Posts Tagged ‘Youth Ministry’


Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The second visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States was radically different in many ways from the first. President Ronald Reagan had invited the Pope to make a pastoral visit this time and the United Nations was not involved. Since the last visit in 1979 both the Pope and the President were survivors of assassination attempts and so security concerns were ratcheted up significantly. More people and dioceses wanted the Pope even though the cost to the host diocese ran at least three million dollars a day and with nine years in office behind him, every US Church agency wanted a piece of the action. Disney World wanted him desperately for a meeting with the youth of the world at EPCOT (making me one of the few Floridians to ever say “no” to Disney and live to tell of it).

In Rome my dear friend Archbishop Marcinkus had been replaced by a new team of papal advance members led by the Jesuit head of Vatican Radio, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ who is now a cardinal. Assisting him were two of the finest men one would wish to work with, Monsignor Emil Tscherrig from the Secretariat of State and Dr. Alberto Gasbari from Vatican Radio. But John Paul remained the same, just a little older. There were two preparatory meetings with him, which included lunch in his apartment, and a meeting of all the host bishops and the archbishops of the United States with him in Rome in advance of the meeting. Tensions were running somewhat high as agendas were beginning to emerge in the United States. In the visit of 1979, only an address by Sister Theresa Kane, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had raised some concerns but I am certain that the Pope did not hear her. Little known to anyone at the time was that the young pope was near deaf in one ear and the sound in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was not advantageous for him to hear. Almost every picture ever taken with him never shows him looking at the person but turned so he could hear with his good ear.

But it seemed in 1987 everyone wanted an opportunity to speak to him, hoping to elicit a favorable response. So Monsignor Frank McNulty of Newark addressed him on behalf of priests in Miami, Donna Hanson, a lay woman from Spokane, Washington addressed him in San Francisco, Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop Quinn, Archbishop Pilarczyk and Archbishop Weakland addressed him in Los Angeles, the National Catholic Education Association, the Catholic Health Association, and many others spoke their concerns. The Holy Father always had a prepared response as those writing for him had advance looks at the texts.

The Native American Blessing with an Eagle's Feather

Three things gave him special energy in this visit. Although earlier in the day for the first and only time in his entire pontificate his Mass was interrupted and rained out in Miami, he was at his best that day in Columbia, South Carolina on the campus of that state’s University. He could lot believe the tens of thousands of students in a state he knew to be 1% Catholic would gather on the quadrangle and cheer for him and remain while he conducted a ninety minute ecumenical and interreligious exchange with religious leaders from throughout the United States. There were as many students still there when he exited as when he went in and he commented to me, “These young people, they are not Catholic?”  Later he and Billy Graham were to share the stage in the football stadium for a truly ecumenical prayer service, which was frowned upon by some of those travelling with him from Rome.

He also enjoyed a meeting with Native Americans in Phoenix, which included their ritual blessing with an eagle feather, also causing some alacrity with his travelling party that a largely pagan sign would be used with him but something, which clearly he enjoyed.

The Holy Father Meeting Young People at the Superdome

And as in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, in 1987 the meeting with the young people of New Orleans and elsewhere who would fill the vast Superdome brought him special happiness. He was more comfortable and at ease with kids than with bishops by far. Their spontaneous response to his obvious thrill of being with them and their love for him drew them closer to him always.

Popes carry burdens of soul, which few others have to carry. The 1987 visit was right when the AIDS pandemic was spreading and becoming better known in the U.S. Church teaching on condom use and abstinence were not well received in many quarters and to those involved in AIDS ministry and even to those suffering from the disease, the Church in general and the Pope especially seemed insensitive, uncaring, even cruel. When at the old Serra Mission in San Francisco at a prayer service for those with AIDS the pope picked up a child with aids and hugged an adult and embraced him, hearts melted and compassion marked the Gospel. It was quite a moment for me, one that I had helped arrange with the assistance of my Roman colleagues but somewhat looked askance at by others.

John Paul II arrived in Miami with a long and warm meeting between two men nearly killed by an assassin’s bullet and it ended with Vice-President George H. W. Bush offering farewell remarks in Detroit, a city added at the insistence of Archbishop Edmund Szoka which required flying back two thirds of the way across the U.S. and then West again into the Northwest Territory to Fort Simpson in Canada to keep a date he had to cancel several years prior due to fog precluding the landing of his plane at that time. The Holy Father was clearly weakened by his horrible moment with history and not exactly the same as in 1979 but he kept a hectic daily schedule nonetheless and there was always that time for meditation and prayer. Bone tired at midday, on this trip with a scheduled brief rest he would recover well enough to keep a schedule that would kill me at his age, drawing strength from inside himself and at prayer, never wishing to disappoint anyone, and renewed by the adulation of the masses of people who came to pray, listen and reflect with him, especially the young. On both occasions he was impressed with the vitality of the Church in the United States and liked the manner in which we prayed. He mentioned this to the officers and I after his trip in the Fall of 1987 at lunch with him in Rome. For this trip I asked Bishop Larkin if I could have the services of Father John Tapp to assist essentially in the care and feeding of the papal entourage who came with the Pope from Rome and he had his hands full. Also I hired a young lay man from Indiana to work for a year and a half with the Secret Service and the USCC Communications office in arranging for the needs of the local and traveling press (about 300 travelled with us on the full ten day trip). His name was Paul Etienne and he is now the Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

On the TWA 747 in Detroit I climbed the steps once again. This time he was ready for me having been reminded by someone of my quip in Washington in 1979 that he could come back but not too soon. He gave me that half smile and said, “Father, will I be welcome again?” Off he went to Fort Simpson and my life returned to normal.




Thursday, March 10th, 2011

It is said that Ponce de Leon discovered the fountain of youth here in the “Sunshine State.” Well, about that we cannot be absolutely certain but one thing is for sure, young Catholics have a place to go now in Brandon to discover, share, enjoy and embrace their faith. Nativity Catholic Church earlier this year dedicated a new Youth Center named after its long-time pastor, Monsignor Jaime Lara, which sets the “gold standard” for parish based Youth Centers. Allow me to share some pictures of this new facility with you along with congratulations to the people of Nativity parish for their support of this project and to Father Arthur Proulx, the pastor, and Justin the Youth Minister for their vision and leadership. Is this coming soon to a parish near you? How we wish! Nativity’s demographics and number of youth make an investment like this possible but there are other parishes in the dioceses with significant youth populations desirous of building Youth Centers as well. I hope they do. It will help in all our efforts at the new evangelization and in Serving God’s People.


Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Stain Glass Window of the Holy Family at Holy Family Church, St. Petersburg

Some weeks ago, in fact during the November meeting of bishops in Baltimore, you may recall that I wrote of a luncheon I had with two seniors at Loyola Baltimore. One was from our diocese, Brendan Stack who wrote so well in this space of his experience with Catholic Relief Services in India during the summer of 2009 and his roommate whom I had never met until then, Patrick Sullivan who attended Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York. I asked both men what the Church could do generally and what I might do specifically as bishop to staunch the flow of young people from leaving the Church of their baptism for other faiths or no faith. Patrick must have spent some time reflecting on the question because shortly after I returned home he wrote me quite a letter which I think is very appropriate to share with you today. I have his permission and what follows in strictly Sullivan and not Lynch:

“As I was thinking more about our conversation, particularly about our ‘losing’ of  practicing Catholics, I thought about our families being the foundation of our faith. I can not tell you the amount of times I have heard from my friends, even those strong in faith, that prayer in the home is few and far between. I can speak from personal experience; my mother is extremely involved with the Church, spending the majority of her day working with those who form men for the priesthood. My father is a recent convert to Catholicism whose fervor for the Church is paralleled by few. Even with their strong convictions, though, familial prayer is something that is hard to find in my home. Perhaps, if we stress the noticeable presence of Jesus within the Catholic home, the foundation that Brendan alluded to might be formed on more solid ground and so would be less likely to fade away in the relativist storm that is the university. The effect that our families have on our faith formation is paralleled by few others. If prayer and familial worship become a normalcy in Catholic life, imagine the type of young men and women entering the world. Built on a strong familial prayer life, imagine the influx of young men and women entering the ordained and consecrated life.”

As I think of this traditional feast, I often think of things in my own life as a child which might have been formative. We were not all that great on family prayer except before every meal and occasionally when we were “monitored” at night before going to bed but there was one annual experience which still looms large in my memory and life sixty-five years later. On our annual June family vacation trip to see my paternal grandparents and large family in the Boston, Massachusetts area, the evening meal had to be finished by 6:40 pm so that all of us, three generations could move from the Dining Room to the Living Room and kneel down on the floor while the radio (there was no TV) was properly tuned. At exactly 6:40pm a male voice sounding something like what I thought an archangel would sound like announced, “Live, from the Cardinal’s Residence on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, Richard Cardinal Cushing will now lead the faithful of the Archdiocese in reciting the Rosary.” If the announcer had an archangel’s voice, my brothers and I thought the Cardinal sounded like God – nasal, prolonged pronunciation of words, stentorian – it had to be God who spent twenty-minutes each night leading us in this prayer which we seemed only to say in Boston, where God lived. Beyond the sound of the radio, however, remains the image of my then eighty year old plus Grandfather, rosary in his hand, his wife of sixty years, my grandmother with a rosary in her hands, my grandmother’s spinster sister who kept an account of our sins and misbehavings with a rosary in her hands, my mom and dad with rosaries in their hands, and we three boys, skillfully provided the necessary beads by our Mom who feared reprisals if her kids did not have the proper equipment for prayer, all as one family joining God in Hail Marys and Our Fathers and Glory Be’s. As Patrick Sullivan said above, there is power in a family at prayer.

Perhaps on this great feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph those who still have a family about them could think about more time together in prayer. While I desperately want an increase in vocations, I want more young people to remain true to their baptism as Catholic Christians and enlighten the world.

The new shrine to the Holy Family at Holy Family Church in St. Petersburg using an original statue and placing in a spot for prayer and meditation.

Some words later in the week on the meaning of Epiphany and then more silence as I am on retreat. Back for the Baptism of the Lord.


Photos from Don Bosco’s Visit

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Many people have generously made their photos and video of the visit of the Relic of St. John Bosco available, and I am excited to share them with you here.

Many thanks to Ed Foster Jr. for these photos.
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These photos are courtesy of the Knights of Columbus State Photographer Randy Hale; Rosa Harwell and John Christian from St. Petersburg Catholic High School; and Fr. Bruce Craig, SDB from Mary Help of Christians Parish, Tampa.

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Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

In all my sixty-nine years, I would  never have guessed that I would be leading prayer in a Cathedral Church, anywhere, in the presence of the human remains of a great saint but today that was indeed the case. My diocesan family knows that for twenty-six hours beginning last night at 7 p.m. we had the incredible privilege of having the relics of Saint John Bosco in our midst. The local media, and particularly the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES in articles written by Waveney Ann Moore (all linked on the diocesan web site’s relic visit page) have been most generous in providing coverage of this historic moment. For those of you reading this and not living in our five counties, in preparation for the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Salesian order of religious women, brothers, priests and lay cooperators, a casket containing a wax image of the famous saint of the youth and a major portion of the bone structure of his arm is making the rounds of Salesian places throughout the world. Last night and today are our turn because we have been blessed to have the community here in the diocese for a long, long time (Mary, Help of Christians, St. Joseph’s Tampa, Villa Madonna, St. Petersburg Catholic High School and until a few years ago at Christ the King).

About seven hundred people filled the Cathedral last night for the Prayer Service of Welcome, a similar number this morning for Mass in the presence of the relics, and then about 2700 sixth through twelth graders this afternoon who spent the day at St. Petersburg Catholic, had lunch and then processed to the Cathedral to see the relics and pray with me. Throughout the night the Cathedral was open and there was a line last night until eleven and always about thirty praying at a time. Incredible witness to a powerful presence even in our own lifetime. I can not say enough good things about the wonderful cooperation received from the Knights of Columbus who have stood guard, the City of St. Petersburg and its police department [motorcycles led the procession of the youth] and the faculty, students and staff of St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

Relics not unlike indulgences have slipped from our modern Catholic parlance since the Second Vatican Council so I was amazed at both the interest in and the effect of this saint on those who have come to pray and witness. It is an example of the power of “popular piety” which intuits important things which can not always be clearly explained. Going back to early Christian times when believers went to the catecombs not so much for safety but to be in the decomposed presence of their ancestors and other saintly people, a relic is a treasured momento of some person of the past who has been declared officially by the Church to be a saint. Catholic altars usually always contained an “altar stone” which itself was the home of a first class relic of a saint. [“First Class Relic” is a piece of bone or a hair of a canonized saint; “Second Class Relic” is something which the saint most likely wore; etc.] Today, few altars contain either stones or relics. Today relics are usually found only in a glass container in some Churches and even some homes, accompanied by proper papers attesting to their authenticity.

Wikipedia and the Salesian website all have wonderful narratives of the life of this great saint and his total dedication to the education of youth and particularly poor youth, of which he was once one.

Faith-filled Catholics and the inquiring minds of our children turned out in great number today to touch the glass casket, pray at the site of the relic and recall the incredible presence today, one hundred and twenty-five years or so after his death. His legacy which has long outlived him is the similar dedication of his sisters, brothers and priests. If you are reading this and I do not yet have some pictures of the day’s events, come back and look. I will put them up as soon as they are available to me.

Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!



Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

22,000 Catholic youth gathered in Kansas City this week-end for the bi-annual nationwide convention. The gathering of our most committed and devoted young people places them in contact with wonderful presenters who are able to connect with them, gives them time to experience good liturgy, and spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament  which an amazing number of the participants utilize. On Saturday all 22,000 processed through the streets of Kansas City in an Eucharistic procession which gave the locals of whatever and no religious persuasion something to think about. Our own Father Len Plazewski was there along with a good representation from the diocesan youth. One might have though that tough economic times would have cut into the number of participants this year, but no – this was one of the largest.

Youth ministry is a challenge for our beloved Church. There are so many things competing for young people’s time and attention today from sports involving far more youth than in my day to a whole menu of after school options. Parishes still try hard to have good programs for the young people but getting them to come is a real challenge. Everyone points to the success of Protestant outreach to young people and I must admit that it is one of the few comparison points for which I am often jealous. One of the bright lights these past two years has been the three ECHO program members from the University of Notre Dame’s post-graduate program in religious education and youth ministry working in four of our parishes. Their presence and good work has injected some life into our times moribund-like youth ministry programs.

I believe that today’s young Catholic can have a thirst for the faith and it is incumbent upon myself and our pastoral leadership to meet these needs. At the same time, I do  not think it a wise strategy to offer programs where adult leadership assumes the mantle of acting like we were still young but rather we need to help our young prepare for an adult faith which awaits them. We have some extraordinarily generous young people who edify and sometimes humble me by their commitment to the Church, its teaching and values, and the responsibility of the baptized to share the faith with others boldly and fearlessly. I also see in the new interest in vocations to the priesthood and religious life the seeds of a renewal we badly need. It is our job as adult Catholics to provide the fertile soil in which these seeds can settle, germinate and blossom. The Church is looking for good gardeners in the soil of the faith of our young. Do you think you might be able to help?



Monday, February 16th, 2009

How old were you when you decided that you wanted some day to get married? At what age did you begin to think about a profession and your future education? Sociologists and others are fairly certain that a child begins his or her discernment process about vocation, profession, education when they are eleven years old. I think that was the case for me. I began to focus on becoming a priest long before I really knew much about priestly ministry. A friend decided to become a fireman at about the same time. Then a dream, a desire, a direction begins to solidify in eleventh grade – junior year in high school. That is when families begin to talk about college or university, take campus visits, think about majors and minors (albeit in a preliminary way). So the number “11” takes on great significance in vocation discernment.

This week for about the ninth or tenth time with the cooperation of our Catholic elementary and high schools, eleven year olds, and eleventh graders will gather for a full day at St. Lawrence Catholic School in Tampa. I show up for a brief “cameo” with the fifth graders (eleven year olds) and celebrate Mass for the juniors (eleventh graders) in high school. The Serra Club of St. Petersburg and the Diocesan Vocation Committee help feed the youngsters and the indefatigable Father Len Plazewski organizes the full days activity. I don’t know this for certain, but I sense that the younger ones (the eleven) like it and the older ones (eleventh graders) tolerate it. It is a lot of work for the generous organizers and we as a local Church ought to be very grateful to them. FOCUS ELEVEN is a very important part of our over-all vocation recruitment program.

I am impressed annually by the energy and spirit at these days. It can’t hurt and there is evidence that it does help. Prayers, please, for the three days of FOCUS ELEVEN which begin tomorrow, Tuesday at St. Lawrence.



Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Saturday afternoon found me standing in front of 500  young people from the diocese answering one hour of questions from them on a variety of topics. The occasion was the annual Diocesan Youth Rally and the place was Mary Help of Christians in East Tampa. Mass followed the Q and A. What were some of the young people’s questions?

1. Why did you want to be a bishop?

2. Why can’t women be ordained priests?

3. Why does it so often take a fall, from alcohol or drugs, for someone to believe in God?

4. Why are there so many different religions/ Why can we not all be one?

5. What will the Church do about the Freedom of Choice Act?

6. What are cardinals and how do you become one?

7. Who elects the Pope and how old do you have to be to be Pope?

8. What one moment in my life as a priest or bishop gave me the greatest happiness>

9. What made me want to be a priest and how did I get there?

10. What should the Church do about pro-abortion, Catholic politicians?

This local Church is lucky to have a good number of youth leaders, young women and men who believe in Jesus Christ, believe that there is a code of moral conduct which binds all of humanity, and who attend and support their Church by their presence and their gifts of time and talent. The young people were having a good time learning, listening, praying, singing. My thanks to all who planned and executed this diocesan alternative to the Gasparilla Parade and events.