Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The summer is a good time to relax, visit our friends and relatives, travel around, and PRAY! We don’t necessarily need to do one thing or the other, but this letter will give a few suggestions of some holy sites to visit.
The closest shrine we have is the North American Martyrs Shrine (Our Lady of Martyrs) in Aurisville NY, near Albany. This place reminds us that there were many men and women who gave their lives as martyrs killed at the beginning of the colonization of the United States. Isaac Jogues and his companions arrived there in the mid 1600s to evangelize the Huron. After being captured by the Mohawks, they were brought to this location where they gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel. There are some verses of his last moments in which, although he knew he was going to die, he was praying for those people. We know that his blood was not shed in vain, as it bore fruit through St. Kateri Tekakwitha. We can pray there to ask the Lord to help us to be constant in our faith and be able to be a witness of God’s love to those around us.
In the north, there is the Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer located in Jamaica, VT. It is an exact replica of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s house in Ephesus, where she lived in prayer with St John in the last years of her life. The replica is one of four in the whole world, and it sits on a 190-acre prayer ground. The original house, according to the tradition, was transported by angels to Loretto, Italy during the Arab invasion. Today, there is a famous shrine there. It is always such an incredible experience to see that the Blessed Mother did not live in a palace, but in a humble abode.
For those going to New York, there are two holy attractions there. The first one is the house of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint. Before she moved to Emmitsburg, Pennsylvania where she founded a religious order to care for the Native and Afro-Americans, she lived right in front of Battery Park. Across the street from the Staten Island Ferry, you can find her house that sits between two high skyscrapers. The second holy site in New York is the Shrine of Mother Cabrini, the first saint in America. Mother Cabrini founded many orphanages across the US and abroad to care mainly for immigrants and poor children. Located near Cloisters in Washington Heights, there is a chapel where her remains can be found. St. Patrick Cathedral is also a great place to stop and say a prayer contemplating such a beautiful church.
For those staying in Massachusetts, there are a few places that are accessible on a one-day trip. The first place is the Divine Mercy Shrine. Located in Western Mass, by the shires, Stockbridge offers a beautiful and peaceful place to rest, contemplate, and pray. There one can touch the mercy of God, who out of love created us and is willing to forgive anything and everything. Another place, also a Divine Mercy Shrine, is the recently opened John Paul II Shrine in Salem, MA. There, in the midst of the historical site of the beginnings of the colonization of Massachusetts, sits a relic with the blood of Saint John Paul II. I remember when I saw him at the World Youth Day in 2002 in Canada. Towards the end of his life, when his Parkinson was very advanced, one would expect him to speak with a soft voice that was very feeble. Instead, he spoke about God with a great strength and zeal. Salem is no longer known by the witches, but also for the home of the relic of JP II.
We do not necessarily even need to go beyond Boston for a holy trip. The recently renovated Cathedral of the Holy Cross is certainly a place that we all must visit. Not only is it the mother Church of Boston, but it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the US. Even for those who have been before, it is certainly worth a second visit.
I hope this encourages you to look for the Lord while having fun and traveling around! As Christians, we never take vacation from prayer or from the Lord. May the Blessed Mother protect all of us during these weeks and may she bring us together again after the summer.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Please see the letter below from Leonardo Orellana who is a seminarian in the Archdiocese of Washington.
My name is Leonardo Orellana and I am a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington. Fr. Steven has asked me to share a little bit of my life with the parish as my vocation began here.
The first years of life were spent in Marlborough, where my family shared an apartment with my uncles and aunt. Soon after, due to my mother's wish for me to enter elementary school without waiting an additional year, we moved to Worcester. It was there that a significant portion of my history was written.
My life from an outsider's point of view seems almost ideal: an older sister and a younger brother, both parents present, a house for ourselves and on top of it faith. However, my life was a bit more complicated than that. I had some difficulties relating to my sister, my parents' relationship was not doing any better, to the point of divorce. Up until this point, the "religious life" was there; we went to mass every Sunday here at Immaculate Conception, portraying the happy family while at the same time hiding our many defects. I was left in doubt, questioning what purpose the Church served in my life.
I began to live a double life, attending Church with what remained of my family while simultaneously trying to live my life in the world. I stayed out of the house as much as possible, doing sports, hanging out with my friends, anything that would get me away from my reality. My grades in school were plummeting, yet I kept reassuring my mom that it was under control, that I could handle it on my own. As much as I believed this to be true, the reality was that I was lost, that I had no sense of where this life was taking me.
Then, one day I was brought to a series of talks from the Neocatechumenal Way, that announced to me the news that God loved me as I was. I had no immediate response to this for I still could not fully comprehend the weight of these words, but my ears began to open and from that moment I began slowly to listen to the voice of God. With only listening, I began to understand, not scripture or theological dissertations, but my life. I could now see the events of my history with more clarity, that God did not make a mistake but every moment of my life was necessary for me to have an encounter with God. I became more involved in the Church, I wanted to know where God would lead me and soon enough, it was evident that God wanted me to do more than listen. During a pilgrimage, I found myself being called by God to the vocation of the priesthood. Although, I knew that he was asking me, I doubted for a time, not knowing if for sure God was calling me and if I wanted to put my life in the hands of God. This precariousness was new for me, to leave all my securities behind, afraid of what my friends would think. Nonetheless, God gave me a free will to say no and was patient to wait for me to give him an answer. I knew the answer I should give, and that time of discernment was needed for me to understand that I do not need to worry because it is God who will take care of everything. In a single moment, I said to God "do it quick before I turn back" and the next moment I found myself being sent to the seminary in Washington. Although I am in the seminary, there are temptations and struggles that everyone goes through. My vice rector makes it clear what the problem is: "it is not a question of vocation, but a question of faith." I give thanks to God for having me in the seminary, in this way I am alone with God to have an intimate dialogue with him, I can reconcile with my history and overall I am taught to be a Christian and to lean on Christ. Coming back to Massachusetts on this summer break also helps me to appreciate everything that God is doing for me. If in a leap of faith God brought me to the seminary and has helped me a lot, I can't imagine what other marvels he can do in my life. I do ask you to please pray for me, as I pray for you.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There are many Traditions in the Church that dates back to the very beginning of the church. One of them is the name of the parents of Mary, Joachim and Anne. They don’t appear in the scriptures, but early writings and churches named after them in the first centuries confirm that tradition. Since they were the grandparents of Jesus, in the Church, their day was always seen as “Grandparents’ Day,” although never official…until now! And there is plenary indulgence granted under the usual conditions (confession, communion and praying for the Pope) for anyone who devotes “adequate time to actually or virtually visiting their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty (such as the sick, the abandoned, the disabled and other similar cases.)
Back in January, Pope Francis announced the institution of World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which will take place each year on the fourth Sunday in July, close to the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne. He expressed the importance of this celebration by saying that “grandparents are often forgotten, and we forget this wealth of preserving roots and passing on what the elderly have received.” Since Pope Benedict, the Church has always spoken against the “throwaway culture.” As everything in society nowadays that is no longer needed, or it has become “obsolete” becomes disposable and it is thrown away. Unfortunately, this is not limited to consuming goods only. Slowly our society has become Utilitarian, in which the value of things or people is defined by the amount of benefit it brings to a majority or if they are useful. Because of that mentality, many of the elderly are being pushed aside from society and often also by family members. Instead of being a wealth of wisdom, they are labeled as “burdensome.”
In the Christian tradition, as many other ancient cultures around the world, the elderly have always had a place of honor. Not only because of their wisdom and life experience, but also, as the Pope says, they “remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between the different generations, to pass on to the young the experience of life.” It is so important to value everything that the elderly have learned in their lifetime. Even though one may argue that society has changed since their time and what they say is no longer relevant, however, our moral values have not changed. Life lessons are always precious, because difficult situations arise regardless of the culture. Not only that, but now history avoids us repeating the same mistakes as those who came before us have done. As Winston Churchill once said, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.
There is one more important factor of the presence of the elderly in our lives. Often, they are one of the greatest examples of faith in our families. Whether our own grandparents or the elderly attending mass, they have always been the strongest people our churches. I imagine that most of us have memories of our grandparents praying the rosary every day, attending mass regularly and dressing their Sunday best, going to confession every first Saturday and so on. Therefore, this connection with the elderly is more than just treating others with love, it is a great source of help for our own salvation.
I would like to say a brief word for the grandparents and the elderly. Please be proud of who you are!!! Do not try to fit in with today’s culture or to measure yourselves by today’s standards. It is like a vintage car or a vintage wine that is rare and is valued much more than something brand new and it cannot be compared with it. Do share your life stories, growing up in a different times, the difference between now and then, the famous Blizzard of ‘78. Also, do not be shy to invite them to pray, to share the wealth of your spiritual life with them as well. Today the kids don’t really have super heroes anymore, so be their heroes! I think that just by saying that in your times there was no cellphones and flat screen TV’s you will already make it!
May the Blessed Mother always accompany you, and, by the intercession of St. Joachim and Anne, may God be always your companion to strengthen and console you! Count always on our prayers.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
A while back I wrote how American Church History was one of the most interesting class that I took while in the Seminary. As this weekend we celebrate Independence Day, I would like to bring some historical figures from our faith who have contributed to the birth and development of our country.
Before the first shots were fired on the Independence War, we had great people who set the foundations of our country by loving one another as God has loved us. Holy men like Isaac Jogues, John Brebeuf, were some of the first ones to bring the Gospel to the Northeast at the beginning of the XVII Century. Their work bore fruits very quickly, and more saints quickly appeared. Before the end of the Century, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha instructed by other Jesuits decided to follow Christ and love Him wholeheartedly by migrating North to Canada and entering a convent.
Right before the Declaration of independence, we have St Junipero Serra who established the first Franciscan missions in San Diego (de Alcala). This was the first of nine missions that he himself established on the West Coast, later earning the name of Apostle of California. Many missions later became very important cities, such as San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Clara. We know that many more missions were established in the Southwest of the US.
With the establishment of the United States of America, the first bishop was assigned to lead the Catholics in the new country. Ordained as a Jesuit on 1765, John Carrol was prominent leader among Catholics and on 1784 was named by the Vatican the first Bishop of Baltimore in Maryland. Before his death in 1815, the US had grown into 5 Dioceses. Under the counseling of John Carrol, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton converts into Catholicism and founds the first religious order in the US. The sisters of Charity were responsible for the creation of many Catholic centers of education that favored many women and other unprivileged people.
Born in Germany and sent to Buffalo to minister to the German Catholics, Saint John Neumann was one of many Catholics who served and helped the immigrants in the US. In 1852 he was named the bishop of Philadelphia. There he advocated for parochial education and the construction of church buildings. Another person who served many immigrants was St. Frances Cabrini. With a desire to go to the far East, St. Frances founded a congregation on 1880 in Italy and was commissioned by the Pope not to the East, but to the West. She arrived in New York on 1889 and ministered to the large numbers of Italians as they arriving each day from Europe. The work of Mother Cabrini spread quickly throughout the US and even abroad. In 1946 she was the first American Citizen to be declared a saint.
There are still many more men and women who have tirelessly promoted the Gospel and set examples of charity in the US. Now is up to us, to continue building the Kingdom of God, to continue the work of love and service to one another. Saints Fr. McGivney and Katherine Drexel, along with Blessed Fulton Sheen, have fought their battles and kept the faith. Let us ask that the Lord may help us to remain faithful to Him, so that we may keep living as one nation under God!
Father Steven Clemence