Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley told priests Tuesday that the Roman Catholic church’s next great challenge in Boston will demand the same spiritual intensity as the conclave that chose Pope Francis earlier this month.
Reorganizing the archdiocese into clusters of parishes — a daunting undertaking that the archdiocese hopes will eventually strengthen parishes and bring more people back to church — should not be merely about strategy or technique, the archbishop of Boston said.
“We want our own pastoral planning process, like the conclave in Rome, to be a Pentecost moment in this Year of Faith,” he said, referring to the moment described in the Gospels in which, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and filled the disciples.
O’Malley spoke at this year’s Chrism Mass, the Holy Week rite in which priests from across the archdiocese gather at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to renew their vows and consecrate oil for use in sacraments throughout the year.
The Chrism Mass homily is usually the archbishop’s main annual address to priests. This year’s service — attended by some 350 priests, as well as hundreds of Catholic schoolchildren and lay people — took on special significance with the election of Pope Francis and O’Malley’s participation in the conclave that chose him. O’Malley became a surprise papal contender in the days before the conclave, even winning one readers’ poll in a leading Roman newspaper.
“While you were in Rome, the Orthodox were rooting for you,” Metropolitan Methodios, the Greek Orthodox hierarch of Boston, told O’Malley at Tuesday’s service, to laughter and applause. “But we were also praying that God would lead your steps back home, because this is where we want you to be.”
O’Malley said he was touched by his popularity in Italy, but while in Rome, he also felt close to people back home in Boston.
“I knew that we were united in prayer, praying that the Holy Spirit guide our church in this important decision,” he said.
That same attitude, he said, needs to guide the archdiocese’s reorganization. The complex, multiyear effort will get under way in the coming months, when the archdiocese begins training the priests who will lead the first dozen parish clusters.
He praised the priests who volunteered to participate in the pilot phase, comparing their faith to that of the cardinals who participated in the conclave without knowing its outcome.
O’Malley predicted that Francis’s devotion to the poor would reach nonchurchgoers in highly secularized societies in Europe and the United States and “help them to see the church in a new light.”
O’Malley asked priests to tend to the poor in their own parishes and to look for the needy in unexpected places.
“Many people who but a few years ago never thought they would be faced with shortfalls in providing the basic needs for their families, including many living in the leafy suburbs, are on the verge of insolvency following years of unemployment and discouragement,” he said. “We are called to grow in our awareness . . . and determine how we, as a faith community, can help them.”