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Diakonia: A Revolution of Tenderness

'You are witnesses of these things'

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April 2018 marks two significant anniversaries in the life of the people of Boston to which I have had a most intimate vantage point.

Engrossed by a great story, did you ever become so intrigued by how it was all going to end that you jumped forward and read the last chapter of the book? The love letters that we call the Gospels of John, Matthew, Mark and Luke are, of course, the magnificent stories that introduce us to friendship with God and a deep longing to know more of the story. In fact, they not only leave us thirsting for more, but they actually invite us to be actors in the story itself.

One of the last lines in the Gospel of Luke is: "You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:48). For all baptized Christians, the heart of the call to discipleship is to be a witness. And so the story continues and is passed on from person to person, from generation to generation.

April 2018 marks two significant anniversaries in the life of the people of Boston to which I have had a most intimate vantage point. Five years ago, on April 15, 2013, two bombs detonated on Boylston Street just steps from the Boston Marathon finish line leaving grief-stricken families, scores of injured and a community reeling at such an unprovoked act of terror. Ten years ago, on April 17, 2008, in Washington, D.C. Cardinal O'Malley accompanied a small group of clergy sexual abuse survivors to meet with Pope Benedict, presenting him with a beautiful hand-crafted book containing the first names of 1,476 abuse survivors known to the Archdiocese of Boston at that time.

Through an unmerited grace for which I will be forever grateful, I came to know the survivors of both tragedies. I can witness to the remarkable and improbable path of these women and men and children to respond to the harm that was done to them not with vengeance, hatred and bitterness, but with inspirational and creative acts of compassion, community caring and merciful love. These women and men, who struggled through both physical and emotional pain and loss, made a choice to follow the path of generosity and love that continues to reveal the very face of God's tenderness in this historical moment of time in which we live.

Five years after the Boston Marathon bombing, we now mark April 15 as One Boston Day, a day of kindness, community caring and gratitude. The immediate actions of both professional and volunteer first responders to care for the injured set the trajectory for selfless caring that continues to be the hallmark of all that has followed. Survivors and families who lost loved ones have initiated and sustained multiple foundations and charitable efforts that feed the hungry, promote peace, provide scholarships, fund access to specialized prosthetics, enable participation in youth athletics for children of diverse abilities, engage in peer-to-peer outreach to survivors of terrorist attacks around the world, as well as the funding of innovative treatment for those who suffer traumatic injuries, to name only a few.

In the months following April 15, 2013, Mayor Menino, who was enduring his own battle with cancer, had the simple but sublime intuition to know that it was important to gather the injured, the grieving and their families for a meal. These dinners, generously hosted by restaurants in Boston, with the Mayor presiding -- and oh yes, the Red Sox championship trophies proudly displayed -- fed relationships, community and a building sense of purpose to respond with acts of love.

For the clergy sexual abuse survivors, they too show us the face of God's tenderness as their courage has lifted the pall of darkness of abuse and challenges us to address the hidden suffering of child sexual abuse. For the abuse survivors, who in many cases had held the shame and terror of the abuse they suffered for decades, their capacity to bring this terrible truth to light is a great gift for the whole Church. It enables us to protect children and to build safe environments in all child-serving institutions. All those who share their story of childhood sexual abuse do so with the hope that their testimony will help to protect the children of today. These women and men hold a special place in the heart of God.

Let us continue to look for the opportunity to respond with God's tenderness in unexpected moments and events and be ready to give witness to the unfolding story of Love in our day and our time. This story is written with lives of faith and grace and we will be utterly amazed if we jump to the end for a glimpse of where it is all leading.

BARBARA THORP IS THE FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF PASTORAL SUPPORT AND OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON. SHE CURRENTLY SERVES AS THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR OF THE ONE FUND CENTER AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL WHERE, FOR THE PAST FIVE YEARS, SHE HAS SUPPORTED THOSE INJURED IN THE BOMBINGS ON MARATHON MONDAY 2013.

THIS REFLECTION IS ONE IN A SERIES ACKNOWLEDGING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE RESTORATION OF THE PERMANENT DIACONATE IN THE UNITED STATES AND EXPLORING THE UNIVERSAL CALL FOR ALL DISCIPLES TO SERVE OTHERS IN THE SPIRIT OF DIAKONIA.

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