hemisphere, and, as I understand it, also one of the largest rates of illiteracy among its population.
Over the last 50 years, the society has typically assisted rural and very poor urban parishes. After bringing them up to a certain level, the society then turns them over to the local dioceses and moves on to other challenging areas.

Over the course of its history, about 300 priests have participated in the work of the St. James Society. Originally, Cardinal Cushing sent down a large group to begin the work. Early on, the practice was that a priest would serve a certain number of years, let’s say five, and then return to his diocese. This was a great blessing for us because many of the men who worked in the St. James Society returned to Boston and then became involved in Hispanic ministry here at a time when more and more Spanish-speaking people were coming from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

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In more recent years, the tendency has been for fewer men to go but to stay for longer periods of time. Cardinal Cushing saw this as a society that was open to inviting all diocesan priests to be a part of it. Although Boston is always the largest participant, there has been a history of priests coming from Ireland, England and Scotland. At the present time, there are many priests serving in the St. James Society from Ireland. There is also an Australian priest and one from New Zealand and the most recent additions have been two priests from the Philippines.

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Msgr. Finbarr O’Leary, director of the society, recently reorganized the board of directors, and there is great hope for the future. We are always inviting priests in Boston and other diocesan priests from different places in the United States to consider being a part of this very valuable missionary experience.

The society has given the Catholics of Boston a great sense of the Church’s missionary nature because each summer the priests from St. James come back and preach in many of our parishes. This is not only a way of collecting money for the apostolate and the works of mercy that the St. James Society sponsors in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, but it also exposes the Catholics of the archdiocese to the larger Church and to the needs of the Church, the Mission ad Gentes.

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On Thursday I met with Sister Olga, a hermit who is originally from Iraq and who is working here in the diocese at the Newman Center at Boston University.

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Sister Olga has recently returned from a trip to Iraq. She presented me with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima that she had carried during her trip, for the intention of peace in Iraq. If you are a regular visitor here, you may recall that I wrote a little bit about her trip and shared some of her pictures with you earlier this month.

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When sister arrived at my offices the statue was still wrapped in the original
paper an string from Fatima

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I asked her to write about her trip so I could share the powerful experience of her trip with all of you. Here are her reflections:

From Dec. 16, 2007 to Jan. 9, 2008, I took a service trip to Iraq inspired by the teaching of Pope John Paul II on the importance of bringing peace, “War is a defeat for humanity,” “Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man” and ”Peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society.” I felt God calling me to make this journey to Iraq, especially during the Christmas Season when we celebrate the arrival of His peace to this world. I have been blessed to know many people over the various periods of my life — Iraqis, Americans, civilians and soldiers. I felt God driving me forward to share some of His light with them, particularly in the midst of this difficult time, and to help bring some of His peace to them.

There is a line which I took from Pope Benedict’s reflection on the Magnificat, “I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for.” It is from this point that I began my prayer and discernment of this trip.

What truly draws me is this feeling that, while I am Iraqi by birth, I am American by adoption, and thus find myself in a gulf between two nations — my heart torn for both and seeking peace for both in the midst of the harsh reality of war. I have encountered being between two worlds, of belonging to two families which are at odds to each other.

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The image that called to me in prayer during my preparation for my trip was the image of the wedding at Cana. As I contemplate my people in Iraq, it is easy to see the suffering and poverty caused by war and embargo. As I look at my people in America, I see also the suffering caused by the experiences of 9/11, by the war in Afghanistan, by the fear of terrorism, by the war in Iraq. I see my people as having run out of the “wine” of Christ’s love, and I hear the voice of Mother Mary calling to her Son, interceding for her children that have run out of this wine of peace and of joy. As a response, I hear the voice of the Lord as He turns to me and invites me to be the one to help Him plant the seeds of the grapevines which will bring this wine to His people.

The Blessed Mother has always been present in every step of my life. She also became a big part of my journey to Iraq. The year of 2007 was the 90th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady in Fatima, where she encouraged all people to pray the rosary for the purpose of peace. Conscious of this and seeking Our Lady’s intercession, I planned to stop in Fatima on my way to Iraq to spend two days in prayer and seek the guidance of Our Blessed Mother before continuing this journey. I wanted to go there in remembrance of her message in 1917 when she appeared during the 1st World War, “Say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war…. If they do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace. The war is going to end.” It was to Our Lady under her title of Our Lady of the Visitation, Queen of Peace that I consecrated my trip.

To stay united with my American “family” during my trip, I offered to the Boston University Catholic Center Chapel a chalice and paten as a sign of hope for peace between our nations. I had the chalice engraved on the bottom with my sincere desire for this peace, “USA — Peace — Iraq — 2007”.

When I stepped on the ground at the airport of Sulumaneia in the north of Iraq, I knelt and kissed the ground with many tears, holding in my heart all the Iraqis and Americans who have shed their blood on this soil as well as all the Iraqis who had to flee and leave their beloved country. I felt as if I wanted to hug the whole country on behalf of every Iraqi refugee who has missed their homeland. I stood there a long time, and I was the last person to get to the line for customs.

Some of the intentions of my service trip to Iraq were:

1. To take two statues of Our Lady of Fatima (from Fatima) one to Iraq and another one to America for the intention of peace between our nations. I brought the first one to the Apostolic Nunciature in Iraq on Dec. 29, 2007. The second one was presented to Cardinal Seán O’Malley in Boston on Jan. 31, 2008.

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Presenting the fist statue at the nunciature

2. To arrive to the Middle East during the Islamic feast of Al-Adha, celebrated before our Christmas. I wanted to offer the gift of presence and solidarity to the innocent Muslim people of my country who have been suffering because of what some of the insurgents have done in the name of their beliefs. I visited some Muslim neighborhoods.

3. To be present to the Christian community during the Christmas season. Thanks be to God, the Lord granted me that desire. I was in my hometown for Christmas Day. To express my solidarity with the Christians of Iraq during the Christmas Season, I visited: the Apostolic Nunciature in Iraq, the Chaldean cardinal, the bishop of the Syrian Catholics, the bishop of the Old Assyrian Church, the Coptic Church (which celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7) and an old Protestant Church that, before the war, was the only one in Iraq. It was difficult for me to hear all the sad and painful stories from the Iraqis. They talked about the loss of their loved ones and other things that they have experienced during and after this war.

4. To visit the American troops. The day of my visit was the Sunday of the Feast of the Holy Family. I met with the Catholic Chaplain of the Air Force in the American base, Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv. He helped me to spend some time with some of the soldiers. I was very happy to find out that three of them were from Massachusetts, from the Archdiocese of Boston — John P. Quinn, Steven J. Buccheri and David Hrubes. John and Steven are married; each with two kids and David is engaged. During my lunchtime with them, they started sharing their stories about their families and how much they miss being home. One of them told me, with tears in his eyes, when I gave him a hug, “Sister, this is the closest I’ve been to home since I came to Iraq. By seeing you, I feel I went home.”

Today, as I look back on my journey and reflect on my present time here in America, I believe even more that I am called to continue the journey of my hope for peace. The challenges, the darkness, the pain of war and violence that I experienced in Iraq could not diminish the light of hope that I have and the power of love. Yes, I feel that hatred and animosity are like cancer that spreads and kills, but the power of love is stronger to bring healing and reconciliation. Because of the love of Christ — the love that has the power to forgive and to heal — my human heart was able to feel the pain of both the Iraqis and Americans who might look at each other as enemies. It is true what Pope John Paul II said, “There is no peace without justice, and no justice without forgiveness.” This trip gave me a stronger conviction for the need to pray for conversion of hearts. May the hearts of the Iraqis and the Americans be open for the love that can heal and reconcile. Love is the road to lead to forgiveness, and forgiveness is the key that opens the door of peace. I close my reflection on this trip with the words of Martin Luther King, “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

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I ask you to join Sister Olga and I in prayers for peace in Iraq and elsewhere in the world by praying the Rosary, as Our Lady asked the shepherd children in Fatima.

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Until next week.

In Christ,

Cardinal Seán