Well, this is certainly an exciting time. Next week, we will receive the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, here in the United States, an historic and joyful occasion for all Catholics.
I have written a letter to be read this weekend in all of the parishes, calling on our people to reflect on the importance of this moment and to realize the great gift that the ministry of the pope means in our Church, the ministry of unity and of our catholicity.
We are over one billion Catholics in the world. As I always say, we come in every size, shape and color, speaking every language, and we need this ministry of Peter to keep us united in Christ’s body and in fidelity to the teachings of the Gospel.
We have a great gift in the incredible intelligence and clarity of this pope who is a true teacher, and I am sure he will come to our country with many messages that will be of great importance for us in living our Christian life. So, the purpose of my letter was to encourage people to look beyond just the event of the visit and to focus on the message and the meaning of the visit.
Dearly Beloved in Christ,
Throughout the history of salvation, God has raised up individuals to lead his people. Christ assigned a special role of leadership to St. Peter. After Christ’s name, it is Peter’s name that appears with the greatest frequency in the New Testament.
The testimony of Early Christian writers and the witness of the martyrs demonstrate that the pope’s role has always been a crucial part of God’s plan for the Church. Jesus said the words to Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” It was Jesus who gave Simon the new name, Peter, meaning “the rock.” Jesus also bestows on Peter the power to forgive sin and to loose and bind on heaven and on earth.
To me one of the most moving experiences of my life has been to visit the tomb of St. Peter under the Basilica of St. Peter on the Vatican Hill. St. Jerome says that Peter was Bishop of Rome for 25 years until his martyrdom by Nero. Peter was nailed to the cross upside down because he insisted that he was not worthy to die as Christ did.
The New Testament does not hide Peter’s human weakness, but the Acts of the Apostles describes Peter as he boldly proclaims Christ’s resurrection, announces the Gospel message and leads the young Church in the face of so many challenges. Guided by the Spirit, Peter chooses a replacement for Judas and carries on the mission that Christ entrusted to him. That mission has continued in the apostolic succession handed on from generation to generation by the laying on of hands and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ has not left us orphans. The Holy Spirit still guides the Church, and makes the ministry of Peter present in every generation. The pope’s ministry is a gift from Christ that promotes the unity and the catholicity of our Church with over 1 billion members in every part of the world.
In the New Testament, St. Luke describes how the early Christians laid their sick by the side of the road so that Peter’s shadow might touch them. Catholics throng to where the pope is for the same reason, to be near the vicar of Christ. It is the way we express our love for the Lord Jesus, who has given to his Church this ministry of Peter to guide us and to confirm us in the faith.
I write this letter to ask you to pray for the spiritual success of the Holy Father’s visit. At the same time, I urge all my fellow Catholics to listen attentively to the message that the pope will address to us. The Holy Father is not a celebrity or a rock star. He is a shepherd and represents Christ, the Good Shepherd, who commanded Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Pope Benedict is coming to feed us in our hunger for God and for truth.
Let us receive our Holy Father with loyalty and affection. May his presence among us help us to grow in our love for Christ and for one another. May his words renew us in our commitment to be faithful disciples in Christ’s Church.
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During Pope Benedict’s visit, I will be going down to Washington, D.C. There will be a welcoming ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. Phil Moran, a member of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Pastoral Council, will be attending the event, joining many lay people from around the country who will be a part of the welcoming ceremony.
Also on Wednesday, the Holy Father will address the bishops in the afternoon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Thursday there will be the Mass in the new Nationals Park in Washington. In the afternoon, the Holy Father will meet with Catholic college presidents and the superintendents of Catholic schools from throughout the United States. Our people from Boston will be there — from our Catholic colleges and schools. There will also be an ecumenical meeting that day and Father Kennedy, rector of St. John’s Seminary, will attend.
On Friday, the Holy Father will address the United Nations, a very important part of his trip, and there will be a number of other events in New York — an ecumenical service and a Mass which will be attended by several Boston bishops, priests and religious, including Father Art Coyle, Sister Marian Batho and Father Richard Erikson.
Then, there will be a youth rally at St. Joseph’s Seminary. Our seminarians will be attending that event along with some of our youth groups from our parishes and colleges. Finally, the closing Mass will be on Sunday and 3,000 people from Boston will be attending that Mass.
All the events will be carried live by CatholicTV. They will also broadcast the events live at their website.
The Friday and Saturday prior to the pope’s closing Mass, we will be celebrating the Boston Men’s and Women’s Conferences. One of the themes of the conference will be to ask those participating to be in prayer for the spiritual success of the pope’s visit — which is something we encourage all Catholics to do, particularly this week as we prepare for the visit and experience the visit.
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Last Friday I attended a conference entitled “Co-Workers in the Vineyard: Laity and Clergy Journeying Together in Christ,” at St. John’s seminary.
Aldona Lingertat, the associate Director of our Master of Arts in Ministry Program
The conference focused on the role of the laity in the Church and the future of lay ministry in the archdiocese. I am please to say there was an excellent turnout — I believe about 200 people attended. The room was practically standing-room only.
The discussion at the conference was based on the USCCB document “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord” in light of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Committee’s Report on future needs of the archdiocese.
In the morning, Aurelie Hagstrom, a theology professor at Providence College, delivered her keynote address on the USCCB’s “Co-Workers” document and later Father George Evans, chair of the archdiocese’s Pastoral Planning Committee spoke on his committee’s report.
In the afternoon, there were group discussions and a panel discussion. At the conclusion of the gathering, I made some brief remarks and delivered the final blessing.
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Last Saturday I traveled to St. Lucy Parish in Methuen for the 50th anniversary of the parish. We had a very good time with the parishioners and their pastor, Father Thomas Keyes. They have sent us some photos of the event that I want to share with you.
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On Sunday, I had a Mass with the Nigerian community. It was a very colorful experience.
The people were all wearing their beautiful Nigerian attire for festive occasions — the women wore head dresses and the men in their robes. It was a very joyful celebration. Of course, the music was magnificent. They sang many songs in their native language.
The community is part of St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Roxbury. The pastor, Father Oscar Pratt, was with me as well as Father Anselm Nwagbrara, a Nigerian priest who is their chaplain. And we had the great joy of having Msgr. Felix Ojimba visiting. He used to live with us at the cathedral and had done such wonderful ministry among the sick years ago in Boston. He was later called back to his home diocese but visits regularly because he has relatives and many friends here.
At the end of Mass, they have the custom of calling children and young people up to give them a blessing and of course there were many children there. It was very moving to see them come forward and to see the enthusiasm and joy that characterizes the community’s celebration of the Mass.
It reminded me of the time when I was in the West Indies. The people come to church dressed up, they sing and the Mass is an event. It is a celebration in every sense of the word. The Mass lasted about two-and-a-half hours, and I am always happy to be in a place where people won’t be checking their wrist watches during my homily. I can talk as long as I want!
Afterwards there was a meal with plenty of Nigerian food. At the beginning of the celebration they offered to me, as a sign of hospitality, a plate of some very fancy nuts, so I took one and said to Father Oscar, “Am I supposed to eat it?” and he replied, “If you eat it, you won’t sleep for two weeks.” So, after a little consideration, I gracefully declined the offer!
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Tuesday was officially the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Boston, which was formed on April 8, 1808. We marked the day by celebrating a Mass at CatholicTV.
We were joined by Father Thomas Kopp, who is our director of the Propagation of the Faith and also pastor at St. James the Greater Parish in Boston. He brought a number of his parishioners from St. James, many of them from the Chinese Catholic community, as well as his parish’s deacon, a young Jesuit, Deacon Joseph. We were also accompanied by Msgr. Finbarr O’Leary, director of the Saint James Society.
At the Mass we reflected on the fact that our diocese was started 200 years ago by two missionary priests from France. Over the past 200 years, the archdiocese has made quite a substantial commitment to the mission of the Church, sending 300 priests to South America through the St. James Society as well as the work of the Propagation of the Faith.
CatholicTV also aired a special edition of “This is the Day” where a number of people discussed the bicentennial, for which I was interviewed.
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Until my next blog posting, in which I hope to share with you the first part of the pope’s visit to the United States. I want to reiterate my request for prayers for the spiritual success of his visit.
God Bless you all.