Last Friday, I went to Philadelphia to the funeral of Cardinal John Foley, who had been the Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and, for many years, head of the Vatican office in charge of media.
He had been with us in 2008 for the annual gathering of the New England chapter of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre that took place in Providence that year. At the time he was already having health problems.
He was a beloved figure, and for many was the face and voice of the Church, because of his work in communications at the Vatican. Many will remember him for his commentary during the Holy Father’s Christmas and Easter celebrations.
Many years ago he was the editor of the Standard and Times, the newspaper of the Archdiocese Philadelphia. That got me into trouble once because when I was named the Bishop of Fall River and I was still in the Virgin Islands, I got a call from a reporter who said she was from the Standard-Times (the New Bedford newspaper), and I said, “Oh you mean below the standard and behind the times.” She was furious with me!
But we used to joke that way with the folks at the Catholic paper of Philadelphia. It was, of course a very fine newspaper, but it was just one of those smart Alec remarks that people make.
Cardinal Foley was a very warm, outgoing and beloved figure — in Philadelphia especially — where many priests, bishops, and cardinals gathered for his funeral.
Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, the present Pro-Master of the Order, was the principal celebrant and Archbishop Timothy Dolan was the homilist. Both of them had been in Rome for many years, so as expatriates from America, they had a very close friendship with Bishop Foley.
Archbishop Dolan delivering his homily
The interment was done by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. He was buried in the crypt underneath the high altar. We pray for the repose of Cardinal Foley’s soul.
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On my visit to Philadelphia, I had dinner with my classmate Father Paul Kuppe and Father Tom Betz and I was able to visit with some of the postulants for our Capuchin province.
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As we do each Advent, on Saturday we had a Mass organized by our Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It is always a moving experience.
With June Chin, Deacon Paul Kline and Barbara Thorp of our Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach
I feel gratified by the response of the people. We know that for many people Christmas can be a very challenging time, particularly under the weight of emotional strain. Hopefully this Mass does help promote healing and give people an opportunity to connect with the Church.
I am so grateful to Barbara Thorp, and all those working in her office, who made the arrangements for the Mass and the reception.
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I spent the Fourth Sunday of Advent at St. John’s Seminary, where the seminary community organized a joyful celebration to mark the 45th anniversary of the ordination of their rector, Bishop Arthur Kennedy.
Many members of Bishop Kennedy’s family were there, along with friends and colleagues who had worked with him at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minneapolis.
We began with a Mass, which featured a very beautiful music program. After the Mass, the seminarians played the violin and the flute for us.
Before the luncheon there was also a very fine set of talks by Bishop Kennedy’s brothers and Msgr. Bill Fay, who had worked with Bishop Kennedy at the U.S. Bishops’ Conference for many years.
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Usually around Christmastime I always try to celebrate Mass at a prison in the archdiocese. So, on Monday, I visited Framingham State Women’s Prison.
Sister Maureen Clark has done an outstanding job ministering to the women there and she has a fine team of volunteers who help her. I was also accompanied on my visit by Deacon Jim Greer, who heads our prison and health care ministries, and my priest secretary, Father Jonathan Gaspar.
It is a very old prison, and they have an old chapel with stained glass windows where the Mass is celebrated. We had a very large attendance. It was just packed with a couple of hundred women there. During the Mass, I had the joy of receiving a woman into the Church. She received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion. At the end of the Mass Sister Maureen asked Father Jonathan to sing. He sang the Christmas carol “What Child is This?” a cappella, to their great delight.
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The priests of Regina Cleri always have me over around the holidays, so this year we decided to reciprocate by having them come for our Tuesday noon Mass here at the Pastoral Center and stay for lunch.
A good group came over, and it was a lovely Advent moment of prayer and fellowship with our senior priests.
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That afternoon I attended a service at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge for all of those who died within the last year. The rector or our Cathedral, Father Kevin O’Leary, has had the service in years past and he invited me be with them this year.
Mt. Auburn is a very emblematic venue that contains so much of our history going back to the pre-Civil War period. Leaders of the abolitionist movement, Black officers who died in the Civil War, great political and civic leaders of Boston — whose names are very familiar to us because of the streets and monuments named for them — are buried in this very historic cemetery.
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Wednesday evening, we had dinner with the Sisters Disciples of the Divine Master to thank them for the wonderful service they provide here at the Pastoral Center, the Cathedral and Regina Cleri, as well as their great support for the priests of the archdiocese. It is so much appreciated.
We were so happy to have 11 of them over for dinner. The 11 women present were from nine different countries. So, it is a very international group.
They are loved and revered by the Catholics of the archdiocese and particularly our clergy.
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Finally, I would like to leave you this week with my Christmas message, which I recorded for Vatican Radio and would also like to share with you:
At Christmas our God comes to us as a humble pilgrim in search of hospitality. Nourished by the bread of life that comes to us from the manger, let us open our hearts to welcome to this Divine Pilgrim, the Lord Jesus. By reaching out with compassion and loving care we can give Him hospitality as he comes to us disguised in the hungry, the homeless, the mentally ill, the imprisoned, the stranger, the immigrant. Jesus came to reveal the merciful face of the father: the poor, the sick, the marginalized are the protagonists of His Gospel. It is our task to be the merciful face of Christ. “As the Father sent me, so I send you,” Jesus tells us.
He does not send us alone but with our brothers and sisters whose faith and solidarity sustains us. And He gives us the spiritual food of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. At Christmas we come to the manger to see the Baby Pictures and rejoice as we look at our Family Album. This is our history, our story. Our faith tells us that Christ born of Bethlehem 2000 years ago is still Emmanuel, God with us. He comes to offer us His friendship and love and invite us to a life of discipleship in His Church.
At Bethlehem the Shepherds were filled with joy and wonder and were anxious to share that joy with others. Knowing the Lord, carries with it an obligation to make Him known and loved.
Christmas is the feast of the Child, the Christ child, our God who made Himself small to be close to us. Jesus says in the Gospel, “Unless you become like a little child you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” God came to show us, in the humility and simplicity of a little baby, show us his love. God’s love in the face of a child is a love that is always new, always fresh, that never tires of loving us, never tires of forgiving us, never tires of giving us another chance. We can go to Him only in humility and the simplicity of a child. Children have such a sense of trust in their parents – God wants us to have that trust in Him. At Christmas, we are able to catch a glimpse of the face of God and his love, and when we discover His love, we discover who we are, why we are here, and what we have to do with our lives.
Merry Christmas to all of you, to your families and loved ones. May this be the Christmas when, once again, we discover how deeply our Lord loves us, and find the strength to live according to that love.
- Cardinal Sean