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Spotlight Report

A plea for peace and healing

At Mass, St. Patrick cited as inspiration

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 3/18/2003

Bishop Richard Lennon distributes pots of clover after celebrating St. Patrick's Day Mass. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
Bishop Richard G. Lennon, standing beside a statue of St. Patrick and handing out shamrocks sprinkled with holy water, yesterday said faith in the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Boston demands that Catholics push for peace in the face of war and healing in the wake of scandal.

In his first St. Patrick's Day Mass since being named administrator of the archdiocese, Lennon said that St. Patrick was an apostle of peace and that his life story should inspire local Catholics to seek peace with Iraq, in Northern Ireland, and in the Archdiocese of Boston.

''We cannot just wish for peace, but we must work for peace,'' Lennon said in a homily at a midday Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. ''We must make that our object, our goal, if in fact a patron saint means anything to us.''

Lennon directly apologized to victims of clergy sexual abuse, saying that the quest for peace requires action locally, within an archdiocese riven by scandal.

Although he has previously apologized in private to victims, his homily yesterday appears to be the first time he has directly apologized in public since being named apostolic administrator upon the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law Dec. 13. Lennon did not offer a direct apology during remarks about sexual abuse at the cathedral on Ash Wednesday or at a Lenten healing service last week in Dracut.

''In the name of the church, I apologize for the errors, the sins, the crimes of the past, especially those of clergy sexual abuse,'' Lennon said. ''Those were terrible acts by those who were in positions of trust, and we need first to acknowledge them and to apologize for them to begin the way to peace, a peace which will come as reconciliation leads to healing and healing leads to unity, so that the one Lord and one faith may be the hallmark of our lives.''

Speaking just hours before President Bush addressed the nation, Lennon echoed Pope John Paul II's increasingly insistent calls to avoid war.

''We pray for peace, in a particular way today, for those areas of the Middle East, especially Iraq,'' Lennon said. ''We pray that the peace that Patrick was a messenger of may inspire all to work towards peace, not just an end to hostilities, but a true respect and honor of all people, so that people may live in peace, a peace which the world yearns for.''

The feast of St. Patrick is a major annual celebration in Boston, where many residents trace their ancestry to Ireland, but this year's celebration at the cathedral was filled with unhappy reminders for the church.

Despite intense efforts by the Vatican to prevent a war, the president appeared poised to authorize invasion of Iraq.

The archdiocese itself is struggling with the aftermath of revelations that more than 150 priests in the Boston area had sexually abused children. The scandal has taken its toll on the archdiocese; yesterday, just 200 people attended the St. Patrick's Day Mass, fewer people than had attended in previous years, and a few protesters stood outside to denounce the church's handling of the scandal.

Lennon sought to link the war, the sexual abuse crisis, and the holiday together by speaking of St. Patrick as a supporter of peace. Patrick was a fifth-century evangelist who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. He is the patron saint of both Ireland and the Archdiocese of Boston. Lennon said of St. Patrick that ''his work was the work of peace'' because St. Patrick was a ''disciple of Christ, who is and always will be the prince of peace.''

He asked worshipers to pray for peace in Northern Ireland, saying, ''Today, we pray in a special way for the homeland of Patrick. We pray that peace, through the conversations, the deliberations, and the talks that are going on, may reap a rich harvest for all.''

Lennon's linkage of St. Patrick with contemporary crises seemed to go over well with worshipers.

''He spoke very well for all sides -- he touched on everything,'' said Paschal Healy, 33, of Walpole, who wore an Irish kilt. ''St. Patrick's hope for the church was for peace, because he brought Catholicism to Ireland, and Catholicism represents peace, not war.''

Lennon is Irish-American. According to his spokeswoman, the bishop's maternal grandmother emigrated from Donegal, Ireland, to the United States in the early 20th century and his paternal great-great-grandfather emigrated from Roscommon, Ireland, before the Civil War. Lennon has been to Ireland once, when he visited relatives in Donegal.

The Mass was filled with reminders of St. Patrick and Ireland. Many people wore green. Some of the readings were done in Gaelic, and others by men and women with strong Irish accents. The sanctuary featured green and white flowers before the altar, a statue of St. Patrick that had been moved from a church niche, a vase of Irish crystal, and a bed of shamrocks.

During the procession, a banner with a Celtic cross was paraded through the cathedral.

After the Mass ended, Lennon, in a traditional Cathedral gesture, gave worshipers shamrocks that he had sprinkled with Holy Water. Legend has it that Patrick used shamrocks, which have three leaves, to teach the Irish about the Christian belief in a holy trinity.

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 3/18/2003.
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