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Spotlight Report

  Adrian Walker  

Another job for O'Malley


As if he didn't have enough to contend with, Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley may have another issue that requires his care -- saving Bowdoin Street in Dorchester.

The epicenter of street violence, and a notable exception to the city's falling crime rate, last week Bowdoin Street was the scene of the shooting of a 3-year-old girl.

But a new bishop is coming to town and optimism abounds. Tino Arias is among the optimists, and for a good reason. He believes O'Malley is the man to repair the frayed connections between the archdiocese and its Cape Verdean parishioners.

''This awakes hope in all of us, that a community that has sometimes felt isolated will be fully brought into the fold,'' Arias said.

Arias is a brother in the Capuchin order to which O'Malley also belongs. He fills many needs in the community, where he runs a teen center at St. Patrick's Church and also works with troubled families as a licensed social worker.

There is much in O'Malley's background to support that hope, and many cheered when he reached out to Cape Verdeans in his first public appearance after being named to head the Boston Archdiocese. But if O'Malley chooses to embrace this challenge, he'll have plenty of work to do.

Despite the best efforts of many people in the community, the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood has emerged as one of the most crime-scarred in the city.

Since O'Malley's appointment, much attention has been focused on the hundreds of victims of clergy sexual abuse still waiting for justice from their church, and rightly so.

But the residents of Bowdoin Street are victims just as surely, not of abuse but of neglect by the institutions that should embrace them.

In thinking of what type of role O'Malley might play, Arias recalls the example of Father Pio Gottin, a beloved figure until his death in 2000. Gottin, who was Italian, first ministered in Cape Verde then came to Massachusetts, where he became a spiritual leader at St. Patrick's and, indeed, to Cape Verdeans across the state.

''For a community that has had so many struggles and challenges, the thought of a father-like figure can bring great comfort,'' Arias said yesterday.

Reaching out to groups that have different languages and cultures has not always been a strength of this archdiocese, as Arias points out. This community could use a listener.

John Barros is a developer and the elected coordinator of the Cape Verdean apostolate of the Archdiocese of Boston. He also liked the idea of a Portuguese-speaking bishop who doesn't need an introduction to Cape Verdeans. Ask him what O'Malley, or any bishop, can do for Bowdoin Street, and he talks about values and moral authority.

''I think the church -- whether it's on Bowdoin Street or Dudley Street -- has a tremendous potential to be the institution that clearly sends out a message about values, and clearly starts to champion what these communities should be about,'' he said. ''That moral authority begins to shape values in a community.''

He was quick to say that predominantly Catholic Cape Verdean churches do some of this now but ''they're doing it more in reaction and it's not a proactive response.''

Perhaps the archbishop-designate should view this as an opportunity, a chance for one of the city's oldest and most entrenched institutions to reach out to newcomers who, in fact, claim it as a spiritual home. The violence that usually draws attention to the Cape Verdean community is usually discussed in terms of crime and justice, but talk to some of O'Malley's new constituents and it becomes clear that they see a moral, spiritual dimension as well.

Ultimately, communities fix themselves. But Barros was surely speaking for others when he said, ''We're not invisible to him. So we are no longer invisible to the archdiocese.''

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 7/10/2003.
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