Hello and welcome!
I spent much of my time at the USCCB’s annual Fall General Assembly in Baltimore. Our gathering officially began on Monday but those who serve on committees usually arrive early to attend meetings over the weekend.
When we arrived in Baltimore on Saturday, some of us took the occasion to see the new film, “Hacksaw Ridge.” I thought it a very powerful film that underscores the importance of faith and conscience in people’s lives.
It is the story of a young man, Desmond Doss, who is a Seventh-day Adventist. He grew up with a very violent father, and made a promise to God that he would never take a life. So, when World War II came along, he was a conscientious objector and wanted to serve as a medic in the Army. The officers and the other soldiers mistreated him terribly because of his religious beliefs, but he persevered and was sent to Okinawa. There, he carried 75 wounded soldiers off the battlefield, and each time he would pray that God would help him “get one more.”
We see how this man persevered in his convictions – and suffered for them – but ended up saving many of the people who had persecuted him. Ultimately, he ended up being the first conscientious objector ever to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The film ends with an interview with the man on whom the film is based, made just before he died at the age of 87.
It was a powerful story, particularly in today’s world in which the secular culture sees religious conviction as being outdated and that religious freedom is seen as just bigotry. In this film, you see the importance of the contribution that religious sentiment and conscience rights have made in the history of our country and in the history of the world.
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As I mentioned, over the weekend there were committee meetings and, on Sunday, I participated in meetings of the Hispanic Affairs Committee, Pro-Life Committee and committee for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, before the plenary meeting began on Monday.
Of course, so much has been said and written about the different issues we addressed, so I won’t attempt to summarize them all here. Instead, I’ll offer some personal highlights.
As many of you may know, we traditionally begin our gathering with a Mass at the very beautiful and historic basilica in Baltimore. This year, at the suggestion of Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who is heading up a task force on peace in the cities, we instead gathered for Mass at St. Peter Claver Parish in West Baltimore.
St. Peter Claver is a black Catholic parish in the heart of the neighborhood greatly affected by the unrest last April following the death of Freddie Gray.
It was a wonderful celebration and a profound sign of solidarity with the community — and the parishioners seemed very proud to have the entire North American hierarchy celebrating Mass in their parish!
Of course, a great deal of our discussions revolved around the issue of care for immigrants and the concern around exactly what is going to happen with immigration under the new administration.
We also had some very moving reports from the Eastern Rite bishops, especially Bishop Gregory Mansur, talking about the persecution of the Christians of the Middle East, and an inspiring address by Cardinal Marc Ouellette who was in Baltimore for the anniversary of the Sulpician Fathers.
Of course, also, we elected a new president for our conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and a new vice president, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles.
This was, of course, the first General Assembly for our new auxiliary bishops, Bishop Mark O’Connell and Bishop Bob Reed, so they were introduced. We had a nice gathering of all the Boston bishops for dinner one night.
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From the bishops gathering, I left for Rome to participate in the consistory for the creation of new Cardinals, that will take place tomorrow.
I arrived yesterday afternoon and today I had meetings with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith around the work of the Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Also, I am very happy that I will be able to be here on Sunday for the closing of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and I will share all the details of that with you next week!