Posts Tagged ‘Pierre Toussaint’

Hope Week

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting a group of young people, all displaced from Haiti following last year’s devastating earthquake, who are now students and parishioners from Saints Joachim and Anne parish in Queens Village.  The students were taking part in Hope Week, a marvelous program sponsored by the New York Yankees.  The students, and their parents or guardians, were joined by a wonderful young priest from their parish, Father Jean M. Delva, and six members of the Yankees, players C.C. Sabathia, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Freddie Garcia, and coaches Tony Pena and Mike Harkey.

The Yankees had hosted the children at yesterday’s game, and then they all boarded a double- decker bus to visit the Empire State Building and Times Square, before coming for a visit to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.  Monsignor Ritchie, the Cathedral Rector, provided a history of the Cathedral, and told them the story of Pierre Toussaint, a former slave from Haiti, who was brought to New York and is now a candidate for sainthood!   The young people visited Toussaint’s resting place in the crypt beneath the Cathedral’s high altar, lit a candle at the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and then joined me in my residence for some ice cream cake and cookies!

It was a wonderful evening, and I was pleased that Saint Patrick’s Cathedral – such a vital part of the City of New York – was able to join together with the Yankees in doing something special for these young men and women.  I was just as proud that a Catholic parish, Saints Joachim and Anne in the Diocese of Brooklyn, is having such a positive impact on the lives of these young people, victims of a terrible tragedy, who are being given the opportunity for a wonderful education.

Here are some pictures from last night!

Welcoming Derek Jeter to the Cathedral

With Msgr. Ritchie and Bishop Sullivan as we tell the history of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Lighting candles with the students at St. Patrick's Cathedral

Celebrating Hope Week

With Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and C.C. Sabathia

Lino Rulli and Ryan Grant of The Catholic Guy show of Sirius/XM interview Derek Jeter

Photos by Joseph Zwilling

To Whom Shall We Go?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Written 17 years ago by one of my predecessors, John Cardinal O’Connor, this column reminded us then what we must remember now — Haiti needs our help and prayers.  As the Cardinal said, Pierre Toussaint (now declared “Venerable” — another step on the road to possible beatification and canonization) is the “perfect mediator” for “those looking for peace in Haiti.”

In the Cathedral Crypt, A Prayer for Haiti

John Cardinal O’Connor, Catholic New York

October 21, 1993

It’s time to take Pierre Toussaint seriously. The situation in Haiti is a mess. The relationship between Haiti and the United States is a mess. The potential for massive violence is horrifying.

Meanwhile, the skeleton of a man of peace lies beneath the high altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I pass his crypt each morning as I enter the sanctuary to offer the 7:30 Mass. These days I pray for his intercession for the land where he was born into slavery, the land that has known little but oppression, starvation, occupation, terrorism, war, for generation after generation. The dominant, often the only hope, for the poor has been by way of their parish churches, their Masses, the efforts of their priests and bishops and, religious sisters and brothers and others who care enough about them to teach them to read and write, to know and to love God, to try to be happy in a way the world knows little about…

…Becoming wealthy by the standards of the day, even when technically in bondage, he tramped the streets constantly to feed the hungry, spent himself night after night to visit the sick. Every day for 60 years he trudged to Mass in Old St. Patrick’s Church, passed by wealthy Catholics in their carriages who refused to pick him up because he was black, however bitter the weather. Time after time he was insulted, was refused a seat in the church he had rebuilt after a fire. Yet he went on, doing good, doing endless good.

Yellow fever was common to New Yorkers of the day. Whenever it struck, those who could leave left in panic. Not Pierre. He would search fearlessly through the quarantined areas, seeking in house after house for the abandoned, taking the sick into his own home to nurse them.

Legions of slaves purchased their freedom from this man who felt so free interiorly that he seemed indifferent to his own state of technical bondage. Children black and white received an education they could not have dreamed of except for the generosity of Toussaint. Those orphaned by successive plagues found a home built for them by Pierre.

Was this an Uncle Tom, to be scorned by those who believe he should have been a militant against slavery? What nonsense. If ever a man was truly free, it was Pierre Toussaint. He respected activists. He did not believe their way should be his way, and if ever a man did things his way, it was Pierre Toussaint. If ever a man was a saint, in my judgment, it was Pierre Toussaint.

It is not Pierre Toussaint the slave or the freedman whose help I ask for Haiti as I pass his remains each morning, but the Pierre Toussaint who seems to me to have been as saintly a saint as the Church has ever canonized, albeit he still awaits the formal title that I cannot convey on him. Validation of a miracle is still being sought, and conditions in Haiti have not made the search easy. But no one can read this man’s life—and the records are thoroughly authentic—without being awed by his holiness.

What has really worked in Haiti? Who really knows what will work now? With hundreds of thousands of lives at stake the great powers of the world seem paralyzed. I watch the debates on television. I listen to equally sincere members of the Congress share mutually exclusive ideas about what action should be taken. I respect both their intentions and the complexity of their task. But meanwhile, the remains of a man of peace lie serenely in a crypt beneath the altar of sacrifice in the Cathedral of St. Patrick. If his soul is where I believe it must be, he’s a “natural” for those sincerely looking for peace in Haiti, the perfect mediator.

The Tragedy in Haiti

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

I have been in Rome for the past week for ceremonies and meetings related to the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Pontifical North American College, where I was both a student and Rector.  The news of the horrific earthquake in Haiti has shocked and saddened everyone.  The Holy Father today offered the following words this morning during his weekly audience. 

“My thoughts go in particular to the population hit just a few hours ago by a devastating earthquake which has caused serious loss of human life, large numbers of homeless and missing people, and vast material damage.

  “I invite everyone to join my prayers to the Lord for the victims of this catastrophe and for those who mourn their loss. I give assurances of my spiritual closeness to people who have lost their homes and to everyone who, in various ways, has been affected by this terrible calamity, imploring God to bring them consolation and relief in their suffering.

“I appeal to the generosity of all people so that these, our brothers and sisters who are experiencing a moment of need and suffering, may not lack our concrete solidarity and the effective support of the international community. The Catholic Church will not fail to move immediately, through her charitable institutions, to meet the most immediate needs of the population”.

I have asked Bishop Dennis Sullivan, Vicar General of the Archdiocese, to send a letter to all priests of the Archdiocese asking that they lead their people in prayer this weekend in a special way for the people of Haiti, and for the Haitian community in New York who may have lost loved ones during the earthquake.  There will also be a special collection at all Masses this weekend, and the money raised will be sent to Catholic Relief Services for the relief of the suffering in Haiti.  Catholic Relief Services has been first on the scene, and has already been providing assistance wherever it can.

As followers of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, we are called to respond whenever there are people in need.  However, I believe many of us feel a special urgency today, given the tremendous devastation that has occurred, as well as the large Catholic population in Haiti and the large Haitian community here in New York as well. 

I met today with Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes, President of Cor Unum, the Holy Father’s charitable outreach agency, and with the Haitian Ambassador to the Holy See.  I assured them both of the prayers of the people of the Archdiocese and told them that the Archdiocese would make every effort to be of financial assistance as well. 

We are very blessed here in New York to sponsor the cause for canonization of Venerable Pierre Toussaint.   Pierre Toussaint who was born in Haiti in 1766 before being brought to New York as a slave. He eventually became a free man, and would have been a rich man had he not given most of his money away.   Toussaint was known for his tremendous acts of charity and his deep faith.  I hope that many people will join me in saying a special prayer to Venerable Pierre Toussaint asking for his intercession with Our Heavenly Father for the safety, support, and comfort of the people of Haiti at this time.

UPDATE:  Catholic News Service did a video interview with me Wednesday evening.  They’ve posted it online here.