Saturday, April 12, 2008

"We Journey Together"... 200 Years On

Lights... Camera... Pharaoh:

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Tuesday marked the bicentennial of the Stateside church's first expansion, when Mother Baltimore was elevated to metropolitan rank and its turf divided as new suffragans were founded at Bardstown (now Louisville), Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

While the milestone's climactic celebration will now take place on a national stage next Sunday at the Papal Mass in New York's Yankee Stadium, tomorrow will see two of the local observances hit their respective high-points: the Premier See's Anniversary Mass begins at 10.45 in the Basilica of the Assumption, the nation's first cathedral, followed by the unveiling of a bust of Cardinal William Keeler, Charm City's 14th archbishop, who led the charge for the basilica's complete restoration to its original design before retiring last fall. And in the River City, the festivities begin just before 4pm at Villanova University's Pavilion arena.

Though the announcement of the papal visit and Yankee liturgy led to New York's cancellation of a planned 8 April Mass in Radio City Music Hall, one major event remains on Gotham's 200th calendar: an exhibit at the City Museum on the church's history in the "Capital of the World." The show, chronicling the period from the founding through 1946, opens in mid-May and runs through years end.

In Boston, where the events of recent years have dictated a low-key celebration, the centerpiece of the bicentennial is a diocese-wide renewal initiative, Arise. And in a unique touch, a hymn commissioned for the anniversary came from within the ranks of the Beantown presbyterate: "We Journey Together in Christ" was written by Fr Fran O'Brien, pastor of St Matthias in Marlborough.

And in the mother church of the Frontier where, for 42 years, the Saintly Flaget walked the earth with the cross and filled the land with grace, Louisville marked the anniversary last weekend with observances both in the city where the founding Frenchman moved his seat in 1841 and a pilgrimage back to Bardstown... where the Proto-Cathedral still stands... and history lives:
From the outset, Catholicism in Kentucky promised to flourish. The earliest settlers tenaciously kept the faith with just one priest — who was newly ordained — serving all of the Kentucky frontier.

When the priest was absent, they took pains to practice their faith the best they could, devoting themselves to daily prayer. They were pious and hardworking.

Their faithfulness laid the groundwork for the vibrant Catholic community we see today — one blessed with a host of Catholic parishes, schools and religious communities that have developed over the last two centuries....

Kentucky’s first Catholics were “far from flawless” Father Crews noted. But “they managed to be faithful” in the face of tremendous challenge.

“They were pious, hardworking, deeply committed to learning and education, and involved in improving the life and justice of the wider community,” he said, noting that some of those present at St. Joseph Tuesday night were likely their descendants. “Faith, hope and charity were their theological bread and butter."...

The faithful were shepherded first by Father Stephen Badin, who Father Crews said was “indefatigable, earnest and conscientious,” just as the first bishop, Benedict Joseph Flaget, would prove to be as well. Both men were exiles of the French revolution.

Father Badin was a strict and hardworking cleric who led 10 congregations around the frontier. He was constantly in demand to administer the sacraments — with much of his time spent hearing confessions, noted Father Crews.

Bishop Flaget possessed a deep sense of sacrifice and piety. He managed to balance a traditional view with the flexibility necessary to adapt to conditions on the frontier, said Father Crews.

The bishop befriended ordinary people as well as the great leaders of the time, he noted.

Had Bishop Flaget not possessed these qualities, Father Crews said, “Kentucky and American Catholicism would have been strikingly different.”

“We come, in a way, full circle,” he noted. “The diocese, the Catholic sensibilities that Flaget helped shape, are still among us in our own time. There was a verve and intensity of life to those people of this frontier.

“By reflecting on the qualities, life attitudes and stances of so many of those of faith who have gone before us, ... we might get a renewed sense of direction for ourselves,” he said. “It is our prayer on this historic evening in this historic place, that the Archdiocese of Louisville will go forward in its third century, deeply committed to — and involved in — the ongoing work of that great process of grace. We hope and pray we will be more truly Gospel to those who meet us; that we will be more fully the body and blood of Christ in this world.”

Suffice it to say, may that be our prayer, and our work, far beyond the Bluegrass.

A week from tomorrow, each leading sizable pilgrimage groups from their charges, the "Bicentennial Bishops" -- Archbishops Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore and Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Cardinals Edward Egan of New York, Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Sean O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston -- will serve as the chief concelebrants of the papal visit's closing liturgy.