Monday, October 01, 2007

O'Brien O'Baltimore: The Maryland Tradition, Vol. XV, Day One

Before a packed Cathedral of Mary Our Queen -- and with its historic trappings in a seemingly omnipresent evidence -- after ten years as the globe-spanning shepherd of the US Armed Services, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien finally took possession of a territory, a cathedral and a cathedra of his own... and not just any residential see, but the mother church of American Catholicism.

Shown above getting to his church on time, the 15th archbishop of Baltimore -- by longstanding custom and Roman decree, now the US hierarchy's first among equals -- launched into a powerful, comprehensive opening message once he got inside, one that didn't just reflect the historic progenitor of the Premier See's episcopal line, but the contemporary father of his own high priesthood, to boot...

Money quote (rather, segment):
The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus sees his divine image in each of us, and that same God is offended when that image is defaced -- defaced by degrading poverty, defaced by unjust discrimination, defaced by addiction and by the crime that feeds those addictions, and defaced by the horrific sexual abuse of the young.

For the times when the church has failed to do its utmost to curb these evils, we ask God's forgiveness and yours. I pledge today that I shall make every effort to ensure that whatever sins of omission or commission have been committed in the past will have no place in the future.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus is also offended when the first principles of justice are violated, and the weakest and most vulnerable of our human beings are imperiled. "Seek justice," the Lord tells his beloved people Israel through this prophet Isaiah. "Do justice," God instructs Judith through the prophet Jeremiah, "and do no wrong to the alien, the fatherless, the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place."

It was that passion for justice that led priests of this archdiocese to take leadership roles in the defense of the civil rights of African-Americans in the early 1960s. It was that passion for justice that led Lawrence Cardinal Shehan to face down jeers and catcalls when he testified before the Baltimore City Council in 1966 on behalf of open-housing legislation. And it is precisely that same passion for justice that is at the root of the Catholic church's combined defense of the right to life, from conception until natural death.

The right to life is the greatest civil rights issue of our time. It is the issue that will determine whether America remains a hospitable society: committed to caring for women in crisis and their unborn children; committed to caring for those with special needs; committed to caring for the elderly and the dying; or whether America betrays our heritage and the truths on which its founders staked its claim to independence.

In addressing these issues of life over the past four decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have not -- I repeat: have not -- made sectarian arguments. The bishops have made moral arguments that can be known by anyone willing to think through the first principles of justice. It is worse than a tragedy, it is a scandal, that too many of our fellow-citizens, even our Catholic fellow-citizens, seem not to have grasped these first principles of justice, or have even turned their back on them. I pledge that I shall make every effort possible to continue and intensify the defense of the right to life that has been waged by my predecessors.

And I pledge more. No one has to have an abortion. To all those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Come to the Catholic church -- let us walk with you through your time of trouble, let us help you affirm life, let us help you find a new life with your child, but let us help you by placing that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you, let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an answer in this archdiocese....

Our city has been in crisis for decades. In 1966, Cardinal Shehan told the priests of Baltimore that "If we don't save this city, we can forget about the church in the archdiocese." In human terms, that remains as true today as it was 41 years ago. For to write off large parts of this city as hopeless and beyond redemption is to disregard tens of thousands of lives made in the image and likeness of God. Such disregard might be very unlikely to find forgiveness on that last day, when each of us makes an account of our stewardship, as indeed we must.

It simply cannot be the case that Martin Luther King's dream, so magnificently articulated at the Lincoln Memorial (before a crowd that included then-Archbishop Shehan), is destined to decay into the nightmare of once-flourishing neighborhoods destroyed by drugs and violence. It simply cannot be the case that the sacrifices of so many African-American families across too many decades of discrimination must go for naught. It simply cannot be the case that the urban ministry of which the archdiocese of Baltimore was pioneer should or must finally fail from lack of energy, lack of resources and lack of mission.

We cannot allow this as a people, as a church. We cannot allow large parts of our city to die. We cannot allow thousands of our neighbors to live lives of hopelessness and despair.

I have no master plan for urban revitalization. But I pledge to you today that this archdiocese will make every effort to ensure that the dream that animated Dr King and so many others of us does not die, for realizing that dream is central to the preaching of the Gospel which is the core of the church's existence.
...and in that moment, as the Sisters of Life (and a horde of other religious men and women) looked on, the spirit of John Cardinal O'Connor -- the Sisters' founder, O'Brien's mentor -- could be felt hovering alongside that of John Carroll over the place.

Money moment: at the apex of the entrance prelude, the organist's savvy working of the "Marcia Pontificale" -- the Vatican national anthem -- into an improvisation.

As for the rest, fullvideo on demand: Part One, Part Two....

...and, of course, full coverage from the hometown Sun.

The gang might be off to Birmingham for tomorrow's festivities there, but still to come here: notes from backstage.

Angelina Perna/Baltimore Sun
PHOTO 2: Owen Sweeney III/Catholic Review