Can I share with you a couple of matters on my mind, and, probably, on yours as well?
One is the calamity in Puerto Rico. I’ve been on the phone a lot recently with the Archbishop of San Juan, Roberto Gonzalez, still fondly remembered here for his happy and effective years as a young priest at Holy Cross Parish in the Bronx, and he’s near tears over the plight of his beloved island. “We sense the world has forgotten us,” he confessed recently.
Well, we can’t ever forget them. Our compassion for the suffering extends all over the map—shown by the generosity of God’s People recently to those in Florida and Texas—but we do not blush as we admit we have a special place in our heart for Puerto Rico. So many of our priests, sisters, and people here are of Puerto Rican origin. They are friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters in the household of the faith, and that island is renowned for its love of Jesus, His Church, His mother (especially under the title of Our Lady of Providence). It is our duty to help.
So, our fervent prayers are with them, as is our more material help. This Monday I will go to Puerto Rico and put into Padre Roberto’s hands $700,000, collected from our people and parishes. (I was supposed to fly down there last week, but tropical storms— the last thing they needed—prevented me.)
We’ve also kept some of your donations here to help the refugees who will arrive in New York. (Puerto Ricans, of course, come here not as immigrants, but as American citizens.)
It’s your donations I will give my brother pastor for his struggling people. He will be moved, as am I, by your generosity.
The second matter I wanted to share with you is about last Thursday’s Al Smith Dinner. This event occurs every October, although it usually only attracts national attention every four years as, since 1960, it is traditionally, the only time—apart from the debates—when the two presidential candidates are together.
This was, then, an “off year,” but we still attracted almost 900 people, and raised $3.4 million, every cent to go for programs to assist poor women and their kids, of all religions, or none at all, a record amount.
The glow of the evening is not only the revenue raised for charity, but the joy, unity, friendship, civility, and patriotism fostered by the evening.
Folks of both political parties assemble to recall the legacy of Governor Smith, the “happy warrior,” who had a heart tender for struggling women and their children, whose own heart was nearly broken by the bigotry he faced when, in 1928, he was the Democratic candidate for president, the first Catholic ever in that role.
The goal of the evening is to replace bickering, resentment, and division with amity, understanding, and the common good, all very “Catholic,” very American, priorities.
This year, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan reminded us of what the dinner is supposed to be, with his humor—much of it self-deprecating—and his call for a society more concerned with helping than hurting. Hollywood star and Emmy Award winner Patricia Heaton, the first woman emcee, set an upbeat tone with her warm and funny anecdotes about the important role her Catholic faith plays in her life.
And our honoree, John Castle, moved us deeply when he concluded his witty remarks with the comment that the Church was at her best in bringing people, often contentious, together, serving as a bridge, not a wall, to remind New York, and the nation, that we are “one nation, under God,” one in noble ideals, the pursuit of a virtuous society, and compassion for those struggling to keep up.