Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe

Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe

This morning, Pope Francis sent a telegram to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston with his condolences for yesterday’s bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Below is the full text:

 His Eminence Cardinal Sean O’Malley
Archbishop of Boston

Deeply grieved by news of the loss of life and grave injuries caused by the act of violence perpetrated last evening in Boston, His Holiness Pope Francis wishes me to assure you of his sympathy and closeness in prayer. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, His Holiness invokes God’s peace upon the dead, his consolation upon the suffering and his strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response. At this time of mourning the Holy Father prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State

Last evening, as the situation in Boston was still quite fluid, Cardinal Sean issued a statement “expressing his deep sorrow” for the victims of the “senseless acts of violence”:

 The Archdiocese of Boston joins all people of good will in expressing deep sorrow following the senseless acts of violence perpetrated at the Boston Marathon today. Our prayers and concern are with so many who experienced the trauma of these acts, most especially the loved ones of those who lives were lost and those who were injured, and the injured themselves.

The citizens of the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are blessed by the bravery and heroism of many, particularly the men and women of the police and fire departments and emergency services who responded within moments of these tragic events. Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino and Police Commissioner Davis are providing the leadership that will see us through this most difficult time and ensure that proper procedures are followed to protect the public safety.

In the midst of the darkness of this tragedy we turn to the light of Jesus Christ, the light that was evident in the lives of people who immediately turned to help those in need today. We stand in solidarity with our ecumenical and interfaith colleagues in the commitment to witness the greater power of good in our society and to work together for healing.

Throughout the next few days, let us remember all those affected by these acts of violence in our thoughts and our prayers. Let us also remember the first responders, the medical professionals, and those who will minister to the spiritual and mental well-being of those affected in our prayers as well. Below is a prayer shared by Bishop Coyne of Indianapolis, who was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Prayer for Victims of Terrorism

Loving God,
Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and terrorism.
Comfort their families and all who grieve for them.
Help us in our fear and uncertainty,
And bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love.
Strengthen all those who work for peace,
And may the peace the world cannot give reign in our hearts.

Amen


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Remarks by President Barack Obama

This year, we mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War — a time when thousands of our prisoners of war finally came home after years of starvation and hardship and, in some cases, torture. And among the homecomings, one stood out.

A group of our POWs emerged carrying a large wooden crucifix, nearly four feet tall. They had spent months on it, secretly collecting firewood, carving it — the cross and the body — using radio wire for a crown of thorns. It was a tribute to their friend, their chaplain, their fellow prisoner who had touched their souls and saved their lives — Father Emil Kapaun.

This is an amazing story. Father Kapaun has been called a shepherd in combat boots. His fellow soldiers who felt his grace and his mercy called him a saint, a blessing from God. Today, we bestow another title on him — recipient of our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. After more than six decades of working to make this Medal a reality, I know one of Father Kapaun’s comrades spoke for a lot of folks here when he said, “it’s about time.”

Father, as they called him, was just 35 years old when he died in that hellish prison camp. His parents and his only sibling, his brother, are no longer with us. But we are extremely proud to welcome members of the Kapaun family — his nephews, his niece, their children — two of whom currently serve in this country’s National Guard. And we are very proud of them.

We’re also joined by members of the Kansas congressional delegation, leaders from across our armed forces, and representatives from the Catholic Church, which recognizes Father Kapaun as a “Servant of God.” And we are truly humbled to be joined by men who served alongside him — veterans and former POWs from the Korean War. (Applause.)

Now, I obviously never met Father Kapaun. But I have a sense of the man he was, because in his story I see reflections of my own grandparents and their values, the people who helped to raise me. Emil and my grandfather were both born in Kansas about the same time, both were raised in small towns outside of Wichita. They were part of that Greatest Generation — surviving the Depression, joining the Army, serving in World War II. And they embodied those heartland values of honesty and hard work, decency and humility — quiet heroes determined to do their part.

For Father Kapaun, this meant becoming an Army chaplain — serving God and country. After the Communist invasion of South Korea, he was among the first American troops that hit the beaches and pushed their way north through hard mountains and bitter cold. In his understated Midwestern way, he wrote home, saying, “this outdoor life is quite the thing” — (laughter) — and “I prefer to live in a house once in a while.” But he had hope, saying, “It looks like the war will end soon.”

That’s when Chinese forces entered the war with a massive surprise attack — perhaps 20,000 soldiers pouring down on a few thousand Americans. In the chaos, dodging bullets and explosions, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes, out past the front lines and into no-man’s land — dragging the wounded to safety.

When his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay — gathering the injured, tending to their wounds. When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he carried on — comforting the injured and the dying, offering some measure of peace as they left this Earth.

When enemy forces bore down, it seemed like the end — that these wounded Americans, more than a dozen of them, would be gunned down. But Father Kapaun spotted a wounded Chinese officer. He pleaded with this Chinese officer and convinced him to call out to his fellow Chinese. The shooting stopped and they negotiated a safe surrender, saving those American lives.

Then, as Father Kapaun was being led away, he saw another American — wounded, unable to walk, laying in a ditch, defenseless. An enemy soldier was standing over him, rifle aimed at his head, ready to shoot. And Father Kapaun marched over and pushed the enemy soldier aside. And then as the soldier watched, stunned, Father Kapaun carried that wounded American away.

This is the valor we honor today — an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live. And yet, the incredible story of Father Kapaun does not end there.

He carried that injured American, for miles, as their captors forced them on a death march. When Father Kapaun grew tired, he’d help the wounded soldier hop on one leg. When other prisoners stumbled, he picked them up. When they wanted to quit — knowing that stragglers would be shot — he begged them to keep walking.

In the camps that winter, deep in a valley, men could freeze to death in their sleep. Father Kapaun offered them his own clothes. They starved on tiny rations of millet and corn and birdseed. He somehow snuck past the guards, foraged in nearby fields, and returned with rice and potatoes. In desperation, some men hoarded food. He convinced them to share. Their bodies were ravaged by dysentery. He grabbed some rocks, pounded metal into pots and boiled clean water. They lived in filth. He washed their clothes and he cleansed their wounds.

The guards ridiculed his devotion to his Savior and the Almighty. They took his clothes and made him stand in the freezing cold for hours. Yet, he never lost his faith. If anything, it only grew stronger. At night, he slipped into huts to lead prisoners in prayer, saying the Rosary, administering the sacraments, offering three simple words: “God bless you.” One of them later said that with his very presence he could just for a moment turn a mud hut into a cathedral.

That spring, he went further — he held an Easter service. I just met with the Kapaun family. They showed me something extraordinary — the actual stole, the purple vestment that Father Kapaun wore when he celebrated Mass inside that prison camp.

As the sun rose that Easter Sunday, he put on that purple stole and led dozens of prisoners to the ruins of an old church in the camp. And he read from a prayer missal that they had kept hidden. He held up a small crucifix that he had made from sticks. And as the guards watched, Father Kapaun and all those prisoners — men of different faith, perhaps some men of no faith — sang the Lord’s Prayer and “America the Beautiful.” They sang so loud that other prisoners across the camp not only heard them, they joined in, too — filling that valley with song and with prayer.

That faith — that they might be delivered from evil, that they could make it home — was perhaps the greatest gift to those men; that even amidst such hardship and despair, there could be hope; amid their misery in the temporal they could see those truths that are eternal; that even in such hell, there could be a touch of the divine. Looking back, one of them said that that is what “kept a lot of us alive.”

Yet, for Father Kapaun, the horrific conditions took their toll. Thin, frail, he began to limp, with a blood clot in his leg. And then came dysentery, then pneumonia. That’s when the guards saw their chance to finally rid themselves of this priest and the hope he inspired. They came for him. And over the protests and tears of the men who loved him, the guards sent him to a death house — a hellhole with no food or water — to be left to die.

And yet, even then, his faith held firm. “I’m going to where I’ve always wanted to go,” he told his brothers. “And when I get up there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.” And then, as was taken away, he did something remarkable — he blessed the guards. “Forgive them,” he said, “for they know not what they do.” Two days later, in that house of death, Father Kapaun breathed his last breath. His body was taken away, his grave unmarked, his remains unrecovered to this day.

The war and the awful captivity would drag on for another two years, but these men held on — steeled by the memory and moral example of the man they called Father. And on their first day of freedom, in his honor, they carried that beautiful wooden crucifix with them.

Some of these men are here today — including Herb Miller, the soldier that Father Kapaun saved in that ditch and then carried all those miles. Many are now in their 80s, but make no mistake, they are among the strongest men that America has ever produced. And I would ask all of our courageous POWs from the Korean War to stand if they’re able and accept the gratitude of a grateful nation.

I’m told that in their darkest hours in the camp in that valley, these men turned to a Psalm. As we prepare for the presentation of the Medal of Honor to Father Kapaun’s nephew, Ray, I want to leave you with the words of that Psalm, which sustained these men all those years ago.

Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely, your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


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20121117-223318.jpgBy now, most of you who are faithful readers of Catholic blogs have heard that there was a rather historic meeting last weekend in Baltimore between Catholic bloggers and American bishops. Many bloggers who were in attendance have already shared their thoughts on the meeting and I honestly don’t know what more I can add to the conversation. But, never one to keep thoughts about the Catholic world to myself, I will share some of my opinions and insights about last week’s meeting.

First of all, I have to say, I was completely humbled that I was sent an invitation to attend and I knew that I could not pass up the opportunity. If anything, I realized that it would be a fantastically awesome experience meeting many of the bloggers I’ve followed for years. (Can you tell how excited I was? A total Catholic Geek Out moment.)

To be quite honest, as I was preparing for the trip north, I was asking myself what I could bring to the discussions we would have in Baltimore. I figured the panel would take the results of the CARA study on how adult Catholics utilize new media to find out and share their faith and then present us with a vision for moving forward. I thought the USCCB would present us with what they wanted to see happen; after all, that’s kind of what we saw at the Vatican bloggers meet-up last year. But, in the end, I was pleasantly surprised that the bishops conference was more open to our input.

Initially, I was quite surprised by the findings of the CARA study, especially the fact that most Catholics still receive the bulk of their information about their parish and the Church, in general, from their parish bulletins. As a bulletin editor for a Catholic parish in Florida, I can tell you, most people in the parish don’t read the entire bulletin; they skim, looking for stuff that is most important to them and move on. Additionally, many obtain information nowadays through email communications from the parish, which I believe was overlooked in the CARA study.

I was not shocked by the level of use of new media by younger adult Catholics. In fact, most of the people I encounter on Twitter and other social media sites are people in their 20s to late 30s. We are constantly talking about how our faith has been an important part of our lives and sharing our experiences with the Church–good and bad, I might add. We challenge each other, strengthen each other, and teach each other about the Church. We have grown to embrace the Church, despite the diversity and difference of opinion amongst the faithful. We are proud to be Catholic…and we don’t hide it.

During the meeting, when the bloggers were able to break into small groups with bishops and talk about our impressions of the findings in the CARA report, I was able to share some of my opinions on what the Church needs to be doing about embracing social media. I simply shared, if we do not embrace new media, we are in jeopardy of losing an entire generation of Catholics. We are beyond the point of simply getting involved in the use of social media; in actuality, we have some major catching up to do.

Churches of other faith denominations have done a remarkable job at utilizing new media to engage young people and get them involved in the activities of their churches. If you’re interested in seeing which churches are using social media effectively, I encourage you to visit the website of any popular Protestant church in your community…you’ll see what they are doing and how successful they are.

All Catholics, young and old, laity and clergy, MUST get on social media and MUST share their faith. There is absolutely no getting around it. It’s time our bishops and dioceses become active on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and share the Catholic story. However, as I mentioned throughout my live-tweeting of the bishops and bloggers dialogue, it CANNOT be a one-sided conversation…it has to be a dialogue. We cannot just put out the teachings of the Church; we have to talk to those on social media about why the Church believes what it does; we have to respond to people who have questions about the faith; we have to correct, with charity, what people get wrong about our faith. As Bishop Sample stated at the meeting, the whole concept of social media is to be social.

So, as we wait to see what comes of this historic meeting, I’m curious, what are some of your thoughts on the CARA study? What would you suggest the Church do to utilize new media to share our Catholic story more effectively? It’s our duty and our responsibility to share the Gospel message of Christ to the world…how can we help the Church answer our baptismal call?

UPDATE: On a related note, it was great meeting all of the bloggers I’ve followed for years, especially Sarah Vabulas of Catholic Drinkie, Fr. Kyle Schnippel, Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, Lisa Hendey of CatholicMom.com, Kathy Schiffer, Mark Shea, Steve Nelson, David Cheney, Mary DeTourris Poust, Brandon Vogt (I’ve met Brandon once before), Tom McDonald, Leah Libresco, Deacon Greg, and everyone else. Sorry if i forgot anyone. A special thanks to Lisa Hendey for the picture! :)


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Last night was a difficult night for all of us conservatives. While the outcome of the election was not something we anticipated, President Obama has been reelected for another term. Now, we must rally behind our President and ask that the Holy Spirit guide him in his decisions and actions.

I think it’s important to pause here for a moment and reflect on last night and elections in general. Some have questioned how God could allow President Obama, with his extremely pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage positions, to be reelected for another four years. To that I say, elections are all about free will. Despite what people would hope for, the Lord does not intervene in elections; the Lord guides us to hopefully make the right decision. But, just like everything else in life, He does not force us to make one decision or another. Ultimately, the choice is ours to make and we must endure the consequences when those choices are not what the Lord intended.

Now, as President Obama begins his second term in office, we, as Catholic Americans, need to offer our prayers for him. However, we also must challenge him on issues that are important to us–abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, religious freedom, etc. It is our responsibility to make our positions known.

We also need to pray for ourselves. We need to ask the Father to send His Holy Spirit upon US, to guide us and strengthen us, that WE might grow in our faith and have the courage to stand up for our beliefs. We need to pray that we have the strength and the courage of holy men and women like Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Mother Theresa to defend the dignity of all human life.

Challenging times are ahead for our nation and for our Church. It’s time we had faithful Catholics, true to the teachings of the Church and with the guts to make those teachings known, to emerge and make our voices heard in the public square. We’re counting on all of you, especially in this Year of Faith, to increase your knowledge and understanding of the teachings of the Church so that we can better defend Her in all that we do.

God of all nations,
Father of the human family,
we give you thanks for the freedom we exercise
and the many blessings of democracy we enjoy
in these United States of America.

We ask for your protection and guidance
for all who devote themselves to the common good,
working for justice and peace at home and around the world.

We lift up all our duly elected leaders and public servants,
those who will serve us as president, as legislators and judges,
those in the military and law enforcement.

Heal us from our differences and unite us, O Lord,
with a common purpose, dedication,
and commitment to achieve liberty and justice
in the years ahead for all people,
and especially those who are most vulnerable in our midst.

Amen.

God love you.


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Cardinal Dolan | Credit: Church Report

Over the last few days, many within the Church have questioned Cardinal Dolan’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to the 67th Annual Al Smith Dinner to be held later this year in New York City. The proceeds of the event will assist Catholic Charities in its provision of services to the poor and least vulnerable among us. Shortly after the invitation of the President was announced, I spoke out, highlighting my disagreement with that decision. I cited a precedent set by Cardinal O’Connor back in 1996 when he refused to invite President Clinton to speak at the dinner because of his political stance on abortion. (Here’s that post.)

Yesterday via his blog, Cardinal Dolan responded to recent criticism about his decision to invite President Obama to the dinner. In it, His Eminence spoke about the need for us to be civil towards one another so that we can reach a point where dialogue is opened and issues/controversies can be resolved. While I agree with the Cardinal on that, I disagree with him on keeping the invitation to Obama. Here’s what I posted as a response on the Cardinal’s blog:

Cardinal Dolan,

First of all, I would just like to say that I have the deepest admiration and respect for you as the leader of one of the US’s largest and most diverse archdioceses. I also commend you for your courage in defending the teachings of the Church with all of your being. Bringing a little bit of humor to a situation can always help ease tensions and bring about a resolution to some issues.

In terms of your invitation to President Obama to attend the 67th Annual Al Smith Dinner, I have to say that I disagree with it. I think it gives Obama a Catholic platform from which to speak to the American people, no matter how humorous the speech/remarks by the President may be. I recall a similar situation from 2009, when President Obama was invited to give the commencement speech at Notre Dame. During that controversy, you were one of the bishops of the United States to speak out against the invitation.

In an interview with an NBC affiliate, you said: “There’s a lot of things that President Obama does that we can find ourselves allied with and working with him on, and we have profound respect for him and pray with him and for him.”

I don’t disagree with you on that point. Because he is the President of the United States, it is important that he be given the respect due to him and that he be guaranteed of our prayers.

You continue: “But in an issue that is very close to the heart of Catholic world view, namely, the protection of innocent life in the womb, he has unfortunately taken a position very much at odds with the Church.”

The current situation with relations between the U.S. Government and the Catholic Church is far more drastic than it was when our only main concern was the abortion issue. Today, the abortion issue remains a strong point of contention between this administration and the Church; however, our relations have been further complicated by the President’s denial of conscience protections for health care workers and the forcing of Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives for women.

In that interview, you also expressed that giving Obama the opportunity to speak from a Catholic platform would cause division within the Church and would send a mixed message to Catholics within the United States. What has changed? The Al Smith Dinner is an annual fundraiser that provides financial assistance to Catholic Charities. Why should the speakers at this dinner be given the chance to speak from a Catholic platform when their views are in such opposition to the Catholic Church?

Your Eminence, I respect you tremendously because of your courage in defending the teachings of the Church in our increasingly secular world that is so content on accepting the absence of morals and embracing a culture of death. As such, you and your brother bishops and priests remain in my prayers…your work is not easy. However, respecting someone does not mean we have to agree with each other on every issue or controversy. I do not believe that inviting Obama to the Al Smith dinner is appropriate. Back in 1996, Cardinal O’Connor refused to invite President Clinton to speak at the dinner because of his views on abortion. President Obama’s views are far more radical and extremist than President Clinton’s views ever were on that issue. I believe Cardinal O’Connor set a precedent in 1996 that should be followed in this current situation.

Whether you rescind Obama’s invitation or not, I will support you 100%; I may not agree with you, but I will support you nonetheless. I simply ask that you give this invitation another thought. I pray that the Holy Spirit may guide you in this decision and in all of your decisions.

My prayers go with you,

Tom Pringle


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