As I mentioned in my last post, I spent much of the week attending the Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan, but before I share that beautiful event with you I want to mention today’s rally in defense of religious freedom on the Boston Common.
The rally was part of the nationwide effort to Stand Up For Religious Freedom. In March, 145 cities including Boston each held rallies. Even more cities participated this time including other local rallies in Worcester and Leominster.
Janet Benestad who is our cabinet secretary for faith formation and evangelization was representing me at the event and was one of the speakers, together with Father Tad Pacholczyk and Sister Olga Yaqob. Scot Landry and George Martell also represented the Archdiocese of Boston at today’s Boston rally.
Other speakers included former Ambassador to the Vatican and Mayor of Boston Raymond Flynn, Kris Mineau from the Massachusetts Family Institute, young adult Ann-Marie Warner, Herald columnist Don Feder, and Alexis Walkenstein from the Maximus Group. We appreciate the more than 300 attendees who took a stand today in support of religious freedom on the Common.
These rallies confirm how anxious people are to begin to underscore the importance of religious freedom which is being threatened in so many different venues but particularly with this mandate that redefines Catholic institutions as those that serve exclusively Catholics or are entirely staffed and run by Catholics, in this way eliminating from that category many of our schools, hospitals and other social agencies like Catholic Charities.
The U.S. Bishops recently announced the "Fortnight for Freedom" initiative which will take place from June 21 through July 4. This special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes across the country have scheduled special events that support a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty. One of the most significant ways we are marking the Fortnight in the Archdiocese of Boston is by holding an interactive live town hall meeting on Monday June 25 at 8pm on CatholicTV, www.CatholicTV.com, and 1060AM WQOM. We will have some short presentations regarding the issues and what is at stake and then we will take questions from the studio audience and from the viewers who can submit questions via Facebook, Twitter and Email. Please mark your calendars, join us and perhaps submit a question.
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The Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family. I am a member of the council, which is headed by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli.
Milan is an extraordinary and ancient center of Catholicism. Most people are acquainted with St. Augustine, and this is where his conversion came, through St. Ambrose who is a foundational figure of the Church in Milan.
They have their own liturgical rite dating back more than a millennium, the Ambrosian Rite, named for St. Ambrose, that differs in several ways from the Roman Rite. For example, when we arrived, they offered us red vestments because because in the Ambrosian Rite they continue to celebrate the Octave of Pentecost.
It is one of the largest dioceses in the world, with over 1,000 parishes. The present Cardinal, Cardinal Scola, was formerly the Patriarch of Venice but for the last year has been in Milan. Of course, he was very instrumental in organizing this World Meeting of Families.
On Tuesday, when we arrived in Milan, we went first to the Cathedral, called the Duomo, to see if we could celebrate Mass. The Sacristan was very kind to allow us to celebrate the Eucharist in a very beautiful chapel in the crypt underneath the sanctuary, which is the chapel used by the Cathedral Canons for their daily prayers and Masses.
The ceiling was spectacular, and the altar housed a beautiful reliquary holding the relics of some of the early martyrs.
We were also able to pray at the tomb of the great Milanese Saint Charles Borromeo, who was Archbishop of Milan in the 16th Century. He was a great reformer of the Church, and it was a privilege to be able to pray, especially for all my priests, at the tomb of this beautiful Saint.
The Duomo is magnificent. High above the sanctuary, in the apse over the sanctuary, you notice a red vigil light burning.
It burns constantly near one of the great relics of the Lord’s Passion, one of the nails from the crucifixion. It was placed that high up in order to protect it from being stolen. However there is a way of retrieving it for the veneration of the faithful, which they do every year on September 14th, the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. Many say that Leonardo da Vinci designed this reliquary and the device that is used to retrieve it every year.
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Wednesday, we went to the opening talks and the keynotes of Cardinals Ravasi and Bruni. It was an extraordinary conference. Then, in the afternoon there were different activities in the parishes.
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On Thursday, I was invited to visit the Capuchin Community in Milan and celebrate Mass with them. I was impressed with the fine work that the Capuchins are doing there.
In addition to running a very active parish, they also do a lot to serve the poor in the community, by running a soup kitchen as well as a free medical clinic. There are many immigrants in the area, and the Capuchins have done a great deal of outreach to those in need around them.
With some of the workers in the pharmacy of the clinic
Following the Mass, the friars invited us to join them for lunch and we had a great time. It was like being at table with your family – there were lots of stories told about their experiences in the missions. One of the friars had been a missionary in Thailand, one in Cameroon, one in Turkey and another was a retired Bishop from Brazil – and that was just our table!
We were even entertained by some of the friars, who are very musically talented. We had a lot of fun!
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On Friday, I went back to the International Meeting of Families and I gave the plenary address. I spoke about the importance of the Sunday Mass. (You can find the English translation here.)
Following my address, I participated in a press conference.
During the meeting, I was so happy to be joined by my good friend, Bishop Adalberto Martinez of Paraguay. Bishop Martinez has recently been appointed as the Bishop to the Military and National Police of Paraguay.
Here we are standing in front of the beautiful mosaic designed and created by the Slovenian Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik. In addition to this work of art, he has created mosaics in Fatima, Lourdes, San Giovanni Rotondo, and closer to home – in Fairfield, Connecticut at Sacred Heart University.
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After the Holy Father’s arrival on Friday afternoon, Cardinal Scola invited us to join him and the Pope at the magnificent theater, La Scala, for a stunning performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. La Scala is known for being one of the greatest concert halls in the world.
It was a beautiful performance, and the experience of hearing this masterpiece performed in such a wonderful place is one that I will never forget. Here is some video of the fourth movement, which will sound familiar to us who know it as the “Ode to Joy”.
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Then, on Saturday morning, we went to the Duomo for a meeting with the Holy Father of priests, religious and seminarians. We prayed midday prayer together with the Holy Father.
From there, the Holy Father went to San Siro, a large soccer stadium, where he met with the young people who are celebrating their Confirmations.
Then, in the evening was the "Celebration of Witnesses" in Milan’s Bresso Park, where families gave witness and testimony talks and then the Holy Father answered questions. It was stunning; the Holy Father does it with such grace and such a natural way.
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Then, the next morning, was the closing Mass, also at Bresso Park. There were over 1 million people present.
At that Mass, Archbishop Charles Chaput, my classmate, received the icon that symbolizes the Meeting of Families because it was announced that the next world meeting of families would be held in Philadelphia in 2015.
I think it is a very good idea that they hold it in the States, because not many Americans have had an opportunity to be part of this very important international gathering.
I also am sure the Holy Father was taking into account the crisis the Church in Philadelphia is currently experiencing. This would certainly be a way of reaching out and hopefully offering some consolation and healing to the people of Philadelphia.
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Sunday, after the Mass we had lunch with the Holy Father, the cardinals and Archbishop Chaput, as well as several families. Afterwards, the Holy Father said how, despite all the difficulties in the Church, it was such an uplifting experience to see the faith and enthusiasm of these young families and to see the Church so alive.
I am sure the meeting was a great consolation for him. There have been many difficult situations in the Church that have been highlighted in the media, but I think the World Meeting of Families was a sign that the essence of the Church is something else: It is announcing the Gospel, calling people to a life of discipleship and sharing the joy of our faith. The Holy Father is such a great example for all of us in this.
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That afternoon, we took the subway to visit the Church of St. Ambrose, who was Bishop of Milan in the 4th century.
The Church is very simple on the outside, but once you go in you immediately begin to recognize the ancient beauty of our faith, and the importance of Milan in the history of the Church.
Father Luca Civardi, a parochial vicar at the Basilica, gave us a very interesting tour and pointed out some of the detail on the main altar, which is from the early ninth century, and is completely covered in gold and silver. He said that in the morning, as the sunlight comes in to the church from the rose window, you are blinded by the reflection of light off the altar.
Behind the altar, you see the 13th century dome in the apse of the Basilica, with a mosaic depicting Christ as Pantocrator, All-Powerful. This apse is directly above the original cathedra, the Bishop’s Chair, designed and used by St. Ambrose in the 4th century.
St. Ambrose built this Basilica to honor the martyrs of Milan, Sts. Gervasius and Protasius, whose tombs were discovered after St. Ambrose had a vision that revealed their location.
Here you can see the beautiful silver reliquary that was later built to contain the remains of the martyrs, with St. Ambrose between them.
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On Monday we traveled to Rome for our flight back to the US. There, we met up with the Capuchin bishops from Papua New Guinea, who were there for their ad limina visit and with our Boston seminarians at the North American college.
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Back in Boston, on Wednesday I had Mass and dinner with the New England Religious Education Directors at Miramar retreat center in Duxbury.
We had Mass and dinner and then we had a conversation with and question answers in the evening. Claire McManus of Fall River is the president of the association. Susan Abbott and Susan Kay from our Office of Religious Education were the hosts of the gathering.
The directors of the dioceses of New England gather every year for a couple of days and I was very pleased to spend an evening with them.
There was also a group of priests there on retreat from Worcester so I took a photo with them as well.
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Thursday, we had our annual convocation with priests of the archdiocese.
It was a joy to have Bishop Richard Malone here to deliver our keynote. As I told the priests, he is a wonderful example of the extraordinarily fine priests who have been produced by the Archdiocese of Boston.
Bishop Malone with Father Bob Reed
We are very grateful for his ministry, his accomplishments and witness. As I told the priests, now that he has been sent to Buffalo, is one of the few priests in the country who is going south when he goes to Buffalo. So we wish him Godspeed and blessings. He will be installed on August 10 in Buffalo, New York which is a very large diocese, with a very heavily Catholic population with many parishes, schools and hospitals.
He gave a wonderful talk, underscoring the importance of evangelization, pastoral planning and the crucial role of priestly leadership in the process. He shared with us his experiences in Maine, where they had to undergo a great deal of restructuring to be able to service all the parishes in such a huge state. (It is seven hours from one end of the diocese to the other.)
Msgr. William Fay led us through the day and Father Michael Medas did a wonderful job in organizing the gathering.
I was very happy that so many members of the Pastoral Planning Commission who work closely with Msgr. Fay and Deacon Chuck Clough were able to be with us.
We are grateful to Father Paul Soper for agreeing to become interim director of the office. We are delighted so many priests were able to be here to express their ideas on pastoral planning through their various questions.
I think the day was a very positive experience for all of us.
Until next week,