Cardinal O’Malley visits Denver’s Annunciation Parish

Boston’s archbishop addresses immigration, life issues

Even though the horizon looks bleak when it comes to immigration and end-of-life issues, there is hope, says the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley.

The cardinal, who is also the newest member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to the Denver Catholic en Español during a visit to Denver last month, motivated by the first communion of his nephew.

The Capuchin cardinal, 72, made time during his quick trip to visit the parish served by the Capuchins here in Denver, Annunciation Parish, where he celebrated the morning Spanish Mass on May 28th.

Pope Benedict XVI elevated Boston’s archbishop to a cardinal in 2006, and in January, Pope Francis appointed him as a full board member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is also a member of the Pope’s “council of cardinals” and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Cardinal O’Malley has a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature from Catholic University of America.

Denver Catholic en Español: You began your priesthood serving the Hispanic community as the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Spanish Catholic Center in the early 1970s. How did you get to that position?

Cardinal O’Malley: I was in Washington from 1965 to 1984. When I was in Washington there was a great migration caused by the war in Central America. When I was a deacon, I was told that I was going to work on Easter Island in Chile with the Capuchins. But before my priestly ordination, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., told my provincial: ‘I have only one priest that speaks Spanish. Leave that brother here,’ so I spent 20 years in Washington working with the Hispanic community.

DCE: How do you view the situation of the Hispanic community of that time compared to the current situation?

CO: It was the time of the wars in Central America, and many of them were farmers and refugees. They fled from violence and misery. Their farms were destroyed by the wars. It was dangerous. There were a lot of Salvadorian immigrants. At that time, I got to know Blessed Óscar Romero very closely. Most of the parishioners were undocumented people. We can see that so many decades later we are in a similar situation.

Cardinal Se‡n O’Malley celebrates Mass during the Ascension of Jesus Christ at Annunciation Catholic Church on May 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DCE: What do you think of the Hispanic Catholic community in the United States?

CO: I see that the Hispanic community growing, numerous, and active. I admire the enthusiasm, the religious devotion, the family values, their work, and their participation.

DCE: The Hispanic community faces many challenges with regard to immigration, how do we resolve this issue?

CO: We urgently need a new legislation to deal with immigration issues. We should have more generous quotas and work visas for those who want to work in the agricultural sector so that they can be with their families. Now there are many people who are trapped and cannot go back to visit their families, or re-enter the country for the next harvest. President Bush tried with a bill that was sponsored by John McCain, a Republican, but even with that it was not approved. Obama couldn’t either. And like that, many years have passed and this has become more urgent than ever. We must solve the problems of the people and stop these deportations.

More than 60 percent of undocumented immigrants that live here have been here for more than 10 years, and many of them have children who are US citizens. Many of them own a home. The government must have a policy that favors families and should consider the situations of many undocumented workers who have been hard workers and who have contributed a lot to the country. Talking about them as if they were all delinquents is very unfair, and the Church, which has always been an immigrant church, must raise its voice in defense of the undocumented.

DCE: What message can we give to those who fear being deported?

CO: The hope is that there are many people who already realize the need to have more just [immigration] laws, and a pathway for people to have documents. The president said that when they managed to close the border and deport the criminals, he would treat the undocumented immigrants who are here with mercy. I hope this happens soon.

Cardinal Se‡n O’Malley greets parishoners after Mass celebrating the Ascension of Jesus Christ at Annunciation Catholic Church on May 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DCE: You are known for fighting in favor of the life of the unborn and the terminally ill, what challenges do you see in this country regarding life issues?

CO: The appointment of the new Supreme Court justice [Colorado native Neil Gorsuch] gives us hope. The president promised to name someone who was pro-life and it seems that he kept that promise. Also, the new judge has written a book on physician-assisted suicide. He is a man who understands the seriousness of these ethical problems. It is a very serious and very difficult challenge also because every year there are more states that submit referendums to legalize euthanasia. This is a result of the extreme individualism of the culture. We must take care of each other. Every human being at the beginning and at the end of his life needs someone to take care of him. It’s the human condition!

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.