Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán shares his reflections & experiences.

Archive for 2009/10


The International Priests Retreat

Greetings, once again!

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I was in Ars, France, where I participated in the International Priests Retreat held to mark the Year for Priests.

At Logan Airport, as I was about the take the plane to France, I was invited by the kitchen workers there to bless their kitchen. Of course, I was very happy to do it.

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The retreat in Ars was attended by about 1,500 priests, both young and old, from about 75 different countries.

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The confessional of St. John Vianney

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The room where he died

As you might suppose, the largest group of attendees was from France. The second largest group was from the United States and there were priests from Africa, Latin America, China, and Eastern Europe there, as well.

Those who travelled the farthest to attend were a group of priests and a bishop from Samoa. It took them three days to get there. Unfortunately, the bishop had to return home early because of the tsunami that struck the islands.

We had a very nice group of about 20 priests from Boston and the New England area. Father Bill Kelly, our director of the Office for Clergy Support and Ongoing Formation, organized the trip for us.

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Father Bill Kelly

The venue for the retreat talks was a very large underground church built near St. John Vianney’s Parish Church and Basilica.

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For our meals, the organizers put up a big tent in a field near the basilica

Many priests stayed in hotels in the area. I stayed at the Le Foyer Sacerdotale, a retreat house that is very close to the basilica.

The retreat was preached by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, so he gave most of the talks. Cardinal Schönborn spoke in French. I gave four talks during the retreat, though I delivered mine in English.

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Cardinal Schönborn

One of the talks was given by Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities, on the theme of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples.

The retreat opened with a video of the Holy Father greeting the priests. You can read the text of his speech here.

One night there was a beautiful Eucharistic procession through the streets of Ars.

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In one of the liturgies, we renewed our priestly vows from the Holy Thursday Mass. That was a very moving experience as well.

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There was also a large penance service for the priests

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When I celebrated Mass for the group on Wednesday, we used the Cure of Ars’ chalices and his vestments. We used his monstrance during the Eucharistic Adoration.

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One of the Masses was celebrated by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris. Then, Cardinal Christian Tumi, the Archbishop of Douala, Cameroon, arrived and celebrated Mass towards the end of the retreat.

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The Community of the Beatitudes was in charge of the music and they did a terrific job.

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I had the opportunity to meet again Cathy Brenti who came to Boston together with her bishop in 2006 with the relic of the heart of the Cure D’Ars. She was one of the coordinators of this priests retreat.

It was a wonderful way to mark the Year for Priests. In fact, this event was planned even before the Year for Priests was announced, particularly with the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, but it was very fitting in this context.

It was a grace-filled experience for all those who were able to be a part of it.

I had never been to Ars before. It is a very beautiful town in the rural agricultural part of France. It is in the southeastern part of the country, an area with many important religious shrines. It is not far from Taizé, Cluny, Paray-le-Monial, which are all in that area. LaSalette is also not terribly far away.

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While in Ars, my priest secretary Father Jonathan tried a new video camera and created the following short videos.

First a beautiful story on the arrival of Father Jean-Marie Vianney to Ars

Then, with the help of Father Marcel Taillon, a tour of the home of the Cure D’Ars and of the museum.

He also taped me as I was at the original church where St. Jean Marie Vianney served the people.

And we asked Cardinal Schönborn and Jean Vanier to greet our blog readers.

While in France, I was also able to visit some other parts of the country as well. I had the opportunity to visit the nearby town of Paray-le-Monial where Our Lord appeared to Marguerite Marie Alacoque in the 17th century. In the visions, Christ asked for greater devotion to the Eucharist and also for the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

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On our way back, we came through Paris. We arrived there on October 2. I had always heard that there were certain days when they venerated the relic of the Crown of Thorns at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Knowing this, I checked the browser on my phone to see when the veneration would be taking place.

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Sure enough, there it was. I saw that veneration was to happen within two hours! We went right to Notre Dame. Though we just showed up, they were very kind to us.

Ars_BB_IMG00048-20091002-1022 The Knights of the Holy Sepulcher take care of the relics.

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I was able to hold the crown of thorns for veneration by the people

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The church was packed with people for the veneration. Many Russian Orthodox faithful came to be a part of it as well.

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This is a reliquary that hosts the crown of thorns. I believe it was made by Napoleon

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Another reliquary

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This is the tunic that belonged to St. Louis, the King of France

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These are medallions of all the popes, down to Benedict XVI. They are cameos, carved out on sea shells

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Following the retreat, I flew directly from Paris to Washington, D.C., for the annual meeting of the National Catholic Education Association on Monday, October 5.

The NCEA is the professional association for the 200,000 people who work in Catholic education at all levels — primary schools, secondary schools, universities, seminaries.

Each year, they honor people from throughout the country for their contributions to Catholic education.

Two President’s awards and six Ann Seton awards were presented this year, one of them to Jack and Eileen Connors.

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Each of the honorees was able to name one person who would receive a scholarship. The Connors named a young man, Addison Atanga, an eighth grader at Holy Trinity in Brockton, as the beneficiary of the scholarship.

It was very enlightening to see what is happening throughout the country and how people are stepping forward to support Catholic education and to work for the renewal of our Catholic schools. We are very proud that among the people who were singled out for their philanthropy and dedication to Catholic schools was Jack and Eileen Connors.

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By Tuesday, I was back home in Boston. On Tuesday night, I went to Stonehill College for a celebration to honor Father Mark Cregan. He was given the Thomas and Mary Shields Awards for all of his support of Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton. The event was held at the college’s new science hall, which was named in honor of the Shields.

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The children from Trinity Academy sang a number of songs and the band played a number of pieces. The children did a fantastic job.

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Three or four students read essays that they had submitted for a contest. It was just amazing to listen to the caliber of these essays because it sounded more like high school material. Everyone was so impressed with what they are doing.

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Finally, don’t forget about our Social Justice Convocation on Saturday, Oct. 17 at Boston College High School, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I invite you all to attend what will help you bring to the world Christ’s compassion and love for all. I am looking forward to seeing you there.

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán