Cardinal spreads Christmas message

BOSTON -- Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley served meals at two shelters devoted to serving the homeless and celebrated Midnight Mass at the South End’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross and the Mass later that morning broadcast on Channel 7.

Pine Street Inn

The cardinal arrived at the Pine Street Inn for the Christmas Eve luncheon before 11:30 a.m. and was given a tour of the facility by Lydia Downie, the shelter’s president, who said, “We are very happy to have the cardinal here with us today.”

Downie said having the cardinal visit boosted the spirits of the shelter’s guests and let them know that spending time with them at Christmas was important to him.

“At Bethlehem the Holy Family was told there was no room at the inn,” the cardinal said. “There is room here, and we applaud the work of the staff and volunteers who support this great place.”

The tour of Pine Street Inn, which is the yellow brick building with the tall square tower seen from I-93 next to the Boston Herald, began with a walk through the large industrial kitchen where four large caldrons were brimming with the day’s vegetables and at the tables some of the more than 150 volunteers working over the holiday were chopping up salads and mixing pounds and pounds of mixed fruit.

After the kitchen, the cardinal was brought into the women’s side of the community. Sitting around round tables, some women were poised and expected him. Other women turned and their faces lit up as they recognized him.

From the moment he entered the room, it was no longer a tour, but truly a pastoral visit as individuals approached the archbishop and spoke softly to him.

As he left the women’s lounge, the cardinal met former White House Chief of Staff David R. Gergen, who was volunteering for the first time at the shelter with members of his family. “We did not expect all this coverage,” he said panning the array of television cameras and newspaper reporters and photographers that follow the cardinal during Christmas. “We are just here to help any way we can.”

It was the first time the two men met and after their conversation, it was for each to return to his task.

After a visit to the men’s side of the shelter, the cardinal joined the volunteers in the dining room standing in line with his tray to carry three meals out to the tables.

One of the men in the dining room, Carl V. Lundberg, a 62-year-old former machinist, had a short talk with the cardinal who wished him a Merry Christmas. After the cardinal went back in line to pick up more meals, Carl said, “It was nice to see him here.”

Lundberg said the cardinal’s presence brings attention to struggling people. More importantly, he said, the cardinal’s visit will help convince other homeless people he knows, who insist on staying out on the streets, to come inside. “I don’t know why they stay out there.”

Nativity of Our Lord Mass at Midnight

The altar at the cathedral anticipated Christmas Midnight Mass, bathed in bright lights and glowing in the resonance of 50 poinsettias, and an assortment of white roses, white irises and red amaryllises.

On either side of the altar were two Christmas trees that Father Kevin J. O’Leary, who experienced his first Christmas as the cathedral rector, said were both 18 feet tall. “We had a great time decorating the altar with parishioners and Ted Furey from the Keeley Society.”

The host of WGBH-FM’s Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood broadcasts, Ron Della Chiesa, said this was his 24th year as a lector at the Midnight Mass.

The Mass is one of the great events he experiences through the year, he said. “You have one of the great cathedrals in America, and one of the great organists in Leo Abbott.”

Della Chiesa, who also hosts programs on WPLM-FM, said, “For me the real highlight is when they sing ‘Silent Night’ after Communion.”

The program opened with a ceremonial Service of Light, where the altar servers lit the candles on the altar, which flowed into the traditional Choral Prelude performed by the Cathedral Parish Choir. The choir was led by Abbott, the cathedral music director, who played upon the cathedral’s legendary 1875 E. & G.G. Hook & Hastings organ.

At Midnight, Dianna Doyle, the choir’s psalmist and leader of song, chanted the Proclamation of Christ’s Birth from the Roman Martyrology into the silent cathedral filled with more than 1,000 congregants.

When Doyle reached the words: “Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh,” the choir sang the processional hymn “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and it was now Christmas.

In his homily, the cardinal said, “Christmas is a stark reminder of the vast chasm between the way of God and the way of the world.”

In the time of the Nativity, “the inn” was for the in-crowd, he said. “It was for the worldly, not the outcast, the ignored and the forgotten.”

Yet, the Savior of the world did not stay in a five-star hotel; instead he was born in a stable, because the inn was closed to him, he said.

The word Bethlehem means city of bread, and thus every altar is a manger that we are invited to come and share with the Lord, he said.

“To refuse his invitation is the worst decision a human being can make,” the cardinal said. “Do we want God to be a part of our lives? Or do we want to put up the “No Vacancy” sign?”

Christmas Morning Mass on Channel 7

At 9 a.m. Christmas morning, Catholic TV broadcast Christmas Mass celebrated by Cardinal O’Malley live on WHDH-TV, from a downstairs studio, just 20-feet down the hallway from the Channel 7 newsroom.

Preaching the same homily he used at the Midnight Mass, the cardinal said in that in today’s Christmas practice, the priority is on giving the people in our lives gifts. “We take the easy way out. We give gifts, instead of giving ourselves.”

“It is so special to have the cardinal here for Christmas,” said Anne Allred, a 7 News morning anchor, who stayed after her shift to attend the Mass and personally thanked the cardinal for coming.

Allred joked it was like full-service to have Mass come to her on Christmas and she said after she left the station she was cooking dinner for a number of station employees, who are living in Boston away from their families in other parts of the country.

Father Robert P. Reed, the director of Catholic TV, said unlike most television Masses the Christmas Mass was broadcast for a whole hour. “It is great to have the liturgy in its fullness.”

More time allowed the cardinal to preach his complete homily, and for the Daughters of St. Paul, who were the choir, to sing the Our Father and the “Gloria,” he said. “It is nice not having to rush through the birth of the Savior.”

The production used two cameras, one set in front of the altar, and a second that glided up and down the left side of the studio with silent hard rubber wheels on the painted cement floor.

Father Reed said he had to rely on the director to know exactly when the broadcast would end, because he was taking direction from the station’s master control.

At 9:57 a.m. on the large digital clock on the studio wall, Father Reed made a rolling gesture to the sisters, who then sang one more verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

At 9:58 a.m., the director raised his hand and counted off with his fingers five, four, three, two and one. On the monitor, the studio chapel faded to stained glass and the credits rolled.

St. Francis House

In a building just off from the Boston Common that was built in 1912 as a headquarters for Boston Edison, the guests and volunteers at the St. Francis House day shelter welcomed Cardinal O’Malley who joined them for their Christmas luncheon.

The cardinal was greeted at the door by Karen LaFrazia, the shelter’s director, who led him to the kitchen to meet volunteers and guests in the dining room. In the dining room, the cardinal sat with a table of homeless men and women, who shared with him their challenges.

Sitting with them, the cardinal said as a member of a Franciscan religious order, he was especially devoted to the plight of the poor and that it was St. Francis who promoted the use of Nativity scenes to teach that Jesus was born in such humble circumstances.

In his blessing before the dinner service, the cardinal said, “I wish you all peace in your hearts and success in the New Year. We are all homeless until we get to heaven.”

As a day shelter, the mission of St. Francis House offers an atrium and day center for guest to sit down when the weather is too hot or too cold to be outdoors during the day. In addition the guests have access to televisions to watch movies or the news, and telephones and the Internet for job hunting.

More than 1,000 guests use the shelter mailroom as their home address allowing them to secure identification and regular postal service.

Although, it does not provide open access overnight berthing to the homeless, the shelter does have a residence program, said LaFrazia. Upstairs, there are 56 permanent male and female residents, who have demonstrated their commitment to leading sober and independent lives.

These residents pay rent and have their own keys to their rooms as they transition to the mainstream, she said to the cardinal as she walked him into the upstairs dining room where there was going to be a family-style dinner they prepared themselves.

Downstairs, Lafrazia said on this Christmas Day, despite the economic pressures, the shelter fed 350 individuals breakfast and 500 meals for lunch, in addition to these 56 meals upstairs. “At St. Francis House, there is always enough.”