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Year of Mercy prompted gift of Newton church, says pastor


Father Dominic K. Jung, pastor of St. Antoine Daveluy Parish, celebrates Mass at Corpus Christi Church, Dec. 11, as Father Daniel C. O'Connell, pastor of Corpus Christi-St. Bernard Parish, (right) concelebrates. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe

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AUBURNDALE -- At a morning Mass at Corpus Christi Church, Dec. 11, parishioners of Corpus Christi-St. Bernard Parish in Newton and members of the Catholic Korean Community witnessed the signing of a document that transferred the property of Corpus Christi Church to the recently created St. Antoine Daveluy Parish.

St. Antoine's serves the Korean Catholic community in the archdiocese and, since its erection in 2013, was renting the premises. The property transfer was made as a gift from Corpus Christi-St. Bernard parish to St. Antoine's.

The Pilot spoke with Father Daniel C. O'Connell, pastor at Corpus Christi-St. Bernard parish, Dec. 20 about the process that led to the decision to donate the property.

Q: When you were signing the document that donated the property to St. Antoine's, what were your thoughts?

A: I do remember standing over Father Dominic [Jung] as he signed it -- he was the first to sign -- and I remember looking at him and looking out at the congregation, at my own parishioners giving away a church, a bit of their own history. And I looked at the Korean community who were accepting a church as part of their history, and all I could think of was Paschal Mystery and the fact that we really do live Paschal Mystery when we allow his grace to work in us.

It's about letting go so that new life can happen. It's about the seed falling to the earth and dying so that new life can happen. And that's something that can happen to us all the time when we allow His grace to work. So, I looked up and I smiled at the grace that filled Corpus Christi Church last Sunday.

Q: Cardinal O'Malley, in his message that was read at Mass, called this event "extraordinary." What prompted you and your parishioners to consider giving away Corpus Christi Church?

A: It came to our attention that Corpus Christi Church needed some work and that the Korean Community really wanted to accomplish the work, but they were finding it difficult. So, in a moment of prayer, myself and some parishioners had a moment of grace and said, "How wonderful would it be if we forgave the debt and allowed them to use what had been used as rental money to put right into the church, to take care of the church that we loved so much -- the people of Corpus Christi-St Bernard Parish, as well as the Korean community."

Pope Francis a year ago, called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy -- and that's sort of a loaded sentence in that we know what a Year of Mercy might look like, because as Catholics we know about the spiritual and corporal works of mercy -- but to call it in the midst of a Jubilee Year really stressed many, many important notions. One of them being that a Jubilee Year, historically, always had something to do with forgiveness.

I did some investigation and that's when I discovered that [the Korean Catholic Community] had kind of wandered around for 40 years and that they really needed a permanent home. One thing led to another, one conversation led to another, and it went from a few parishioners, to our parish council who also thought that it was a wonderfully graced moment, to our finance council, to the entire parish.

Q: How did you present this idea to your parishioners?

A: I stood before the parish one Sunday and presented them with this idea that had been discussed by the advisory councils of the parish, and I said to them, "This is what we are thinking, this is how we would like to celebrate the remainder of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. But I want to make sure that you are part of the decision." It was very important that they be a part of the decision. So, I told them, this is the idea; myself and members of the finance council and the parish council will be downstairs in the parish hall to answer any questions and most importantly to get your opinion.

I've got to tell you that they took advantage of the situation. Many people did come down and they had very valid questions that we answered for them, they had some opinions that we heard and acted upon in some ways, and so it really was a parish decision. It was put before the entire parish community and they approved of it. It had to be that way. They had to approve of it themselves -- and they did.

Q: Would you like to describe some of the main concerns or some of the initial reactions?

A: Being people who were running households of their own, bringing up families of their own, knowing how shaky the economy could be, somewhere between $2.5 and $3 million is a hefty gift. We talked about how you can't love someone half-way, nor can you forgive half-way. Indeed, we knew that this was a sizable gift, but in order to be able to really celebrate forgiveness, it had to be as large as it was, it had to be all the way. You can't forgive someone half way. I can't say "I don't like what you said about me, so I forgive you half-way." That doesn't work. Forgiveness has to be forgiveness, love has to be love, because grace has to be grace. We talked about it, and they were fine -- they really came with listening hearts. And throughout the whole process, I've seen God's grace at work, that when we put Jesus in the middle of any problem, when we realize that we are plugged into his Paschal Mystery, and that we are invited to take strength from that in the ups and the downs of life, some amazing things can happen.

Certainly, they came at this as a people knowing that the Korean community were living at this point with uncertainty: the church needed to be repaired, they loved the church and wanted to stay there but that money was limited, how was it going to work out, so they were living with uncertainty. They had wandered around literally for 40 years, they had gone through maybe 6 to 8 different churches over 40 years. They had never really had a home of their own, and that is an uncertain way to live.

My own parish, Corpus Christi-St Bernard Parish -- you know parishes have their ups and downs -- and certainly, there were moments in our past, with mergers and the like, that we too lived with uncertainty. So, a people who had been touched by Good Friday moments, as we all are, reached out to people who were being touched by Good Friday moments. When you look at your own Good Friday moment and touch it to His and you do it with faith, Easter Sunday will follow. That's what we all experienced the Sunday that we signed that agreement. Two groups of people, knowing what Good Friday is like, knowing what uncertainty is like, came together in His name and Easter Sunday was the result. That's what living Christianity is really about, it's about letting it touch the nitty gritty of our own everyday life.

Q: Will the church still be available for former Corpus Christi parishioners?

A: Something that was part of the original agreement and certainly has not changed is the availability of the church for us. So many of my parishioners, of Corpus Christi-St Bernard parish, before the merger, were very active parishioners and loved that church. That's one of the reasons that they were so happy that the Korean community want it to grow and flourish. It was such a part of their life that there has always been an understanding that, if indeed they had a family member who had celebrated their sacraments at Corpus Christi and were desirous of going back there, then they certainly could and that will continue. It will always be a part of our lives, it will always be a part of our neighborhood in Newton and that really is a wonderful way to understand what Church really is -- the Church is the people.

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