My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we begin Advent and start to celebrate in earnest the Year of Faith, we recognize two of the special intentions that are of particular importance during this year: prayers for the New Evangelization and prayers for vocations, especially for those to the priesthood and religious life.
The New Evangelization cannot be accomplished without authentic and renewed conversion and recourse to the Lord of the Harvest, who will send laborers into the vineyard according to His own will. Priests, religious sisters and brothers are needed to assist the laity, who, through living daily in a secularized world, are truly the new evangelizers. Because of their call to the New Evangelization, they need solid, foundational formation to be able to effectively undertake the new paths to this calling.
At the recent meeting of the U.S. Bishops, the latest statistical analysis of participation of Catholics in the life of the Church was presented. It was estimated that in our country today, there are almost 97 million baptized Catholics out of 320 million people in the U.S. population. This is much more than has been estimated in the past.
However, approximately only one-third of these baptized Catholics consider themselves “practicing Catholics” who attend the celebration of the Eucharist on a weekly basis. Another third are those who attend Mass infrequently. It has been suggested that the New Evangelization in its outreach to non-practicing Catholics begins with those who have some affiliation to the Church and who, for one reason or another, do not practice the faith on a regular basis.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on Dec. 8 and reminds us that Mary was conceived without sin. No stain of Original Sin touched Mary, so that she could be the sinless Mother of God, given her virginal birth of Jesus Christ. Our great devotion as Catholics to Mary stems from the fact that our Heavenly Mother shows maternal care to her children who call upon her. There is hardly a Catholic who cannot recite the Hail Mary, a term that now has become popular in the game of football as a last-minute attempt to save a game, or which has now been extended to any emergency attempt to rectify a failing situation.
How true it is that we call upon Mary, our Mother, in those moments of need and at the hour of our death. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception gives us an opportunity to recognize her being chosen from the first moment of her conception to be the Mother of God.
One happy event in the midst of the difficulties which the diocese experienced in Hurricane Sandy is the recent announcement by the Holy See of the designation of the Church of Regina Pacis, Bensonhurst, as a Minor Basilica. This designation is afforded to only 74 churches in the U.S. and over 1,600 around the world, outside of the City of Rome where the four Major Basilicas – St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major – are considered to be the Holy Father’s special churches.
We are fortunate to now have a third basilica in addition to the Cathedral-Basilica of St. James, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sunset Park.
The history of Regina Pacis is an interesting one. The church was built in response to a vow taken by the parishioners, who asked the Blessed Mother to safely bring back all of the sons of the parish who were deployed in World War II.
The fulfillment of that promise made to the Queen of Peace was the magnificent and beautiful church which rose on 65th St. In a special way, the church has attracted those seeking Mary’s intercession in child birth. Since 1989, the former baptistry has become a chapel to Mary, Mother of the Unborn, and is adorned by photographs of children born through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Mary, the new Eve, the mother of all of the living as we venerate her, continues to shower favors upon all who seek her intercession.
The waters of Hurricane Sandy continue to force us to put out into the deep in our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens. The superstorm rushed in upon us and made us stop to count our blessings as many of the material things we took for granted were taken away.
As we begin Advent, pray with me that this Christmas will bring the spiritual relief that so many need.