“Come Holy Spirit”

May 24th, 2015
Pentecost by Domenico Piola

Pentecost by Domenico Piola

On this great Solemnity that we celebrate today, the Church sings out in the ancient Pentecost Sequence, “Come, Holy Spirit, come!” With this plea, we remind ourselves that the Church, which was filled with the breath of life on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), is the Spirit-led yet divine presence of Christ in the world.

Our Church’s beginning lies in the Spirit empowering the Apostles to take their first steps out into world, speaking in a language that all could understand and proclaiming the mighty works of God. This wonderful story is told in today’s readings for Mass, but what we hear is not just the dramatic account of how our Church came into being, it is also the account of how each of us has been called by our Baptism and Confirmation to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and be witnesses ourselves to God’s love and mercy for the world.

Endowed by the Holy Spirit, we share in the missionary life of the Church. Pope Francis reminds us of this in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, calling all of the People of God to be Spirit-filled “missionary disciples” (Evangelii Gaudium, 119-21, 259-83).

Recently, the students and staff at the Pontifical North American College, our seminary for men from the United States who are studying in Rome, had the privilege of welcoming Pope Francis for a morning of reflection. Our Holy Father spoke to the challenge of being missionary disciples today, pointing to the legacy of the apostles and evangelizers like Junípero Serra, saying, “These missionary disciples who have encountered Jesus, the Son of God, who have come to know him through his merciful Father, moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, went out to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries, to bear witness to charity.  They challenge us!”

Pope Francis then asked our seminarians, and through them asks all of us, if “we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God, who invites us to leave everything in order to worship him, to follow him, to rediscover him in the face of the poor, to proclaim him to those who have not known Christ and, therefore, have not experienced the embrace of his mercy?” (Homily of May 2, 2015).

It is precisely through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can respond with courage and generosity to be God’s witnesses. It falls to us now to manifest, to make present, by our fraternal love, the beginnings of the kingdom here and now.

A year ago at Pentecost, the Archdiocese of Washington held its first Synod to assess how well our local Church is responding to the promptings of the Spirit in reflecting the face of Christ in our local community. At every step of the two-year synod process, we invoked the Holy Spirit, understanding that it is only through the gift of the Spirit that we are enabled to carry out our mission.

From more than 15,000 suggestions from people all over the archdiocese, the Synod members formulated a series of recommendations to strengthen all areas of Church life: worship, education, community, service and administration. Following on their recommendations, I then promulgated statutes to govern the archdiocese so that we can be the best Church we can be.

Most importantly, we came to realize the need to embrace more completely our Catholic identity as missionary disciples. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3), we are called to joyfully testify to being completely loved by Christ and, therefore, capable of loving others.

Today as we complete the first year of the implementation of the fruits of the Synod, we ask again that the Spirit fill us with God’s presence so that we manifest his kingdom in our community and thereby renew the face of the earth. Enkindled by the fire of his love, we can bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so in need of healing, solidarity, justice and peace, we can be a light to those who struggle in darkness, and build up the common good in a culture of life, solidarity and fraternity. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Mary, Queen of Peace

May 22nd, 2015
Pentecost by Jean Restout II

Pentecost by Jean Restout II

As we move closer to the celebration of the great Solemnity of Pentecost we find ourselves in a spiritual sense with our Blessed Mother in the Upper Room waiting for the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that he would not leave us orphans, that an Advocate would be sent on behalf of this young Church, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father to lead and teach us, bearing witness to Christ (John 14:18, 15:26).

The Second Vatican Council reminds us that “We see the Apostles before the day of Pentecost ‘persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren’ (Acts 1:14), and we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation” (Lumen Gentium, 59). Mary teaches us how we today can prepare to be renewed once more by the gifts the Holy Spirit imparts to the Church.

During the month of May, we honor Mary, our Mother and Mother of the Church. In a special way in these times, we ask her intercession as Queen of Peace on behalf of our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted around the world and who will join us on Pentecost Sunday in pleading: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth” (Responsorial Psalm 104). 

In Nostra Aetate, the Council’s declaration on interreligious dialogue, the Church recognizes that unity begins in fellowship and celebrating what we share in common. “In dialogue we can learn what we have in common and come to a better understanding of our differences as we seek to “to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom” (Nostra Aetate, 3). In dialogue, we have learned that Muslims honor Mary and “they even call on her with devotion” as the mother of Jesus (Id.). Thus, Mary is a bridge to unity and peace with Muslims.

With so much turmoil in so many continents in our world, it is easy to become cynical about the power of the Holy Spirit or even the power of intercessory prayer, but in this Mary is a teacher and model of faith. The Blessed Virgin teaches us what our faith should be. Like us, she was a human being who had to struggle to hear and accept God’s work and to grasp the mysterious ways in which God works. She did so with such consummate fidelity that she is forever the example of what we mean by faith-true, profound faith.

We cannot equal Mary in the wondrous mysteries in which she participated and in the privileges she received. But we can certainly emulate her faith and trust in the power of her intercessory prayer. As Saint John Paul II reminds us, “In contemplating Mary’s powerful intercession as she waits for the Holy Spirit, Christians of every age have frequently had recourse to her intercession on the long and tiring journey to salvation, in order to receive the gifts of the Paraclete in greater abundance” (General Audience, May 28, 1997).

Together with the Holy Spirit, our Blessed Mother can foster unity in the human family. Filled with the Spirit of God’s love, the Queen of Peace helps lead the way to tranquility and harmony. For this reason, we persevere with one mind in prayer with Mary and the whole Church: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

Roundtable Discussion on the New Climate Economy

May 20th, 2015

New Climate Economy

I participated in the conference on The New Climate Economy and delivered the following remarks.

As we discuss the new climate economy, two elements play an important role in assessing the Church’s reflections: context and continuity.

Pope Francis reminds us that, “When we talk about the environment, about creation, my thoughts go to the first pages of the Bible, to the Book of Genesis, where it says that God put men and women on the earth to till it and to keep it (cf. 2:15)” (General Audience, June 5, 2013). We have then to ask ourselves what does cultivating and preserving the earth mean and are we truly caring for creation?

Our Holy Father also cites Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who called us to the task of appreciating the logic of creation and what it means to see the bond between the caring dominion of creation, the recognition of the profound dignity of each human being, the flourishing of creation and the individual as intimately tied together.

The teaching of Pope Francis and his efforts to address the environment are in harmony with those of his predecessors. The Church always tries to read the “signs of the times” and offer appropriate guidance by setting the issues of the moment in the context of Catholic Social Teaching. This approach is found in Pacem in terris of Saint John XXIII at the height of the Cold War. Blessed Paul VI recognized the particular social and political changes of his day when he wrote Populorum progressio and Saint John Paul II presented Centesimus annus precisely as a reminder of the Church’s longstanding social teaching in a period of great societal transition particularly in Europe. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote Caritas in veritate specifically combining fraternal and economic development, the environment and the development of people and technology.

Now Pope Francis is guiding the Church to watchfulness for an urgent “sign of the times”, a new awareness that the human family, if it is to thrive, is being called to a deeper solidarity on behalf of the environment. In doing so, he is also reminding us of the beauty of Creation and our own dignity as its stewards, entrusted by the Creator to nurture and protect that creation for the sake of our whole human family and for generations to come.

Another great “sign of the times” today is surely the issue of sustainable development which Pope Francis presents as both human and environmental ecology. Approaching the environment with greater wisdom is at the heart of our gathering today, particularly by emphasizing the coherence and compatibility of facing global climate change with the need for economic growth in all nations, especially developing ones.

As the human family strives to recalibrate its relationship to the environment, the Church has an important role to play. Admittedly it is not in judging scientific questions, many of which remain unanswered definitively – including the analysis of the nature and extent of humanity’s contributions to climate change. Rather the Church’s role, as in many other complex and prudential decisions made in the economic and political arenas, is in proposing moral parameters within which any equitable and effective solution should be judged.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, through its Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, its Committee on International Justice and Peace, and its Office of Domestic Social Development, has already called attention to global climate change and the need for the U.S. Church and all citizens to address in more depth this issue and its potential ramifications.

Three principles stand out as deserving special attention as we examine the Church’s role in economic, scientific, cultural and political arenas.

The first principle is the dignity of the human person, whose inherent worth and immortal destiny is the very rationale for environmental action. Economic development has to have as a point of reference the sustainable well being of future generations.

The second principle is an emphasis on the moral imperative to protect the natural order. Pollution, desertification, deforestation, water shortages, the forced displacement of whole populations by the depletion of resources, and climate change itself all have had profound effects on the members of our human family, especially the poor, and we cannot sit idly by without attempting to reverse the trend. We are not just bystanders in these decisions that will determine the quality of life for generations to come.

The third principle is, in a sense, the immediate conclusion of the previous two. It is also the theme of this seminar: that protecting the environment need not compromise legitimate economic progress. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it (Caritas in veritate, n. 50). There is an increasingly clear harmony between efforts on behalf of the environment and those that promote integral – including economic – human development. This is the “human ecology” to which our efforts must contribute.

The need for sustainable development solutions is both a moral imperative and an economic incentive as a business issue. To take it up courageously is pro-business. Government has a role, and we clearly need strong international agreements. But in moving ahead, business and economic interests necessarily play a significant role. We need to harness that wisdom and creativity in the service of the common good. Such collaboration aligns private and public interests, and reduces the gap between the privileged minority and the world’s great majority.

The Church has always taught that profit is licit, but business must also serve the common good and pursue justice. A new climate economy should prioritize sustainability (justice and solidarity between peoples and across generations), as today’s theme states: economic growth and sustainability must go hand-in-hand.

Businesses large and small have much to contribute and much to gain. It is surely in our tradition to look to free enterprise for creativity in developing the “engine” (energy) of a more climate-friendly and sustainable economy, both domestically and internationally. We look forward to good news about the new climate economy.

Confirmation: The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost

May 20th, 2015
Pope Francis administers the sacrament of confirmation to a young man during Mass at the Parish of San Cirillo Alessandrino in Rome Dec. 1.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (Dec. 2, 2013)

Pope Francis administers the sacrament of confirmation to a young man during Mass at the Parish of San Cirillo Alessandrino in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Celebrating the sacrament of Confirmation is among the most enjoyable tasks in the life of a bishop. It is a time to look forward. The parish gathers around the candidates, young and old, to welcome them into full membership in the Church. These people, filled with potential and hope, perhaps can sense how the grace of the Holy Spirit can help them lead holy lives and do great things as witnesses of Jesus in today’s world.

The bishop, knowing God’s power to transform lives, cannot help but be joyful because through Confirmation, he is anointing the next generation of the Church, and touching the future as he lays hands on their foreheads and anoints them with oil.

The roots of Confirmation reach back to the earliest days of the Church. We read in the Acts of the Apostles how the Apostles administered a second rite, distinct from Baptism, on believers: “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (8:17).

Bishops as today’s successors to the Apostles continue to administer Confirmation, which is known as the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. In baptismal waters, a person receives new life – life in the Spirit. In the anointing of Confirmation, the same person receives the fullness of the Spirit. That is, Confirmation completes what the grace of Baptism began, bringing a deepening of grace in a special outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Furthermore, the gifts seal the baptized person in union with Christ, imprinting on him or her an indelible spiritual mark as the Lord confirms that they are his witness (CCC 1303-04).

We receive the gifts of the Spirit in Confirmation particularly to help us proclaim God’s presence in our world and to announce his kingdom at work in us, and in our Church which offers the living presence of Jesus in today’s world. As an illustration of just how transformative these gifts of Spirit can be, recall how Peter and the other disciples were before they received the Spirit at Pentecost. Peter could be impetuous and the group remained cautious even after the risen Christ appeared to them. All of that changed on Pentecost. On that day – and for the rest of his days – Peter stood up and vigorously preached Christ in public (Acts 2:1-4, 14-41).

Similarly, the gifts have equipped Christians ever since for active participation in the witness, work and worship of the Church. Confirmation gives us the special strength we need to fulfill our calling from God to love and serve as Jesus did. The outpouring of the Spirit in Confirmation, as with the gift of the Spirit received by the Apostles in the upper room at the first Pentecost, is received only once, but the graces it confers are available to us every day, with the power to renew our hearts and even the face of the earth.

At one of his general audiences last year, Pope Francis noted how Confirmation “unites us more solidly to Christ. It completes our bonds with the Church.” He added that through the Holy Spirit, “Christ himself is present in us and takes form in our lives.”

One year earlier, our Holy Father administered the sacrament of Confirmation to 44 people from 22 different countries during a special Mass in Saint Peter’s Square marking the Year of Faith. About 70,000 young people from around the world who had been confirmed or who were preparing for Confirmation also attended the Mass, demonstrating by their presence how the Spirit is the great bond of unity in the Church.

The Holy Spirit brings “the new things of God. He comes to us and makes all things new; he changes us,” said Pope Francis. “The Holy Spirit is truly transforming us and through us, he also wants to transform the world in which we live. . . . Let us trust in God’s work. With him we can do great things.”

Those we confirm at our parishes have that same mission as they receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit – to go forth to bring to the world Jesus, who make all things new. In administering the sacrament of Confirmation to them, we bishops do indeed touch the future.

The Ten Commandments and Pentecost

May 18th, 2015
Pentecost by Salomon de Bray

Pentecost by Salomon de Bray

In the Paschal Mystery, we celebrate our redemption and deliverance from slavery to sin and death through Jesus Christ. The context and frame of reference for our appreciation of our salvation begins with the observance of Passover, during which the people Israel recalled how God led them out of bondage in Egypt.

This holy feast, celebrated by Jesus and the Apostles, was followed seven weeks later with Pentecost, which means the “fiftieth” day after Passover. Among the Jews of ancient times, Pentecost served a dual purpose: it was a festival of the first fruits to be offered to God and it also celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

With the Exodus, the people of Israel were no longer slaves in Egypt, but they were not yet truly free – they remained slaves to sin and falsehood. It is God’s plan that his people be fully free, so it is for this reason that he gave us the Ten Commandments. These are rules which do not limit human freedom, but protect it. “At the same time, they teach us man’s true humanity. They shed light on the essential duties, and so indirectly on the fundamental rights, inherent in the nature of the human person” (CCC 2070).

God created us free and gave us the ability to make choices. At issue is not what we are able to do, but what we ought to do. The commandments, taught Saint John Paul II, “are the first necessary step on the journey towards freedom, its starting-point. ‘The beginning of freedom,’ Saint Augustine writes, ‘is to be free from crimes… such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth…’” (Veritatis Splendor, 13).

While we tend to think of the Ten Commandments as carved in stone, they are really an expression of the natural law. We have a human nature and that nature calls forth responses, actions, choices and decisions on our part. Just as birds fly according to the natural physical laws and through their instincts, so human beings through the natural moral order respond to the human condition. The commandments merely make explicit that which the Lord had already placed deep within our human nature. In summary they say to us, as Jesus taught, “Love God and love one another” (cf. Matthew 22:37-40).

The first three commandments speak about our relationship to God. They call us to acknowledge that God exists and that there is only one God. He is our creator. We should have respect for the Lord’s name and honor him, recognizing his holiness and worshiping him at an appropriate time and in a proper way.

The other seven commandments relate us among ourselves. God made us as social beings with an inherent dignity that should be respected in a well-ordered society.

It is evident that we owe respect to those who have given us life and helped us to grow, to learn, to be nurtured and eventually to reach a status where we can stand on our own. It is equally obvious that every one of us has a right to the life that is ours and just as we would not want someone to take our life, we have no right to take the life of another. Likewise, the protection of the communal tie of man and woman and the raising of new life in the family is essential to human society.

Furthermore, one cannot be allowed to take what belongs to someone else, especially when it is the means to sustain their life, if we expect society to flourish. Neither can human community exist for long unless it rests on truth and the confidence it generates. Finally, we are called to recognize that our attitudes and internalized positions are every bit as important as our actions.

As we make our way through life, the Ten Commandments serve as something absolutely essential to our human development and authentic freedom. They are also a promise and sign of the law that would be written in a new and complete way upon the human heart by the Holy Spirit at the definitive Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s resurrection (Veritatis Splendor, 12). If we pay attention to them and heed the guidance they provide, we are guaranteed a safe outcome to our journey.

The Ascension of the Lord: As One Chapter Closes, Another Opens

May 14th, 2015
Jesus' Ascension to Heaven by John Singleton Copley, 1775

The Ascension by John Singleton Copley, 1775

Jesus’ ascension into heaven is one of the most significant moments in his life – and in ours. It brings to a conclusion the earthly life of Jesus, but it also opens up for us the earthly life of the Church. He ascends in his visible body to make way for his mystical body.

The Ascension of the Lord is important because of what it says to us. We profess that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the Word become flesh. He grew up in a family as one of us, he taught us and he died for us. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead with a real physical human body – a glorified body – which he invites his Apostles to touch.

In his earthly life, Jesus was Emmanuel, “God with us,” as present and visible and audible as a next-door neighbor. But with his ascension forty days after his rising, he has completed that chapter. God’s presence in Jesus – in his natural human body – has come to an end.

So where has Jesus’ body gone?

In the Ascension we see that Jesus has returned to the Father in glory. In ascending in the body, he has brought the salvation of humanity to a new level, so to speak. He has lifted up and “divinized” human flesh.

Yet Jesus does not leave us alone, he does not leave us orphans. Before his Passion, the Lord promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to dwell with them (John 14:16 et seq.). Before ascending, he again says that the Spirit will come and give them the grace, the power to do what he asks of us. This happens ten days later, at Pentecost, and through this indwelling of the Spirit, Christians become Christ-like. Indeed, it is more accurate to say that we become one with Christ. The Spirit gives us the life of the God-man who has divinized the human body in his glorious ascension to the Father.

Nothing could be more transformative than this “divinization” of a human life. Though we are imperfect and finite, God in his mercy lifts us up to share in his divine life. This means sharing in the divine mission of Jesus as well.

In the mystery of the Ascension, we celebrate also our own willingness to take up Christ’s work of salvation. We are to be witnesses to everything he revealed.

Before returning to the Father, Jesus tells his disciples that it is now their turn to live the life of Christ in the world. His words are directed to you and to me as well: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature,” he says in Mark’s Gospel (16:15). In the Acts of the Apostles, we find him saying, “You will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (1:8). Saint Matthew tells us how Jesus said to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (28:19-20).

The Ascension is not the end, but a new beginning. As one chapter closes, another opens. Jesus’ risen body is with the Father in glory and on earth the body of Christ will be his Church, alive in the Holy Spirit.

Immediately after Jesus ascends, suddenly two angels appear and say to the disciples, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1:11). In effect, they are told, “Don’t just stand there – do something! You have your commission. Do what you’ve been told to do.” We have been commissioned to be missionary disciples to deliver the Good News to every creature.

The Blessing of Our Mothers and Grandmothers, Guardians of the Hearth

May 10th, 2015
Holy Family with Saint Anne by Vincenzo Catena

Holy Family with Saint Anne by Vincenzo Catena

As we gathered around the table of the Lord at the archdiocesan women’s conference this spring, I recalled how as a young boy I saw the word “hearth” on a poster. When I asked my mother what it meant, she told me it was an “old English” word for a fireplace. This was from the days when kitchens were built around a big fireplace in which the family meals were cooked. She further explained that “hearth” came to mean home, as in the warmth and love that is a hallmark of family life.

Today, not many kitchens contain a fireplace, but is this not where we still gravitate when family gathers? Is not the kitchen the place in which we have had some of our best conversations with our mothers and grandmothers as they were cooking a meal or as we were staring into the refrigerator deciding what we wanted to eat? It is not only conversations that happen in kitchens, many kitchen tables also serve as homework space, and so a lot of learning goes on in the kitchen as well. Kitchens are then not just the hearth of family life but the classroom of family love.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read that “the home is the first school of Christian life” and “a school for human enrichment” where “one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life” (CCC 1657). Parents are the primary witnesses and teachers of the faith and with the help of grandparents and Godparents the whole family transmits the story of God’s love.

Building on this, another image the Church uses to talk about family life is of the family as a “domestic Church.” A Christian family constitutes a specific manifestation and realization of an ecclessial communion. It is a sign and an image of that communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Homes have a pride of place in the shaping of the Christian community and the transmission of the faith. Traditionally, as guardians of the “hearth,” women have had the privileged place of passing on the faith throughout the years.

From the very beginning of the Church we can see how the faith community, the family of early disciples, was sustained and nurtured through their gatherings in homes where they were invited for the Eucharist and a family meal. In Rome, where there are churches built on what were these ancient first century Christian homes, it is telling that the names are all of women – Priscilla, Pudenziana, Domitilla, Praxedes, and more. My own titular church, Saint Peter in Chains, traces its roots and heritage back to a small chapel built by the daughter of the jailer of Peter in Rome who kept the chains that had bound Peter to the prison and used them as part of her catechesis – teaching – of the next generation of future disciples.

Today, we celebrate the power of mothers and grandmothers who tell the story of God’s love and of Jesus’ place in our lives. My prayer for all our mothers and grandmothers is that God will continue to bless you in your strengthening of your families and the enriching and ennobling of your children and grandchildren by your own words and witness that God is truly a part of life.

The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and the Hope of Jesus Christ which Overcomes All Evil

May 8th, 2015
Pope Francis greets Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni during an April 12 Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. (CNS photo/Cristian Gennari)

Pope Francis greets Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. (CNS photo/Cristian Gennari)

On Divine Mercy Sunday, that day when the Church Universal in a special way enters into the mystery of the Lord’s merciful love amidst the suffering and evil that persists in the human experience, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass for the faithful of the Armenian Rite. This special Eucharist was offered in remembrance of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Closer to home, pilgrims from around the country have come to Washington, D.C. to participate in the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial. Tomorrow morning, it will be my honor to welcome them to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. There, His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, will lead a unified celebration of the Armenian Divine Liturgy.

The use of the word “genocide” by Pope Francis to describe what happened 100 years ago generated controversy in some quarters, but it is an accurate characterization of the systematic deportations, forced labor, and mass killings of mostly-Christian Armenians at the hands of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. The total number of people killed during the genocide in the period of 1915-23 has been estimated at upwards of 1.5 million. Many millions more were forced to leave their homelands and find refuge elsewhere around the world.

Following the Pope’s lead, the European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution recognizing these atrocities as “genocide,” which is defined as the systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnic, racial or religious people. Many other nations around the world have recognized this as well.

The genocide was part of a plan designed to eliminate any Christian Armenian presence in what is now modern-day Turkey amidst the chaos of World War I. Other minority Christian ethnic groups were also targeted for extinction in this land that was once Christian, but had been conquered by Muslim armies centuries ago.

It is crucial, Pope Francis noted at the Mass commemorating the centennial, that we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered the cruelty and senseless slaughter of what he called “the first genocide of the twentieth century.” Today, with the increasing brutalities inflicted upon Christian peoples in the Middle East, parts of Africa and India, we may be witnessing the first genocide of the twenty-first century. Indeed, our Holy Father used the stark and jarring language of a “third world war” in referring to the situation in our time.

“On a number of occasions I have spoken of our time as a time of war, a third world war which is being fought piecemeal, one in which we daily witness savage crimes, brutal massacres and senseless destruction,” the Pope said. “Sadly, today too we hear the muffled and forgotten cry of so many of our defenseless brothers and sisters who, on account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly and ruthlessly put to death – decapitated, crucified, burned alive – or forced to leave their homeland.”

We cannot be silent, but must speak out for the Christians and religious minorities of today who suffer atrocities at the hands of ISIS, Boko Haram, and other terror groups, continually calling upon the world community to act to assist these peoples. As the tragedies mount, as each day we hear of some new brutality, we must speak out and pray in the hope of the Risen Christ. In him, we know that suffering and death are destroyed and transformed to new life.


A Milestone for Saint John Bosco and a Salute to Golden Apple Teachers

May 5th, 2015
2014 Graduation

Don Bosco Cristo Rey – Class of 2014 (Photo Credit: Ana Chapa)

On Sunday, May 3, the Church of Washington was pleased to welcome His Eminence Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, and the many pilgrims who gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for a Eucharistic celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Saint John Bosco. The patron saint of providing a Catholic education for children in need, this beloved man, truly epitomized what Pope Francis calls “the joy of the Gospel.”

Born on August 16, 1815, in a small hamlet near Turin, Italy, John Bosco was two years old when his father died, and he grew up poor and worked as a shepherd boy. This lesson in life would stay with him forever as he also learned the Catholic faith from his mother and his parish priest.

As a boy and then as a young man, he was known for his joyful faith. When he was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Turin, he dedicated his life to providing educational and job training opportunities for street children and other youth living in poverty. From his own experience, he knew how learning about Jesus could transform one’s heart. Popularly known as Don Bosco, he began a network of schools and vocational programs, and founded the Salesians, who today constitute the second largest Catholic religious order in the world. His feast day is celebrated on January 31, the day that he died in 1888.

Next month, Pope Francis will visit Turin to venerate the famous Shroud of Turin, which is believed to be the burial cloth of Christ, and also to celebrate the legacy of Saint John Bosco. In Turin, the Holy Father will walk in his footsteps by visiting with young people and the poor, and he will meet with Salesians and educators at the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, which was founded by the saint and houses his casket.

The saint’s name also graces Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland, sponsored by the Salesians and by the Archdiocese of Washington. In the spirit of Saint John Bosco, the school offers a challenging academic curriculum and an innovative corporate work study program to help children from low-income families find a brighter future rooted in faith. The school, which opened in 2007, has a 100 percent college acceptance rate for its students, many of whom are the first members of their family to go on to higher education.

This is also a time when we celebrate the 2015 Golden Apple Award teachers from the archdiocese:

  • John Boldt of Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg;
  • Jennifer Collier of Saint John School in Hollywood;
  • Leanne Emmerich of Little Flower School in Great Mills;
  • Jane M. Johnson of Saint Mary School in Bryantown;
  • Meghan Meyer of Our Lady of Victory School in Washington;
  • Monica Moyer of Saint Mary of the Mills School in Laurel;
  • Elizabeth  Orlandi of Saint Elizabeth School in Rockville;
  • Julie Southern Penndorf of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville;
  • Jennifer T. Gay Rison of Archbishop Neale School in La Plata; and
  • Elizabeth Wathen of Saint Michael School in Ridge.

At a dinner this month, these teachers will receive a $5,000 prize, along with a golden apple, pin and certificate. The Golden Apple Awards are presented through the generosity of the Donahue Family Foundation, founded by Jack and Rhodora Donahue, who sent their 13 children to Catholic schools.

All the teachers in our Catholic schools, and all the parents, graduates, parishioners and community members who support those schools, truly carry on the legacy of learning and love exemplified by Saint John Bosco. That great saint born 200 years ago believed in providing children with a Catholic education so they could learn about the Good News of Jesus, be inspired to help build God’s kingdom here on earth, and ultimately find everlasting joy in heaven.

The website of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School summarizes the legacy of its patron saint which unfolds every day in its classrooms: “His mission was clear and simple: to be a friend – a friend to kids who were poor, kids abandoned, kids at risk – and in so doing, to be a friend to Christ.”