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BOSTON -- Close to 1,500 people came together to offer thanks and support to priests in the Archdiocese of Boston during the eighth annual Celebration of the Priesthood Dinner, held Sept. 22 at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston.
The annual dinner gala serves as a major fundraising event for the archdiocese's Clergy Health and Retirement Trust (formerly 'Clergy Funds'), which provides health, welfare, and retirement support for the archdiocese's active and retired priests. This year's gala raised over $1.6 million for the trust.
Bishop Robert P. Reed, an auxiliary bishop of Boston and president of the CatholicTV Network, acted as the event's emcee, and began the program with a welcome and a word of thanks to the attendees.
"I know that I speak for all of our brother priests how fantastic it is for us to witness right here and now this tremendous expression of support and to share in this celebration with all of you," he said.
His welcome was followed by an opening prayer and blessing by the archdiocese's youngest priest, Father Matthew J. Conley, before chairman of the Clergy Health and Retirement Fund and HP Hood LLC CEO John A. Kaneb offered the opening remarks.
In his remarks, Kaneb spoke about some of the challenges priests face, including acting as pastor for multiple parishes, and the stress that can bring on.
"But, your dollars... are enabling us to address this situation," he said.
"There are mental healthcare professionals available at no cost to your priests on a regular, easy to reach basis of total confidentially," he continued.
Chuck and Gloria Clough, co-chairs of the dinner, also offered opening remarks. In his remarks, Chuck Clough thanked the priests for their hard work.
"These men we honor tonight went into their work life inspirited by a motive that transcended the normal aspirations we all shared when we began our career search. Priesthood is not an easy vocation. These men are hardened, they are tough, and they are faithful," he said.
"They've lived out a fervent commitment to a Christian life. They chose to live a life of total sacrifice and service to our Church... They're always there when we call, now many are aging and they need us," said Chuck Clough.
Gloria Clough also thanked the priests, and noted that she recently visited Regina Cleri, the retirement home in Boston for senior priests.
She said the priests she saw there were full of joy as they celebrated a morning Mass.
It's "very inspirational to see these men being at Mass and retired and know that they probably lived a life full of sacrifice," she said.
The keynote speaker for the dinner was Timothy P. Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics.
In his keynote, Shriver compared the work of the Special Olympics to "what the priests and religious of this diocese practice every day."
"The idea that that person you think you need to fix, that thing that you think is broken, that place that you do not dare go, that person who you say 'Well, thank God that's not me,' that that person, that person who, on the surface, looks broken, is running down the track as fast as she can run, with Down syndrome or autism, and racing down the track to the finish line, crossing the line, arms raised in the air, triumphant, beautiful, a winner. Not a special winner, a winner," he said.
"A person, we like to say, celebrates the universal experience of justice and joy. It is our way of paying tribute to the faith, in some ways, at least for me. The idea that we can come together in joy and in justice, to reverse any hiddenness of the presence of God," Shriver continued.
He said that over the years he has come to know many priests and religious, and said that "if there is a message tonight, I think it is that all these laypeople just want to say thank you."
"You are in the practice of being available to us. Men and women who are available when we need you, too often maybe, not seen when we don't. But in those glimpses of those moments when we needed you, when we called, and it said 'If this is an emergency call this priest,' and we did. You were there. You never asked for much in return," he said.
"We are grateful. We have asked for so much of you. We sometimes asked for wisdom, sometimes for laughter. Sometimes for silence, sometimes for words. Sometimes to be patient, sometimes to move quickly. We often don't know what we're asking for, because we come to you when we're facing the mystery of life and death, the ultimate meaning of our lives. We come to you not knowing what we're looking for, often, but so many have answered," Shriver continued.
He offered advice to the priests, urging them not to be afraid to "be human."
"Don't be afraid to cry with people when they come to you crying. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Don't be afraid to tell us you're searching, too. Don't be afraid to take off the masks that we ask you to wear. Sometimes, we push you to be perfect, to be somehow holier than holy, to somehow have it all figured out," said Shriver.
"This is an age where the vulnerability speaks more loudly, I believe. Where the wounded healer in our tradition, the naked God, who stands on the Cross to face us, the one who celebrates brokenness and healing, that version of the faith I think is so much in need today," he said.
He concluded with a word of thanks for the work the priests have done, and the work they will continue to do.
"We need a revolution of the heart in our Church, for our Church, and we're counting on you priests to lead it. Thank you for leading it for these many years of my faith journey, and thank you for leading it for many more to come," he said.
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley offered closing remarks before ending with the benediction.
In his remarks, the cardinal thanked those who attended the dinner, and spoke of the large crowds that had shown up that day and the day before to see the heart of St. Padre Pio, which was in the greater Boston area from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23.
People are "coming to venerate the heart of a priest, but here we are coming together to say thank you to all the priestly hearts that are in this room and that have served the people of the archdiocese and have been the face of God's mercy," he said.