As I returned from Rome this afternoon I learned of the tragic events that unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut today.
There are no words that can adequately express what the children and families at Sandy Hook Elementary School experienced and the shock and grief that have befallen the Newtown community and our nation. As people of faith we denounce and abhor violence of any kind. There is no circumstance that justifies the taking of innocent life and it is incomprehensible that children were the victims of this heinous act. At a time of such great distress we turn to Jesus, who is with us always, even in our most difficult moments, and extends His healing graces in the midst of our pain. We pray for those who lost their lives today, trusting that they have been received into the presence of the Lord, for their families and for all who are impacted by this national tragedy. Coming together with genuine care and concern for all people, we will find the strength to support one another going forward, confident that there is no darkness that can overcome the light of Christ
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I have just returned from attending the Ecclesia in America international congress in Rome, which was held from Sunday to Wednesday. It marked the 15th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America.
However, before I get to the details of the congress, I want to mention an event that took place last week.
Each year during Advent, we host a Mass and luncheon here at the Pastoral Center for our senior priests who reside at Regina Cleri, the archdiocese’s residence for senior priests.
It is always wonderful to be able to gather with these men who have given so much to the life of the Church over so many years.
I also want to take this occasion to remind readers within the Archdiocese of Boston that our collection at Christmas Masses is one of our most important efforts in ensuring the care of our priests.
Joe D’Arrigo, the executive director of our Clergy Funds, wrote a wonderful article on this topic for this week’s Pilot. I urge you all to read it and to be generous in your support of them as they were generous in their ministry to the people of God.
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After arriving in Rome on Sunday, I celebrated Mass at my church in Rome, Santa Maria della Vittoria.
Joining us at the Mass, in addition to the seminarians and Friars, was Dan Kelly who is the head of the Order of Malta in the United States. We met him on the plane, so we invited him to join us for the Mass and the lunch following.
Dan Kelly is pictured on the far left
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The conference itself was inspiring. About 200 bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay people were invited to be a part of this congress, held to once again rekindle the efforts of Ecclesia in America to build a united Church out of all of North and South America. The Knights of Columbus were instrumental in sponsoring the congress, as well as the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
The congress centered around the theme of the new evangelization under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was a wonderful opportunity to be together with people from all over the hemisphere and to reflect on common problems and solutions; and to talk about the new evangelization in the context of immigration and the many other challenges of our hemisphere. We also spoke about sharing clergy and help that is being given by priests from Latin America.
Sunday night, we celebrated an inaugural Mass, at which the Holy Father addressed us.
The congress featured many different talks and workshops.
We heard an address from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson who spoke on the laity’s role in the new evangelization and the example of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego.
There were wonderful talks by Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, who was postulator for the cause for canonization of St. Juan Diego, in which he talked about the theology and ministry of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the great role that the apparitions played in the evangelization of Mexico.
Until the apparitions, there were practically no conversions to Catholicism in Mexico, however, after the Blessed Mother appeared there were an immediate explosion of conversions.
In my talk, I spoke about the different ways the churches can collaborate. I gave examples from my own ministry working with immigrants from Latin America and gave a bit of history of past collaborations.
For example, I spoke of the Seminary of Montezuma in the Southwestern United Sates with the help of U.S. bishops to train Mexican seminarians during the time of the persecutions in that country and now there is a seminary in Mexico that is sending seminarians to work in the United States. I also talked about the challenges of trying to evangelize the culture, the need for the Church to find a voice in the public square, and the need to find articulate lay people to help in political life and the needs of communications.
At the general audience with the whole congress, we once again had an opportunity to be with the Holy Father and to congratulate Msgr. Georg Gänswein who has been appointed take Cardinal Jim Harvey’s place as Prefect of the Pontifical Household.
We also had the privilege of being present for the occasion of the Holy Father sending his first tweet.
I think this is an important sign that the Holy Father wants to be present in the world of communications, particularly in the forms of communications being used by young people.
This was a wonderful event which allowed many young people to feel a special connection to the Holy Father and to the Church.
In the audience hall was a beautiful life-size crèche brought by the Mexicans made out of beeswax.
We ended at the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a Mass at Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s titular church, Santa Maria in Traspontina, on the Via della Conciliazione.
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During this time, reflecting on Our Lady of Guadalupe, I wrote a special blog post that I published on Tuesday. In case some of you may have missed it I would like to share with you here:
Embracing the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe during this Year of Faith
I have been attending the “Ecclesia in America” conference in Rome, which addresses the history and future of the Church in America. The conference runs from December 9 to 12, concluding with an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
I wanted to share with you a message regarding the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and my hope that all Catholics will embrace the celebration of this important feast day in the life of our Church.
12-12-12 is an interesting date, as it represents the last time in this century that the month, day and year will all match. But December 12 for Catholics, during this Year of Faith, is also a very important day.
First, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI (@pontifex), begins his tweeting ministry, symbolizing in a new way the Church’s embrace of technology and tools of communication as a way to share the eternal and saving Truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The other reason for the day’s importance, and one of the factors in Pope Benedict’s choosing of this day to launch his newest communication initiative, is that it is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who we revere as the Mother of the New Evangelization and the Patroness of all the Americas (North, South and Central). After Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego 481 years ago, one of the most rapid periods of evangelization in the history of the Church began.
During this Year of Faith, I ask all Catholics to study the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego. Our Catholic brothers and sisters from Mexico and in Central and South American countries are devoted to her motherly care, but many Catholics raised in the United States are not as aware of what happened in December of 1531 as I hope they soon will be. Now is a great time for this connection with Our Lady of Guadalupe to be established, renewed or deepened. We can begin by attending Mass and praying a family Rosary on December 12.
God has often called unlikely people to great missions. It was true with St. Peter, many of the saints, and for St. Juan Diego. This is a great lesson for all of us as we are all called to do our part in the New Evangelization.
When the Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill, he was a simple, humble, 57-year-old widower known for walking with his head down and shuffling his feet. He was an Aztec Indian who had been baptized only seven years before by the Franciscan missionaries. Every Saturday and Sunday he would walk 15 miles each way to Mass. As he was journeying one cold Saturday morning, he heard a voice calling from the top of a hill, “Juanito,” “Dieguito,” “Come here!” He scaled the rocky slope, where at the top he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary arrayed in splendor.
Our Lady announced she was on a mission of mercy and wanted him to be her messenger to the bishop of Mexico City to ask him to build a church on Tepeyac Hill. Obeying simply and immediately, Juan Diego headed in his simple peasant’s outfit to the bishop’s residence, where he was forced to wait for hours in an outdoor courtyard. Eventually the bishop received him, treated him with kindness, but was skeptical regarding the message. Juan Diego left feeling like a complete failure.
Returning to Our Lady on Tepeyac Hill, he said that he had struck out. “I beg you, Noble Lady,” he implored, “to entrust this message to someone of importance, someone well-known and respected, so that your wish will be accomplished. For I am only a lowly peasant and you, my Lady, have sent me to a place where I have no standing. Forgive me if I have disappointed you for having failed in my mission.”
The Virgin smiled tenderly on him and said, “Listen to me, my dearest son, and understand that I have many servants and messengers whom I could charge with the delivery of my message. But it is altogether necessary that you should be the one to undertake this mission and that it be through your mediation and assistance that my wish should be accomplished. I urge you to go to the Bishop again tomorrow. Tell him in my name and make him fully understand my disposition, that he should undertake the erection of the teocalli (temple) for which I ask. And repeat to him that it is I in person, the ever Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, who send you.”
With trepidation, Juan Diego went again. The bishop’s overprotective staff greeted him with exasperation. He was told the bishop was busy with more important matters. He told them he was willing to wait — and did, for several hours in the frigid outdoor courtyard. When he finally met the bishop again, he repeated, with fervor and tears, the message of Our Lady entrusted to him. The bishop asked some questions. Though moved by Juan Diego’s sincerity, he wasn’t going to build a church in a desolate spot on the basis of one native’s unsubstantiated word. To test the message, the bishop asked him for a special secret sign from Our Lady. Juan Diego left at once to ask for the sign.
Arriving back at Tepeyac, the Virgin told him to return the following day to receive the sign to bring the bishop. That sign turned out to be Castillian roses, which had not yet been introduced to Mexico, growing on the top of a stony hill in frigid December temperatures. Juan Diego was instructed to bring them back to the bishop in his tilma (a tilma is a cloak or apron). When he returned to the bishop, as he opened up his tilma, the bishop saw the roses from his native Castille, the sign he was seeking. He and everyone else also saw something even more miraculous: some of the roses had melted into the tilma and produced the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe: our Lady, dressed like a pregnant Aztec princess, was giving witness that she was ready to give birth to Christ among the Mexican people and on our continent. The bishop immediately fell to his knees, and came to believe in Juan Diego’s message. A church was built on the spot of the apparition, as Mary had requested.
Until that moment, there had been relatively few conversions among the Mexican people, who associated Christianity more with the conquistadors than the Franciscans. But in the decade after the appearance of the Blessed Mother as one of them, over ten million Mexicans were baptized.
Juan Diego’s tilma has been the subject of much research. The tilma, woven out of coarse cactus and vegetable fibers, should have disintegrated after 20 years, but although nearly 500 years have passed the tilma is still in great condition. The pupils of Mary in the picture reflect the Indians and clergy present at the time of the first revelation of the image. No paint was used, and chemical analysis has not been able to identify the color imprint. Additionally, studies have revealed that the stars on Mary’s mantle match exactly what a Mexican would have seen in the sky in December of 1531.
Juan Diego thought there were others who would have been more fitting ambassadors to bring such an important message from so important a person, but the Blessed Mother chose him and she helped him fulfill the mission. She will also help each of us fulfill our part in her Son’s plan of salvation.
Let us turn to Our Lady of Guadalupe during this Year of Faith. She desperately wants the birth of a New Evangelization. May she continue to bring her motherly care to the Americas, the United States and to us in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Until next week,