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Cardinal celebrates North End Mass to kick off Italian Heritage Month

Cardinal O'Malley greets massgoers in the Peace Garden outside St. Leonard Church in the North End following the Mass to kick off Italian Heritage Month. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault

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BOSTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley joined the parish of St. Leonard of Port Maurice in the North End for a Mass on Sept. 30 to mark the beginning of Italian Heritage Month in Massachusetts.

The event was sponsored by the St. Joseph Society, which was founded by Sicilian immigrants in 1925 to promote devotion to St. Joseph, the patron saint of their hometown of Riesi, Sicily.

The dedication of the month of October to celebrating the achievements of Italian-Americans began in 1999. Then-governor Paul Cellucci signed legislation creating an organization but requiring the governor to issue an annual proclamation. This is the 19th year of observing Italian Heritage Month.

Notable guests at the opening Mass included Federica Sereni, new Consul General of Italy, as well as leaders of local Italian-American organizations.

Cardinal O'Malley began and concluded his homily in Italian. In between, he spoke of the many contributions that Italians have made to American culture and various areas of life, including the arts, science, and government.

He noted that St. Leonard's Parish had recently celebrated the feast day of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, whose father went to America to find work in order to pay for his studies in preparation for the priesthood.

"I hope that (because of) our awareness of being an immigrant church in an immigrant country that we will always be ready to welcome the stranger and help those who come here like our own families, seeking security, freedom, and opportunities for their children," the cardinal said.

He added, "One of the great things about being an American is that you can be an American without jettisoning your ethnic roots and heritage."

Cardinal O'Malley compared the two situations described in the readings from the liturgy. In Numbers 11, Joshua asks Moses to stop two men from prophesying, and in Mark 9, John reports to Jesus that the disciples tried to prevent someone from driving out demons in his name. Moses refuses and Jesus says not to prevent these other people, attributing their abilities to God.

"The lesson is we must learn to celebrate each other's gifts and not be threatened by them. Today we celebrate God's gifts to us and to our community," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He then examined the reading from James 5, in which James condemns the rich and warns them of the danger of wealth. He cardinal explained that wealth is dangerous when it becomes our master, a higher priority than God or other people.

He said the virtue of poverty, such as Jesus describes in the first Beatitude "Blessed are the poor in spirit," consists of trusting in God's providence and having the humility to see everything as a gift from God.

He recalled that when his family first bought a television, there was a show called "The Millionaire" about a philanthropist who gave people anonymous gifts of $1 million. What struck him most, Cardinal O'Malley said, was that no one seemed to wonder or care about where the money came from.

"I think often we are like that. Everything we are, everything we have, is a gift, but we're often prepared to allow God to be an anonymous donor and live our life as if we did not know. And yet our God wants to give us so much more. He wants to make a gift of himself to us," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Before the final blessing, Street Magic Acapella gave a powerful rendition of "God Bless the USA." The Cardinal stayed outside the church to meet and take photos with parishioners after the Mass.

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