By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – Cardinal Seán O’Malley’s appearance at the St. Francis Xavier Novena Saturday packed St. John’s Church, bringing back memories for some and photo opportunities for others.
As the archbishop of Boston, a member of Pope Francis’ council of cardinals, made his way through the church to line up for the entrance procession, the congregation applauded.
As he waited for Mass to begin, he was already being photographed, a phenomenon that continued during Mass, and afterwards as he greeted participants. Like Pope Francis, who he assists in the Church’s governance, he posed with those who wanted a photo with him.
Linda Murphy, of St. John’s, said that as she moved around the church taking photos, she saw people sobbing for joy. She had her family members from Connecticut joining her as the volunteer photographer corps.
Stephanie Madden, who took a picture of her 16-year-old, Kaitlyn, with the cardinal,
said this was the first time she’d seen him. She called it “the experience of a lifetime.” “I thought it was wonderful,” said Ruth Sarafinas, of St. George Parish, who helps with Lithuanian celebrations at St. John’s. “We were so honored to have him come to St. John’s.
“So many people came. I’ve been coming here (to the novena) since fifth grade … from St. Casimir’s School. You wouldn’t miss it.” In those days worshippers filled the balcony – and there were several novena services daily, she said.
There are fewer participants and fewer services nowadays, although the novena, now in it’s 93rd year, still draws larger crowds than many church events. But Saturday was exceptional, with the main church filled and many people in the balcony.
“It’s very impressive to see the numbers of people,” Cardinal O’Malley told The Catholic Free Press after Mass. He also noted the “extraordinary” music and the church’s historical nature.
“I congratulate the parish for having this wonderful novena and being faithful to it for almost 100 years,” he said at Mass.
The cardinal brought back memories for Peter Mena, of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northborough. He said he was impressed with the Capuchin Franciscan’s habit; it reminded him of the habit-clad Augustinians of the Assumption who taught him at Assumption Prep. He said he told the cardinal some Assumptionists were needed here; there were too many Jesuits! (Historically, Jesuits staffed the novena, which seeks the intercession of one of their most renowned members, and several preached this year.)
Cardinal O’Malley preached about St. Francis Xavier, martyrs and the novena’s theme of mercy.
He said he’s visited the altar in Rome which has a St. Francis Xavier relic – the arm he used to baptize 300,000 people. (His body is buried in Goa, India, one of the places where he was a missionary in the 1500s. Another place was Japan.)
Later, Christians in Japan were tortured for refusing to renounce their faith by trampling on images of Jesus and the Blessed Mother; Cardinal O’Malley said he has one of these fumi-e (images) in his office. A Portuguese Jesuit renounced his faith under torture this way and other Jesuits vowed to take his place, he said. The cardinal said film director Martin Scorsese sought information from him in making his movie about it, based on the novel “Silence,” by Shusaku Endo.
“It’s not a warm, fuzzy movie,” Cardinal O’Malley said, but it reminds us how people suffered to take the faith to the ends of the earth.
In more recent years, a Jesuit who wanted to serve in Japan, but didn’t get to, was Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, he said.
Cardinal O’Malley also talked about the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery, and the need to receive and extend forgiveness and mercy.
He told of a eulogy in which a man said, “I am the result of my mother’s ability to forgive.” His father had left his mother and siblings, and had a child with another woman. The other woman died, and his mother took in the child, took his father back and had two more children with him. The eulogy-giver was one of those two children.