Sunday, August 2, 2009

To my Friend Cardinal Sean O’Malley On the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of His Episcopal Ordination

On August 2nd of 1984, Cardinal Sean O’Malley was named Coadjutor Bishop of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
I am thankful to God and to the Church for the gift of life and for the blessing that the priestly and Episcopal ministry of Cardinal Sean O’Malley is for all. I desire that these words not be a simple and cold chronology and account of biographical facts; but that, above all, they be a
testimony of the life of Sean O’Malley given by a friend who has been blessed with his friendship over the last four decades.

My close relationship with Cardinal O’Malley goes back to the early 70’s, when he had the position of Director of the Hispanic Apostolate in the Washington, D.C. Archdiocese whose pastor at the time was, the well remembered William Cardinal Baum.
Since then the pastoral work of the priest, later on Bishop Sean O’Malley, has never slowed down in his aim to open evangelical spaces of compassion and mercy in the Catholic Church in the United States. This always with the poorest among the poor in mind: The immigrants and, among them, with special care, attention and dedication, the men and women arrived from the Latin-American countries.

His evangelical and pastoral desire was that immigrants –and I repeat— especially Hispanic immigrants, would find in the Catholic Church a mother that would welcome, protect, defend and represent them in North American soil. At the same time, that the Hispanic Catholic immigrants could be recognized and could identify themselves as children and members, in equality of condition, of the Catholic Church which journeys in the United States. Father Sean O’Malley gave his best efforts founding the Hispanic Catholic Center in Washington, D.C., with its Headquarters in an ancient building where I remember his intervention organizing and trying to secure the basic services and better living conditions for the residents, who in its majority were very poor immigrants.

With this same spirit, authentically missionary and evangelical, I remember Father O’Malley coming closer to the domestic workers --most of them from Central-America— who worked in the accredited embassies before the White House and the OAS in Washington; or worked in the most diverse national and international organizations established in the city. He would come near to assist them and accompany them in the promotion and attainment of human dignity as they found their proper places in society as worthy laborers.

The living conditions of those domestic workers: mistreated and subject to conditions and practices of slavery, gave the opportunity to Father Sean O’Malley, with the help of Hispanic nuns, to organize and claim the right and needed protection for those women in the face of the exploitation, the abuse, and the injustice of their employers.

These original incursions into the world of the Hispanic immigrants allowed Father O’Malley to discover innumerable situations, conditions, circumstances and realities which, because of its inhumanity were, and still are today, completely incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Anointed by the spirit of the founder of his religious community, the poverello de Asís; and moved by the same compassion as the one from Nazareth, who is moved to pity by those who live like sheep without a shepherd, Father O’Malley laboured, and still toils today, so that immigrants can know –and be better integrated to-- the lifestyle of the society in the United States and the way in which what we can call its “system” functions.

In an almost anecdotal way, I am trying to underline here two true and prominent characteristics in the life of the man and the Christian Sean O’Malley:
  • His capacity for compassion and mercy which –like the Teacher of Nazareth-- have always moved him to act and resolve the urgent needs of his brothers or sisters in Christ, and
  • His evangelical and Franciscan option to live in poverty and pastoral dedication to the poorest, smaller, marginalized and rejected by society.

It seems to me that these two characteristics --compassion and poverty-- define and sufficiently explain what has been the vital and existential trajectory of this man, this friend, this brother, this priest, and this Bishop for whom we today cheer and give thanks to God for his abundant life.

In order to give direction to the Hispanic immigrants in the process of adaptation and integration to the life and Church in the United States –and in general-- to the North American society, Father Sean O’Malley established in the Washington Archdiocese, a radio program and a written communication tool El Pregonero (The Proclaimer). These foundations, which would later extend to the Virgin Islands, etc. show us the permanent and growing interest of Father O’Malley for the communication media as instruments for Evangelization. He then became the first Archbishop in the United States, who maintains communication with his flock through a personal internet “blog”.

The difficult and agitated situation lived by the peoples of Latin America during the 70’s and 80’s: revolts, coup d’état, revolutions, etc. was followed by the special interest of Father O’Malley who, in his preaching and celebrations with the Hispanics in the Archdiocese of Washington, did not neglect to mention the abuses to the human rights which, at that time, were happening in the southern part of the American continent. This brought mistrust on the side of the Latin American governments and organisms against the person and pastoral work of Father O’Malley.

During these “hot years” in Central America (Sandinista government, civil war in El Salvador, etc.), Father O’Malley travels to Central America and establishes relationships with leaders such as Cardinal Obando y Bravo, in Nicaragua; Rivera y Damas in El Salvador; and Oscar Rodriguez in Honduras, and created a program of Pastoral cooperation with specific churches in Latin America, looking to get more and better attention to the problems and required need for solutions for the immigrants originating in those nations.

Cardinal William Baum is succeeded by the good and unforgettable Cardinal James Hickey who, just as his predecessor, encourages the pastoral and missionary work of Father O’Malley, and recommended him --twenty-five years ago-- for the office of Bishop to the Holy See.
In the year 1974, Father O’Malley takes part in the First Regional Pastoral Encounter of Hispanics for the North East Region of the United States, which is formed by thirty-six Dioceses. During that occasion, and in the presence of Cardinals Baum of Washington, Kroll of Philadelphia, Cooke of New York; Medeiros of Boston, Aponte Martinez of Puerto Rico (invited as an observer) and the Apostolic Delegate of the Holy See Archbishop Jadot, Father O’Malley proposes the creation of a Regional Office for Hispanic Catholics, with its central offices in New York. This Pastoral Center opens its doors in 1976, offices and pastoral center which I founded and directed for more than twenty-five years. Beginning with the above mentioned encounter, Father Sean O’Malley was elected as President of the Board of Directors of the North-East Regional Office, while at the same time, President of the Directors Association for the Diocesan Apostolate to Hispanics in the North-East Region of the United States.

Under the Leadership of Father O’Malley, in his positions in the Hispanic Apostolate, is established a permanent line of cooperation between the different dioceses in Latin America and the Hispanic Apostolate Offices in the North-East. All with an important interchange of agents for evangelization (priests and nuns), programs for intercultural formation, abundant production of materials for the cathequesis, liturgy and the evangelization and missionary work among Hispanics. Also from this time are the creation of the School of Languages with the cooperation of the Diocese of Brooklyn and the publication of the first official lectionary in Spanish for liturgical use in the United States. Also, the first sociological studies on the Hispanic integration to the Church in the United States took effect, directed by Father Joseph Fitzpatrick, S.J., and a national study by Father Roberto Gonzalez, today Archbishop in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

To the pastoral and priestly work of Cardinal O’Malley we must add his virtues and intellectual accomplishments. In this area, allow me to point out his doctorate in the Portuguese and Spanish languages from the Catholic University of Washington. This doctorate was accomplished through the acquired and profound knowledge of the great works of the most prominent artist in the world of the arts and the literature in Latin America.

From the Christian authenticity of Cardinal O’Malley, of his intellectual and spiritual richness, of his friendship, his generous and fruitful ministerial, and episcopal work, have benefited, been blessed, and can give grateful testimony the recipients of his pastoral work in the Diocese which he, through the years, have headed: Virgin Islands, Fall River, Palm Beach, and Boston.
In essence Cardinal O’Malley is a true Christian humanist, of great intellect and a great love for the Church. A definitive characteristic of the Cardinal is his great love and loyalty for his friends, among whom I consider myself grateful and blessed.

Ad multos annos Cardinal O’Malley!! May God continue blessing us with the certainty of your friendship, with the joy of your presence, with the generosity of your humanity, with the light of your wisdom, and the mercy and presence of God in our midst, manifested in your Priesthood!