The first Sunday of Lent is always a very special moment in the life of the Church. In each of the cathedrals of the world, a special gathering takes place in which the catechumens and others are being received into the Church on Holy Saturday gather with the bishop in the public ceremony in which the catechumens sign the Book of the Elect. The Cathedral was filled at 1:30 and 4:30 with the catechumens and candidates, their sponsors and families.
It is an extraordinary sign of the Church’s growth and the ministry of evangelization.
It is also a wonderful opportunity for these new Catholics to feel part of the larger Church and stress to them that they are not just joining a parish community, but are becoming part of the Roman Catholic Church throughout their diocese and throughout the world. It is always a very joy filled occasion for the new Catholics who participate.
We also see this as a great reminder to all the parishes of the need to be a welcoming and invitational community, inviting people to a life of discipleship in our Catholic parishes.
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That evening, I had dinner with John Garvey, who was in Boston to give a talk to students at Harvard University’s Catholic Center. He was accompanied by his vice president for institutional advancement, Ken DeDominicis.
John Garvey is the president of the pontifical Catholic University of America and many will remember that he was formerly the Dean of Boston College Law School. He is an outstanding Catholic layman. During the dinner we had a chance to discuss with him the HHS contraceptive mandate and other situations in our country.
President Garvey, Ambassador Mary Anne Glendon and other scholars have written this very thoughtful letter on the issue which I would like to share with you:
Today the Obama administration has offered what it has styled as an “accommodation” for religious institutions in the dispute over the HHS mandate for coverage (without cost sharing) of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. The administration will now require that all insurance plans cover (“cost free”) these same products and services. Once a religiously-affiliated (or believing individual) employer purchases insurance (as it must, by law), the insurance company will then contact the insured employees to advise them that the terms of the policy include coverage for these objectionable things.
This so-called “accommodation” changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy. It is certainly no compromise. The reason for the original bipartisan uproar was the administration’s insistence that religious employers, be they institutions or individuals, provide insurance that covered services they regard as gravely immoral and unjust. Under the new rule, the government still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services.
It is no answer to respond that the religious employers are not “paying” for this aspect of the insurance coverage. For one thing, it is unrealistic to suggest that insurance companies will not pass the costs of these additional services on to the purchasers. More importantly, abortion-drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives are a necessary feature of the policy purchased by the religious institution or believing individual. They will only be made available to those who are insured under such policy, by virtue of the terms of the policy.
It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying “five day after pill” pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer. It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer. What matters is what services the policy covers.
The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization. This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand. It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept as assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.
Finally, it bears noting that by sustaining the original narrow exemptions for churches, auxiliaries, and religious orders, the administration has effectively admitted that the new policy (like the old one) amounts to a grave infringement on religious liberty. The administration still fails to understand that institutions that employ and serve others of different or no faith are still engaged in a religious mission and, as such, enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.
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On Monday, I went to visit Bay State Correctional Center, a medium security facility in Norfolk.
With us was Deacon Jim Greer, who heads our prison and hospital ministries; Father Tomas, a young Polish Jesuit who was helping out there; Sister Ruth, a lay Dominican sister who is the chaplain there; and Deacon Dave from St. Jude’s parish who also helps out at the prison.
We had an opportunity to have lunch with some of the staff and volunteers. Afterwards, we celebrated Mass with the inmates.
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That evening, I went for Vespers and dinner with the Redemptorist Community at Mission Church.
Two of the priests there were pastors in my first diocese, Father Collins and Father Furey.
They also have a wonderful group of seminarians who were there. Many are from the West Indies and Vietnam. Some are from New York, and some are part of the community here and are studying at St. John’s Seminary.
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On Tuesday, I had a visit from Chai Ling, a former student leader of the Tiananmen Square movement who is now a local business woman.
She came to speak to me about her non-profit group, All Girls Allowed, which aims to educate people on the effects of China’s One Child Policy on women — both born and unborn.
Of course, most of us are aware of the One Child Policy, but the statistics she presented were startling.
For example, the materials say that there are 35,000 forced abortions in China every day and that 80 percent of the women there have had abortions. And the situation is not limited just to abortion, beyond that there is the problem of infanticide, child abandonment, and forced sterilization and the number of people who have died because of these procedures.
Beyond education, they have many programs designed to help combat the situation including providing financial support to families that choose to keep baby girls and educate orphaned or abandoned girls.
It is fascinating to see what she has accomplished and that this has been brought about because of her Evangelical Christian faith. She gave a very moving testimony, telling us “For us Chinese, when we learned what we had done and how terrible this is, the Gospel is not just good news but great news — that God will forgive us.”
She also presented me with a copy of her book “A Heart for Freedom”, in which she tells her story of leading the movement in Tiananmen Square, her eventual escape to the United States and building a life here as well as her faith and the attempt to find meaning to all that she had gone through.
The story is very compelling and I urge you to find out more about this organization.
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That day, I also had a visit by Rev. Laura Everett, president of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
She was accompanied by Father David Michael and Vito Nicastro of our Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Of course, last week we saw the passing of Father Ed O’Flaherty who, for many years, was head of that office. Rev. Everett came to see me to express her condolences and to discuss how we will move forward with our relationship with the Council of Churches.
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That evening, Bishop Fleming, from the Diocese of Killala and representing the Irish Bishops Conference, was in Boston for a fundraiser supporting the International Eucharistic Congress that will be held in Dublin in June.
Also with us was Father Kevin Doran, the Secretary General for the Eucharistic Congress.
Kevin and Rita Gill, Jack Shaughnessy and Bishop John Fleming
It was held at the BC club and a number of people attended to learn more about the event.
This is the 50th Eucharistic Congress. Every three years, a Eucharistic Congress is held at a different site in the world, the last one being held in Québec.
This is the second time that a Eucharistic Congresses will be held in Ireland. The first was in the 1930s, and was one of the biggest international events up to that point in the history of the new Irish Free State, which had just been set up after the Easter Revolution. That was an extraordinary event in the history of Ireland.
In light of the many recent difficulties and crisis that the Church in Ireland is experiencing, it is hoped that this Eucharistic Congress will help further healing and bring people together around the central mysteries of our faith.
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Thursday, we had a farewell Mass and reception to thank Jim McDonough for his service as Chancellor of the archdiocese.
He came to us in a time when the diocese was in economic free fall and, thanks to his diligence and very careful work, the archdiocese is now a much better place and moving forward.
We are very grateful to him. It was a labor of love. He is a man of faith who loves the Church and wanted to be a part of this process of recovery. We wish him good health and happiness as he moves on to the next stage of his life.
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Finally, as many of you may be aware, this weekend we launch our annual Catholic Appeal with the theme “The Good Samaritan is You”.
I will be celebrating Mass in Amesbury and Middleborough this weekend as part of our launch event and the Vicar general will be celebrating masses and three parishes in the western part of the diocese, as well.
Almost every aspect of what we do as a Church is supported in one aspect or another through your gift to the appeal.
I urge you to be generous in supporting this effort which enables us to carry on the work of the archdiocese.
Until next week,