Challenges of the Church discussed at priest convocation

RANDOLPH -- The Catholic Church faces a number of challenges in today's society, but by looking to Pope Francis, we may find a way forward priests of the Archdiocese of Boston were told at their annual convocation, held May 3 at The Lantana in Randolph.

The remarks came in the keynote address to the priests by Archbishop Charles Brown, the former apostolic nuncio to Ireland who will soon begin his new assignment as nuncio to Albania.

Today, he told the priests, we live in "a world of radically individualized personal autonomy, in which everyone is free and feels free to decide things for themselves."

It is a world that is made up of "radical, radical relativism," and it is a world that currently is seeing the truth being challenged by large pockets of people.

The Church is seen by some as "ethically wrong," if not morally wrong, in some of its teachings by large segments of society, making it "very difficult for us" to evangelize.

On top of that, the archbishop continued, the Church is also struggling under the "weight of the past," particularly the weight of the sexual abuse scandals that broke in the early 2000s.

The demands of today's priests are huge, he said, yet looking to Pope Francis' teachings may help combat those burdens.

Quoting the pope, he said "the truth, simply annunciated, will convince on its own. It needs to be incarnated in our lives as evangelists."

While he doesn't explicitly say it, Pope Francis is reminding us that "simply asserting the truth is not enough," Archbishop Brown explained. Instead, we need to be "critical witnesses to this faith," with a witness defined as "someone who attests to something which another person has not seen and does not know, and the second person believes him only on the basis of the testimony of the witness."

Therefore, a "witness is able to convey truth only by virtual of his credibility and his believability."

The pope is asking us to focus on our credibility, and that's a "big responsibility," the archbishop continued.

"He's asking us to be credible witnesses. He's asking us to go beyond the communication of authentic truth... he's asking us to focus on subjective qualities of our lives so that we will be effective witnesses."

To do that, he said, "We need to be men of prayer," because it is through prayer that our faith is deepened.

The demands of our time are great, the archbishop continued, "but I really believe with all of my heart" that through prayer, and by remembering the importance of the life of the world to come, we can become credible witnesses.

Speaking to The Pilot following his talk, Archbishop Brown said he was "delighted" to be in Boston.

"I have a great affection for the Archdiocese of Boston and I have a great esteem for your cardinal, Cardinal Seán O'Malley."

He noted he is looking forward to beginning his work in Albania, where he believes he will be stationed for about five or six years.

"I look forward to it and it's going to be a very exciting assignment for me," the archbishop said.

The convocation, held as a way to unite and celebrate priests from across the archdiocese, also saw remarks from vicar general Bishop Peter Uglietto; Father John Culloty, pastor of St. Edward the Confessor in Medfield; and Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

The cardinal, who offered closing remarks, spoke about his pastoral priorities, including the dangers of the "present climate that demonizes immigrants," and noted that priests must make an effort to support immigrants and refugees in the archdiocese.

"Our immigrant population is the fastest growing demographic in the Archdiocese of Boston, and we must promote an appreciation and sensitivity toward our immigrant brothers and sisters," he said.

As pastors, he said, "we must try to accompany our parishioners who face deportation, advocate with our government on their behalf, and try to counter the rhetoric that demonizes immigrants and minorities, reminding our people that we are an immigrant Church."

Young people make up the other "huge demographic that we have in Boston that is so challenging to us," the cardinal said. "We truly need to update our approach to them."

The convocation also saw three priests honored for their service to the priesthood.

Father James DiPerri, pastor of Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted, Waltham; Father John Sassani, pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton; and Father Gerard Petringa, pastor of St. Timothy, Norwood (as of June 1) were nominated by their peers to be honored during the event, and an award was presented to each of them by Cardinal O'Malley.