Cardinal celebrates Boston teen Mass for peace

DORCHESTER -- “Pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

This verse from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans was printed in the program for the Boston Catholic Youth Connection’s Youth Mass for Peace, held May 19 at St. Peter Parish in Dorchester. The words capture the heart of the BCYC’s mission to reach out to inner city youth and bring parishes together to address violence.

The BCYC, a Catholic Charities program, was formed in April of 2005 and has organized monthly Masses and other events and outreach since. Its 12 member parishes are located in Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury and the South End and Masses are held at a different parish each month.

The youth Mass, originally scheduled to be held at Ronan Park, was held inside due to inclement weather. Father Daniel J. Finn, administrator at St. Peter’s and pastor at St. Mark Parish in Dorchester, said that organizers chose to hold the Mass at the park because it was once a place where the community gathered.

“In the last several years, sadly, it has been a place of violence,” he said.

The monthly youth Masses stress peace in an effort to lead youth away from violence, he said.

Area priests gathered to concelebrate the May 19 Mass with Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley. Pastors present from Dorchester were Father Finn, Father Thomas Foley of St. Ann Parish, Father Oscar Pratt of St. Katharine Drexel Parish and Father Paul Soper of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish. Two Ugandan priests in residence at St. Mark’s, Father Richard Bitalo and Father Pascal Mugerwa, also participated. Present from the South End were pastor of Our Lady of Czetochowa Parish Father Jerzy Auguscik and rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross Father John Connolly. Also concelebrating was the cardinal’s secretary, Father Robert Kickham.

In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley told a modern parable about a daughter who was ashamed of her mother’s deformed hands. The girl always asked her mother to wear gloves whenever they went out in public together. At the mother’s funeral, the father told the girl why her mother’s hands were deformed. When the girl was a baby, their house caught fire. The mother ran into her daughter’s room and put out the burning crib blankets with her hands, he said.

The story is so tragic because the girl had always been ashamed of the scars on her mother’s hands, but those scars were badges of love and courage, he said.

The cardinal said the resurrected Lord showed His hands to His disciples, saying, “See how much I love you.”

“There are so many people who live their whole lives without even suspecting how much God loves them,” he said.

God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to teach us about His love. Jesus, in turn, taught us to love as He loves -- to love strangers and our enemies. To do this, we must be able to forgive, the cardinal said.

At the Last Supper, Jesus tells His disciples to love one another as God loves them. Jesus then gives the disciples the gift of the Eucharist, the gift of Himself, so that with His power and love His disciples will be able to live the mission He gave them, he said.

Cardinal O’Malley added that Jesus has given us the same mission and the same gift of Himself.

“Now it is our turn to go out and share what God has given us,” he said.

After the homily and prayers of petition, the congregation joined in a pledge of peace.

“Lord, I am Your follower. I offer to You all that I think, do and say. Help me to know and love and serve You. Give me the courage to show Your peace and love to the world through my actions and my words. Father, I am your child. Today I promise You: I will not join a gang, I will not carry a weapon, I will not use or sell drugs, I will resolve conflict in peaceful ways, I will seek help when I am afraid and I will reject violence and retaliation. You are my Father. Keep me safe. I am Your servant. I pledge to be an instrument of Your peace,” they recited.

The youth were encouraged to sign the pledge and put it in the offertory basket.

Cardinal O’Malley concluded the Mass, saying, “We are here because our young people are important. These are difficult times.”

Gathering together as a community of believers and celebrating the Eucharist will give Catholics the strength necessary to live lives of discipleship, he added.

Following the Mass, many of the youth gathered for basketball and refreshments at the Catholic Charities Teen Center across the street.

Kayla Smith-Strauss, a 16-year-old parishioner at St. Mark’s, said she has met many teens through the youth Masses and youth center.

“It gives a great alternative on the weekend,” he said. “When you’re here, you know you’re safe.”

Daniel Tavares, the site coordinator at the teen center, said that as one who grew up in the community, he understands how important it is for Dorchester residents to gather. He added that he hopes more area youth will participate in future events, such as the upcoming Youth Mass for Peace on June 23 at St. Ann Parish in Dorchester at 6 p.m.

“Coming together as a community and praying for peace works as a preventative tool to violence,” he said.