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Archbishop to work for racial solutions

By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 4/1/1984

rchbishop Bernard F. Law says that he has not yet learned the details of Boston's racial problems but that his "primary efforts" in dealing with them will be as a bishop promoting the "bonds of human community" within the church.

"If I stick with that primary task in an area which is so heavily Roman Catholic, that will be the most effective way to impact on the situation," Archbishop Law said during a visit here in which he emphasized the value of Lowell's immigrant heritage and cultural diversity.

The visit was organized to call attention to the distinctive character of the Merrimack Valley region within the five-county area covered by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

Archbishop Law praised "the great ethnic traditions of this Lowell- Lawrence area" during a Mass at the first church built in the region, St. Patrick's in Lowell's Acre, which was been home to Irish, French Canadian, Greek and most recently, Hispanic and Southeast Asian immigrants.

"I come to Lowell tonight to show my love for this city and for this region," he told 3500 persons, many of whom watched the Mass on closed-circuit television in the lower church at St. Patrick's, its school hall and a nearby Greek Orthodox church.

"Whatever changes come, whatever difficulties there may be, whatever new ethnic groups arrive, the church will remain to preach the Gospel," Archbishop Law said, adding an appeal that "the poor and the immigrant not be left behind in the (economic* advances now taking place in these historic cities and towns."

In a wide-ranging news conference, Boston's new Catholic leader said he will take into account the cultural diversity of the million members in the reorganization he is planning for the archdiocese.

Archbishop Law said he has as yet no first-hand sense of Boston's racial problems but said he intends to "do a lot of listening" and to learn "who all the players are within the church and outside so that I can find how I can play a helpful role.

"My perspective is first of all as a bishop," he said. "I will talk first to the men and women of my faith about the truth of God's love, that we are all equal in the sight of God, and that we are to see in every man, woman and child the features of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Racial problems are very often a result of "a lack of communication, a lack of contacts, and fears of the unknown," the archbishop said. "The church is of its very nature a community. I am convinced that as we deepen our appreciation of this religious fact that will be a cause for easing tensions and deepening the bonds of community among all peoples."

The churchman said that he also knows that the task of leadership on racial problems "extends beyond the church" and that he will seek to play a role in the wider community, "as Cardinal Medeiros did."

He has no "specific time frame" for his work in the Boston archdiocese on such issues, Archbishop Law said. However, he said the archdiocesan synod he is planning will be "a very significant event," to take place within three to five years.

"Immediately I see a need with others to develop a process (to prepare for the synod* of consultation at all levels of the life of the church," he said.

The synod will have a double focus, Archbishop Law said. First, it will propose archdiocesan legislation, for instance, minimum standards for weddings, funerals and church music.

He also said the synod would consider questions of "social justice with regard to those who serve the church in full-time ministry and to propose systems . . . and processes of accountability."

The intent is to "put into the form of law the spirit of the Second Vatican Council . . . in a way that will positively impact on the life of the archdiocese," Archbishop Law said.

The second focus will be on setting goals for areas of church life for a five-year period, he said, citing such areas as "personal spirituality, evangelization, social justice and peace, Catholic education and formation, and vocation awareness."

Such goal-setting "may vary somewhat from region to region," Archbishop Law said, indicating that planning will not focus only on archdiocese-wide needs.

He cited two areas of interest in such planning, evangelization and social justice.

But the church itself "is in constant need of evangelization," the archbishop said. But he added that "I'm realistic enough to know that with the large number of Catholics in this area there are also a large number who are somewhat marginal. We have to see how they can be invited to a more active life in the church."

In the area of social justice and peace, Archbishop Law said, "I have a tremendous amount to learn about ministering to our poorer brothers and sisters.

"We need to see ourselves as a ministering church," he said, referring to Jesus' words in the Gospel that "I was hungry and you fed me."

"The more dimensions we can see of those needs," Archbishop Law said, "the more they demand we pour ourselves out in love and service to others."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 4/1/1984.
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