Looking back: Archbishop Seán O’Malley installed as sixth Archbishop of Boston

From the Aug. 1, 2003 edition of The Pilot

BOSTON -- Turning a page in the history of the Boston archdiocese, Seán Patrick O’Malley officially became the sixth archbishop of Boston on July 30 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

More than 2,500 priests, deacons, religious, and lay people convened at the cathedral to witness the historic event.

The installation began with an outdoor procession, in which Archbishop O’Malley processed together with members of the Knights of Columbus, two cardinals, 25 bishops and close to 500 priests from throughout the United States. Upon entering the cathedral, senior auxiliary Bishop John Boles presented the archbishop with a crucifix, which he kissed as a sign of reverence.

“Today this ceremony began with a dramatic gesture,” Archbishop O’Malley said during the homily. The archbishop then cautioned the congregation not to “allow that to be an empty gesture.”

“When we kiss the cross, we are kissing God’s love and mercy that is crucified. We are acknowledging that salvation is not a cheap grace, that we are bought at a great price,” he said.

As the archbishop made his way to the altar, the congregation broke out in thunderous applause.

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, apostolic nuncio in the United States, addressed the congregation, “Today the people in the Archdiocese of Boston are receiving from Pope John Paul II a new shepherd in the person of Archbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley. Like Jesus, he comes with compassion for the world...To teach the truth about Christ and his Church with unfailing charity.”

Archbishop Montalvo went on to praise the “evangelical simplicity” that has defined Archbishop O’Malley’s tenure as bishop in the dioceses of Palm Beach, Fall River and the Virgin Islands.

“The providence of God now offers you this gentleman-priest,” he said.

Bishop Walter Edyvean, vicar general and moderator of the curia, then read the Papal Bull--the apostolic letter written by Pope John Paul II by which he appoints Archbishop O’Malley to lead the archdiocese. Chancellor David Smith formally accepted the Papal Bull. After the reading of the bull, the archbishop sat at the cathedra, thereby becoming the sixth archbishop of Boston.

The auxiliary bishops, together with representatives from the various communities within the archdiocese--priests, deacons, religious superiors and members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council formally greeted the archbishop, marking the end of the installation rite and the Mass continued.

The celebration of the Mass embraced the multi-ethnicity of the archdiocese--with readings proclaimed in Spanish and Portuguese and intercessions recited in eight other languages. During the homily, the archbishop extended heartfelt welcomes to the Hispanic, Portuguese and Haitian communities in their native tongues.

In a homily that was not only profound and optimistic, but also down-to-earth and full of personal anecdotes, Archbishop O’Malley spoke of the need to rebuild the Church.

He began his homily thanking the Holy Father “for the great trust he has placed in me by making me a bishop 19 years ago and now sending me to you as your archbishop.”

“After 38 years, being a Franciscan brother is still the great joy of my life,” he admitted. “I wish that after so long I were doing it better, but God and my community have not given up on me.”

“As your archbishop, I am your shepherd; as a friar I am your brother,” he continued, “and I have come to serve you, to wash your feet as Jesus says and to repeat the great commandment: Love one another as Christ loves us. It is his love that binds us together. The immensity of that love is measured by the cross.”

The archbishop spoke of the importance of the cross of Jesus. “Discipleship means taking up the cross,” he said.

Recalling the pope’s plea for forgiveness of the Church’s historical sins, Archbishop O’Malley acknowledged that “the Church in the United States could not have imagined just how important this gesture of asking forgiveness would be for us. Little did we realize the dimensions of the problems that beset us.”

“The whole Catholic community is ashamed and anguished because of the pain and damage inflicted on so many young people and because of our inability and unwillingness to deal with the crime of sexual abuse of minors,” he said.

“How we ultimately deal with the present crisis in our Church will do much to define us as Catholics of the future. If we do not flee from the cross of pain and humiliation, if we stand firm in who we are and what we stand for, if we work together--hierarchy, priests, religious and laity--to live our faith and fulfill our mission, then we will be a stronger and a holier Church,” he stated.

According to the archbishop, resolving the clergy sexual abuse crisis may “prove beneficial to our whole country” by “making all of us more aware of the dreadful consequences of this crime and more vigilant and effective in eradicating this evil from our midst.”

Addressing the victims and their families, Archbishop O’Malley said, “The healing of our Church is inexorably bound up with your own healing... Despite the understandable anger, protests and litigation, we see you as our brothers and sisters who have been wronged.”

Archbishop O’Malley also commended the priests of the archdiocese.

At the mention of the priests of the archdiocese, the entire assembly broke out in such emphatic applause that the archbishop’s words were all but drowned out. “We gather here with so many priests--so many good priests--struggling to make sense of it all,” he declared over the applause.

“Our Catholic people love and support our faithful priests,” he continued. “Never forget that serving Christ and our people is worth suffering for.”

With fervor, the archbishop went on to emphasize the importance of ministering to “the poor, the sick, the marginalized” in our society.

“This is not just a philanthropic enterprise,” he cautioned, “it is rather an extension of the Christ who opened the book of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth and said, ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and relief for the oppressed.’”

“The followers of Jesus are also anointed, to be part of the same mission that is Christ’s” he continued, “to reveal the face of our loving and merciful Father in heaven.”

He exhorted all Catholics to delve into more fervent prayer. “Prayer is a language that allows us to communicate with our Heavenly Father. It is a window that allows light into our life.”

“Some people have forgotten that language,” he said. “Without prayer we become spiritually disoriented, our relationships suffer, we begin to be isolated, alone, confused and often overwhelmed.”

The archbishop reminded the assembly that “although we live in a sad chapter of the Church’s history, we must remember it is a chapter not the entire book.”

“Christ is the bridegroom--not the widower,” he remarked.

During the liturgy, Archbishop O’Malley praised Bishop Richard Lennon for his work as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese; the assembly echoed the archbishop’s sentiment with a standing ovation.

“That was great--it certainly was,” sighed Claire O’Malley, the archbishop’s stepmother. “We certainly are very proud of him.”

Although she admits the task ahead is formidable, O’Malley believes the archbishop “will do a wonderful job.”

“I hope people were listening closely,” said Thomas Finneran, Speaker of the House of Representatives. “There was an extraordinary emphasis he put on a recognition of the lapses of the Church, the sins of the Church--he even used the word ‘crimes.’”

Finneran believes Archbishop O’Malley expressed “an earnest desire on his part to beg for forgiveness and to demonstrate as he leads the Church forward that he’s serious about earning that forgiveness.”

He is optimistic that Archbishop O’Malley is willing “to move promptly on whatever settlements the Church can effectuate in a timely and responsible way and then get back to the active ministry of Christ and the Catholic Church.

“I think it’s going to mark a change in Boston,” said Mary Ann Haddad, a parishioner from St. Monica in South Boston. “I’m sure that the healing will be a gradual thing, but at least we’re now on the road to recovery.”