Thursday, April 30, 2009

U.S. cardinals, other church leaders gather for annual dinner, Mass

A standing-room-only crowd greeted seven U.S. cardinals for the Mass April 24 at Houston's Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart prior to the annual dinner benefiting The Catholic University of America.

Proceeds from the dinner fund scholarships for students attending the school in Washington.

In addition to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the Mass and dinner were attended by Cardinals Francis E. George of Chicago; Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles; Sean P. O'Malley of Boston; Justin Rigali of Philadelphia; William H. Keeler, retired archbishop of Baltimore; and Adam J. Maida, retired archbishop of Detroit.

In his homily at the Mass, Vincentian Father David M. O'Connell, president of Catholic University, said Catholic higher education should work a miracle in its students similar to Jesus' miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

"Our students should become the bread that is then multiplied and given away, witnessing to Christ, witnessing to the church, witnessing to the truth -- because of what we teach, because of what we affirm, because of what we support," he said.

"If Christ does not 'happen' in their lives, if the church does not inspire them in their lives through our Catholic universities and colleges, Christ hasn't failed, the church hasn't failed -- we have failed," Father O'Connell said. "We should not fail, we cannot fail, we must not fail even though many things today tempt us to compromise our identity and mission and purpose."

Other participants in the dinner and Mass included Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, retired archbishop of Galveston-Houston; Auxiliary Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Galveston-Houston; Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantu of San Antonio; Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States; and Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, the university's chancellor and an alumnus.

Prior to the Mass Cardinal DiNardo and Father O'Connell addressed the local media in front of the co-cathedral.

"The reason we have this celebration today with the cardinals present is so we can raise funds for the scholarship programs at Catholic University of America. It is the one Catholic university in the country that is run by the bishops," Cardinal DiNardo said.

Noting that it was the first time the dinner had taken place in Texas, he added, "We have a lot of pride in Houston about our new cathedral and we are happy to show it off to the number of cardinals and people from all over the country who are here for this Mass and dinner."

During the gala, Angela House in Houston, a transitional housing facility for women after incarceration, was honored with the $10,000 American Cardinals Encouragement Award, which recognizes "faith-based initiatives that reflect Christian values."

Dominican Sister Maureen O'Connell, director of Angela House, was present to receive the recognition.

"What this (recognition) means to the women is that people care," she said. "And that a university like Catholic University of America and the archdiocese are supportive of them and want to help them come back to the community. That's the most meaningful thing about this evening."

Angela House has served more than 125 women since it opened its doors seven years ago. In that time 68 percent of the women taking part in the program have not returned to prison, which is conversely almost the exact percentage of women who usually are re-incarcerated (66 percent) after they are released.

"When our women come to Angela House, most are alone or have minimal family support," Sister Maureen said. "And for the most part are feeling worthless and ashamed of what they have done. To experience the support and encouragement of such a university and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston encourages them to believe that they can change regardless of poor past choices."
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