St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, pray for us!

November 17th, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary 

Last Thursday, November 13, was the feast day of “one of our own,” St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.  As I try to do each year, I visited her shrine up in Washington Heights, venerated her tomb, and greeted her sisters, the wonderful Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

Mother Cabrini  is, as you probably know, the patron saint of immigrants.  Why?  Because, when Pope Leo XIII sent her here to New York from her beloved Italy in 1887, he gave her one simple directive:  “Take care of the Italian immigrants!”

Did she ever!  And did they need care!  Those Italian immigrants – - perhaps your grandparents – - were ignored, ridiculed, stereotyped, discriminated against, and taken advantage of.  They were poor, jammed into stinking tenements, separated from families at home, and prone to sickness.

As embarrassing as it is for me to admit it, even the Church they loved at times neglected them.  The Italian immigrants had no priests or parishes; the sacraments and religious instruction were scarce; the bishops and priests (yes, I blush to confess, mostly Irish), with some glorious exceptions, scorned them.

Frances Xavier Cabrini  became a genuine Madre to them, and her nuns real sisters, as they visited their tenements, took in the orphans, taught their children, cared for their sick, and defended their dignity.  This faithful, loving, but gritty and gutsy woman cared for the immigrant, not only here in New York, but on to Chicago, Denver, and Latin America.  While always proud of her Italian heritage, she became an American citizen and, more importantly, a saint.

We need her again!  We need new Mother Cabrinis!  Once again, the immigrant, especially Catholic Latinos, are scorned and rejected.  Neither political party can claim success in dealing with them justly, and once again, they are being demonized in our society.  I sometimes wonder if Lady Liberty in our harbor is blushing.

And we bishops, priests, deacons, women religious, and lay leaders have to admit that we might not be doing enough, either.

You have often heard me quote Ed Koch:  “When the immigrant arrived in New York – - poor, homesick, scared, and unsure – - two great women welcomed them:  Lady Liberty and Mother Church.”

Our nation risks no longer deserving that compliment; our Church today is challenged by it.

That was my prayer Thursday before Mother Cabrini’s tomb:  might we ever continue her work!

The Best is Yet to Come

November 11th, 2014

Thanks for your patience, understanding, and support this week after the tough announcements of parish mergers a week ago.

Thanks, too, for the good questions, and even the criticisms, at least those thoughtfully and civilly expressed.

The major question I receive, understandably, from our people, and the media, is, why?

Why do we have to reduce our numbers of parishes from 368 to about 305?  Why are these mergers necessary?  Fair enough questions…

Most people then offer a reply to that question:  because of shortages.  They observe that a looming shortage in the number of priests and in the financial resources of the archdiocese – we’ve given $362 million to parishes and schools in need over the past ten years alone – are the main reasons for the decision.

And, yes, they have a point.  Shortages in the number of priests and in the available money to support struggling parishes are, indeed, a part of the answer to the question; Why?

However, a perceptive journalist laser-beamed the real shortage:  “Seems like you have a shortage of people!”  Bingo!

She was right!  Simply put, our people aren’t coming anymore.  True, some of the shortage in older parishes is due to the fact that our folks have moved.  The people that do come are as committed as ever.  But, we still have to admit our numbers of committed, consistent churchgoers are down.

It hurts me to say that, and I’d rather deny it and offer less troublesome reasons, especially since I also must admit that part of the reason our people aren’t showing up anymore in their parishes is because they’ve lost confidence in some of us bishops and priests.

I’m quick to point out that, unlike a lot of other dioceses, the Catholic population of the archdiocese of New York continues to rise, and has not sunk below its 2.8 million membership, mostly due to the ongoing gift of immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.

Still, though, we have to admit, our people aren’t coming anymore.  On any given Sunday, the stats tell us that only somewhere between 15 and 28% of our folks show up!

One parish slated to merge reported in the study phase of our planning process that, on a given Sunday, maybe 500 people are at the Masses.  Yet, 3,000 signed a petition to reverse the decision!  Where have they been!  If even half of them had been part of normal, expected parish life, the decision would not have been foreseen.

We Catholics are not alone.  My Jewish and non-Catholic Christian colleagues and neighbors tell me they are experiencing the same shortage.

The experts at the Pew Research Center document the decline, not in believers, but in belongers.

(The same is true, by the way with our beloved schools.  When we made the painful decision two years ago to merge our 220 schools into 160 stronger, more robust ones, a lot of reasons were given:  high cost of education, competition from other schools, for instance.

The main reason?  Our Catholic parents – - 70% of them, to be exact, – - choose not to send their children to our excellent schools.)

So, now our sacred responsibility is to win our people back!  That’s what Pope Saint John Paul II called the new evangelization!  That means asking why they no longer come, how we can attract them back, and what we’ve done wrong, a strategy Pope Francis is encouraging.

As one savvy priest remarked, “Let’s stop closing parishes and start filling them up!”

With, yes, fewer, but now stronger, fuller, more vibrant parishes, better served by more available priests, in new communities no longer straitjacketed by demands of maintenance of huge, half-empty, in-need-of-repairs buildings, we can unleash a new evangelization!  The best is yet to come!

Let’s go from shortages - – of priests, resources, and people - – to a surplus!

A Reflection on the Synod of Bishops on the Family

October 21st, 2014

It’s good to be back home!  I returned last night from the Synod of Bishops in Rome, where, for the last two weeks, bishops from all the world, with the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, listened to God’s Holy Word, one another, and married couples in an inspired conversation on Marriage and the Family.

It was clear to me, once again, that the Church is our spiritual family.  So, I’m happy to be back with you, my family, my home, the Church in the archdiocese of New York.

We’ve got a lot of work to do:  I’m still busy raising money for the much-needed repair and restoration of our beloved St. Patrick’s Cathedral; we’re near announcing decisions on the merging of about 12% of our 380 parishes, accepting the recommendations of our priests and people involved in the long Making All Things New process; soon Thanksgiving, and the preparation of soul for Christmas we call Advent will be upon us; and, we better start preparing for a visit by the Holy Father the end of next September.  No, it’s not official yet, but I’m rather confident he’ll spend a day with us in eleven months.

The Synod was fruitful.  Pope Francis set a helpful tone.  When we opened, he encouraged us to be open and honest, and not to look at our conversations as debates or lobbying, where there would be winners or losers.

Then, on Saturday, he closed by observing that we were first and foremost pastors, not advocates for causes, not captives of ideologies, whether of heartless rules, or diluted ideas of mercy and a fixation on change.

In general, those reporting on the Synod did not heed the Holy Father’s counsel.  They prefer the language of tension, victory, loss, conservative vs. liberal, “Pope Francis’ bishops” versus stodgy traditionalists.

I suggested journalists read a good book that’s been around a long time, which they could find on the nightstand in their hotel.  It’s a short book, I observed, written by a man named Luke, whose only previous work was a blockbuster, simply called Gospel.  Luke’s second book’s title is Acts of the Apostles.

There you find a chronicle of the first years of the Church, right after Jesus had returned to heaven.  The pastors of the Church tried their best to commence the mandate given them by the Lord, “to teach all the nations.”  Characterizing their mission was controversy, persecution, sin, setbacks, opposition, debates over tough issues.  But, most of all what marked those first years was deep trust in the assurances given them by Jesus, utter faith in the power of His grace and mercy, a foundation of love for Him and one another, and an inspired growth of those who accepted Jesus and His Church.

Sounds just like the Synod to me . . .  I found a ringing, unanimous affirmation of marriage as the divinely approved way of life for a man and woman united in loving, lifelong, lifegiving marriage, a real “light to the world” in a world that has grown cynical about sacrifice, commitment, babies, and the ability to say “forever.”

And I heard a sensitive invitation, to those whose own marriages and families have been short of what God intends, never to feel alone, always to know that they’re at home in God’s family, the Church – - which at times has its own share of brokenness.

synod  by its nature can hardly change the Church’s teaching.  We Catholics pledge allegiance to what is called a “revealed religion” (so do Jews, other Christians, and Moslems).  That simply means that we believe that God has told us (“revealed”) certain things about Himself and ourselves through the Bible, through our own nature, especially through His Son, all celebrated and taught by His Church.

One such revelation is that He intends the gift and beauty of sexual love only for the loving relationship of a man and woman in lifelong, lifegiving (children!), faithful, marriage.

Such a bond is so radiant, He has revealed to us, that it actually hints at the infinite love enjoyed among Father, Son, and Spirit in the Blessed Trinity, and reflects the personal, passionate love God has for each of us.

Anyone who thought this synod could change that has not read Catholicism for Dummies.  The Church does not change God’s revelation, but attempts tochange us so we can live it.

What was refreshing, though, was a warm, gracious tone, so marvelously personified in Pope Francis, (who would tell us it’s hardly his style, but that of Jesus!), that the Church is at her best when she invites, embraces, understands, welcomes, and affirms, instead of excluding, judging, or condemning.

How to present the timeless teaching of the Church, in all its clarity, as an ennobling, liberating force, while always ready to show mercy to those not yet at the point of full acceptance . . . that’s a challenge as old as, well, the Acts of the Apostles, and as new as last week’s Synod!  

Church in Africa

October 17th, 2014

“The bishops of Africa are prophetic in reminding us that the role of the Church is to transform the culture, not to be transformed by the culture.”  Here is an interview I had with Catholic News Service about the Church in Africa during the Synod—they inspire me!

 

 

A Beautiful Public Observance of Faith

September 25th, 2014

One of the things I’ve most come to appreciate during my 5 ½ years as Archbishop of New York is just how seriously our Jewish neighbors approach their holy days.   Traffic is lighter, things quiet down a bit in this hectic City, as the observance of these solemn days begin.  Whether we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, or any religion – or no particular religion at all – this public observance of faith being lived out is a beautiful example that we can all admire.  It is a joy and an honor for me to be able to offer my prayerful best wishes to all the Jewish family, as today they celebrate  the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, followed by the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, and, finally, the Festival of Sukkot, the ever-timely reminder of God’s providence and care for His people.

We are fortunate that, here in New York, there exists such a warm and close relationship between the many different faith communities that call this City home.  We saw that most recently when I was asked by Mayor DiBlasio to host a meeting of religious leaders, brought together to help find a way to reduce tension at a difficult time. We all agreed, however, that our gathering must not be simply in response to a particular “crisis” but must instead be the occasion for the beginning of an ongoing effort to continue and expand the efforts each faith group was making to serve God through our service to those around us.

Today, far too often, we see religion portrayed as being responsible for division and separation, and a cause for hatred and violence.  Last Sunday, in Albania, Pope Francis declared, “Let no one use God as a ‘shield’ while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!”  Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, this twisted interpretation of religion is a reality.  We are blessed that we New Yorkers know from our shared experience that religion can be the foundation of tolerance, understanding, and unity.  Would that our experience be a model for others to follow!

Of course, Jews and Catholics in New York have long enjoyed a special relationship that extends back decades, built upon a joint dialogue that has resulted in mutual respect, and friendship.   I have personally come to appreciate the beauty of that friendship as, for instance, I have lit a candle on the menorah at Temple Emanu-El, hosted a gathering at my residence of Jewish leaders to discuss the visit of the Pope to a Synagogue in Rome, attended a Passover seder, or accepted the gift of a granite bench from the ADL in commemoration of the wonderful spirit of interfaith understanding between Catholics and Jews.  I am grateful to my predecessors as Archbishop of New York, as I am to those leaders of the Jewish community, whose work bravely brought us closer together at a time when relationships were not as strong, nor the atmosphere as open for dialogue as it is today.

While each of the Jewish holy days and festivals has special meaning, I am particularly inspired each year by Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for sins, and a recognition of God’s great mercy towards His people.  There are, of course, parallels in Christian practices.  I am reminded of Lent and Holy Week in the Christian calendar, where we reflect on our sins, and, for Catholics and many other denominations, are encouraged in a special way to participate in the Sacrament of Confession (Reconciliation), and to engage in fasting and acts of self-sacrifice.  Who can forget the many times that Pope Francis has spoken of the great and tender mercy of God.  All of these find their roots in the Jewish call for examining our lives, acknowledging our sinfulness, seeking reconciliation with God and neighbor, and undergoing a personal conversion of heart.

What message could be more timely for us today than one that reminds us of the need to own up to our shortcomings and seek God’s help for doing better in the future.  It’s easy to think of conversion of heart as something that other people need to do, and we are especially reminded during UN week that there are many troubled spots in our world, places like Syria, or the Ukraine, for instance, where it is easy to pray that God will bring about a change of heart and peace will come.  But what about conversion in our own hearts and lives?  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that shining symbol of holiness and self-sacrifice, said it best when she was once asked, “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” She replied, simply, “Me.”  All of us, starting with yours truly, need to ask: Am I living up to what I profess? Where do I fall short and what about my life needs changing?  It’s at the heart of Yom Kippur, and a welcome reminder to us all.

So, as we wish our Jewish brothers and sisters a peaceful and prayerful celebration of their High Holy Days, we also thank them for reminding us of the reality of sin and necessity of conversion.

 

People’s Climate March

September 16th, 2014

The world we live in, all of creation, is a gift from God and a great sign of His love for us.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has repeatedly stressed the responsibility we have been given by God to care for that creation.  As the Pope said recently, “When we exploit [creation], we destroy the sign of His love. Destroying creation is like saying to God, ‘I don’t like it’, and this is not good, it is a sin. Care for creation is care for God’s gift to us, and it means saying to God, ‘thank you, I am the custodian of creation, but to enable it to progress, never to destroy your gift….This must be our attitude in relation to creation, to protect it, because if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us! Do not forget this.”

I understand from Sister Carol De Angelo, a member of the Sisters of Charity here in New York, and Mr. Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network, that this Sunday, September 21, there will be a People’s Climate March here in New York City, and that various faith groups are coming together to participate.  It would be wonderful if there were a strong Catholic presence at the march, to indicate our prayerful support of God’s creation.

You can find more information at https://franciscanaction.org/article/fan-participates-peoples-climate-march and at http://peoplesclimate.org/faith/

“Just keep getting the truth out! Please don’t let us down!”

September 15th, 2014

Last week I called my friend Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the Major Archbishop for the Greek Catholics of Ukraine.

I have grown to admire this young, brave brother bishop over the last years, as we have often spent time in Rome together, and especially when I was with him last year for the dedication of the daring new Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kiev.

The Catholic Church in Ukraine is young, alive, growing, and prophetic.  This, from a worldly point of view, is illogical, near miraculous, as Greek Catholics were viciously persecuted by Stalin in the years of Soviet oppression.  Even after the breakup of the communist empire, and the restoration of freedom in Ukraine, Catholics were not given back their former churches that had been given to the Russian Orthodox, and the courageous yet decimated community almost had to start afresh.

Through the optic of the Gospel, we know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith,” so believers are hardly surprised by the vitality and growth of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop Shevchuk, like his predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, now retired, is a true “confessor of the faith,” a pastor revered by his people, a leader in bringing unity, peace, and hope to a country threatened by thugs and thieves within, and an aggressor on the border.

I check in with him, because I worry about him, want to encourage him, and am inspired by him.  My call last week found him uncharacteristically grim and apprehensive.

“Timothy, we are under attack!  Our country is under siege from Russia!  Our people are being murdered, their homes destroyed, not by alleged separatists in Ukraine wanting to return to Russia, but by Russian troops and mercenaries.  Please see that the truth gets out. There is an invasion here.”

Last week, the Catholic bishops of Ukraine issued a chilling statement that their beloved country is “flowing in blood,” and urged Western governments – - like ours – - not to become “accomplices in the sin of murder.”

Just so we would understand, the Ukrainian bishops were blunt: “This peaceful, sovereign nation has been subjected to a direct military intervention by a Northern neighbor – - hundreds of units of heavy weaponry and technology, thousands of armed mercenaries and soldiers of Russia’s standing army are crossing our borders of Ukraine, sowing death and destruction.”

After the Second World War, when the Iron Curtain separated Central and Eastern Europe from the free democracies of the West, Catholics in the United States were in solidarity with persecuted Christians in Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, and the other countries under Russia’s jackboot.  We spoke up for them; our government listened.

We had hoped it would now be different.  Things looked so bright in Ukraine for awhile.  It appeared that religion was free, the Church encouraging a just, open, civil society.

Apparently, a prosperous, free, independent Ukraine, with freedom of religion leading to a revived faith, is a threat to a neighbor with a history of interference.  The jackboots have apparently come out of storage.

I asked my brave brother bishop how I could help.  “Just keep getting the truth out!  Please don’t let us down!”

I’m trying…

On this Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I commend to you a Church and a Nation, Ukraine, with her at the foot of the Cross.

 

 

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: “The Elements of Sermonizing Style”

September 12th, 2014

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an excellent “Houses of Worship” column by J. Perry Smith on The Elements of Sermonizing Style.  I particularly like, and completely agree with, his assessment on Pope Francis as one who knows how to preach:

 “One preacher who knows how to deliver a sermon like that is Pope Francis. He has captured the imagination of the world, in part because he lives the Gospel, but he also understands brevity and relevance. The most striking aspects of Francis are his genuineness and his ability to connect passionately with people. He clearly believes what he says and does what he believes. Every priest, every pastor could learn from him. Our preaching might improve, and maybe, just maybe, we might become better Christians.”

You can read the whole column here (subscription may be required).

Where Silence is Not Golden

September 11th, 2014

It seems to keep getting worse and worse.  Now we hear of three innocent, beloved sisters raped and beheaded at their mission in Burundi.  Even the police were sickened by the ruthlessness.

Father Paolo Mikko, the local parish priest, tells us how the ISIS forces drove the ancient Christian community from Erbil, in Iraqui Kurdistan:  militants of the “Islamic Caliphate” took over churches and convents, burned crosses, statues, and the Bible, and instructed the few Christians who could not flee to “convert to Islam, pay a protection tax – - or die.”  The director of UNICEF in Iraq, Marzio Babelli, described it as a “jihadist ethnic cleansing,” as the persecutors brag that the city is “Christian free,” with the word “Nazarene” spray-painted in derision on the shells of the torched homes of the fleeing Christians.

Move south to Nigeria, where my friend Ignatius Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos, spends most of his time burying Catholics butchered by Boko Haram, or praying with his people outside the smoking embers of their former churches, destroyed by militants.

We haven’t even mentioned the attacks on the venerable yet fragile Christian villages of Syria, where half-a-million have fled certain death; or South Sudan, where a systematic and ruthless extermination of a Christian minority is taking place.

No wonder Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, asks, “Who will stand up for the Christians?” and calls this Christianophobia “Nazi like.”  His brave summons is the more heroic given the fact that the Jewish community has all it can do to counteract the nasty growing anti-semitism rolling through Europe, one place you’d think would know better.

Yet voices like this are rare.  No wonder Bishop Warduni in Baghdad asks, “Why are you all silent?  Why do you not speak out?”

The voices are beginning to be heard!  Pope Francis ceaselessly urges a stop to this horror, and recently placed before the UN “the tears, the suffering, the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and religious minorities,” and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged President Obama to act.

John Carr, a columnist for America, reminds us of the shallowness of those who make political hay out of an alleged “war on women” here in America, while ignoring the rape and beheading of Christian women in many countries dominated by extremists, who place the heads of women and children on crude stick crosses in the villages.

Thank you, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, for asking “How is it possible that . . . atrocities occur?”  I appreciate even more your reply. “For two reasons:  because there are those prepared to commit them, and there are those who remain silent.”

No longer can we be quiet!  We need columnists like Kirsten Powers not scared to speak of the “religicide of Christianity;” we count on the indefatigable efforts of leaders such as Congressman Frank Wolf, who takes every opportunity to bring such “religicide” to the attention of Washington.

And it’s time to wonder about the silence of the leaders of authentic Islam.  Thank you. Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, who calls the atrocities what they are:  “a violation of all the Islamic values, the higher objectives of Islamic law, and the universal values shared by all mankind.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks provides us with an examination of conscience as he observes, “It would indeed be awful to think that the West might remain silent as violence rages purely out of a failure to recognize that Christians can be victimized . . .”

Thirteen years ago today, this city we’re proud to call home saw raw evil, hate, and violence up close and personal, and we’re still rightly not over it.   The supportive voices of our global neighbors helped get us through.   They gave us a great example.  Now suffering Christians need our voices, not our silence.

Prayer Was the Glue

August 22nd, 2014

I came across an article written by James Foley, the journalist who was brutally executed by ISIS terrorists this past week.  The article is from Marquette Magazine, and James describes how faith and prayer sustained him during an earlier imprisonment in Libya.  He writes that he hoped his mother knew he was ok:

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.”

It is an amazing story of faith in times of difficulty.  I pray that this faith helped to sustain James during his most recent imprisonment that tragically ended with his killing.

I encourage you to read the entire article here.

May the God of all consolation be with his parents and loved ones at this time.