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BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust and show their gratitude and support for the archdiocese's 590 priests.
Bishop Robert Reed, President of CatholicTV Network, served as the event's emcee. Mark Machon, chairman of the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust, delivered the opening remarks.
"This event has always been important and special. It's a chance for all of us to express our thanks, our support, and our love for all those who have done so much for so many for so long: our priests," Vachon said.
He noted that they must also acknowledge challenging times for the Church on the international, national, and local levels.
"We find ourselves at a time where, now more than ever, the good shepherds sitting at your table and back home need our support," Vachon said.
John and Cathy White, co-chairs of the dinner for the second year in a row, announced that the event had raised just over $1.75 million, just shy of last year's total of $1.8 million, but that donations would be accepted for the rest of the night.
"Our journeys in faith, ladies and gentlemen, are all different, and we never know when we are going to be open to a call. But we are unified in the realization that our journeys would not have been possible without a priest in our lives, a beacon of hope that would help make our spiritual dreams come true," John White said.
After the break for dinner, John White announced that shortly after he left the podium, he was informed that someone had made an anonymous donation of $50,000.
The keynote speaker was actor and producer Mark Wahlberg, who grew up in Dorchester and has maintained a strong faith throughout his career, largely due to the role priests have played in his life.
While introducing Wahlberg, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley noted that Wahlberg was an emcee and speaker at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia when Pope Francis visited in 2015.
Wahlberg said that although the Holy Father was not familiar with his work, it was inspiring to see so many people "from all walks of life" gather to see the pope.
He said the experience gave him "hope and encouragement" in a time that he needed it.
"I've never forced my faith down anybody's throat in my business, but I've also never hid my faith. It's not the most popular thing in Hollywood to be Catholic, but people know I do my job, I show up on time, I'm prepared, and I always deliver for them, so I think they let my Catholicism slide," Wahlberg joked with the audience.
"I've always been a proud Catholic and I've always been fortunate to know that, especially in a time of need, there have been people there to remind me that the most important thing in my life is ... my faith and my family," he said.
Walhberg spoke about his youth growing up in Dorchester and serving time in jail, where he said, his only visitors were his mother and his parish priest.
Wahlberg said during that time, he resolved to turn his life around but found it challenging to break from the influence of his friends in the neighborhood.
"That was the tough part, because if I wasn't with the guys, I was pretty much against the guys. But I was committed," he said.
"It was my faith that really allowed me to achieve one small goal at a time," Wahlberg said, adding that now, some 30 years later he still takes that approach to life.
He said he begins each day in prayer, and then feels like he can accomplish anything.
He said his job gives him a platform to inspire and encourage people.
"The big thing that I know I need to accomplish and focus on is using the talents and the gifts God has given me to help others," he said.
"I feel very fortunate, so any time I can encourage people to go on that path of that faithful journey, it's a must for me to do," Wahlberg said.
He said one project he is planning is a film about the life of Father Stuart "Stu" Long, a Montana priest who died in 2014. Wahlberg said he hopes the film will encourage people to return to the Church and consider the vocation of priesthood.
Wahlberg expressed his gratitude to Father James Flavin, who he said he has known since he was a teenager and has performed baptisms and funerals for his family.
Before leaving the podium Wahlberg announced that he would match the anonymous $50,000 donation, bringing the total funds raised to $1.85 million.
The evening concluded with remarks by Cardinal O'Malley.
He shared how the previous weekend he had attended an event at St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery in South Boston to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the death of Boston's first priest, Father Francis Matignon.
"Despite the many obstacles and the suffering that those first generations of Catholics had to endure, their love for Christ and his Church established a solid foundation for our community of faith. In our 200-year history, we've been blessed with so many great priests whose generosity and fidelity have enriched our lives and our community." the cardinal said.
But, he said, the work of those priests has been overshadowed by scandal.
"Too often that great legacy of holy and faithful priests has been eclipsed by the horrendous crimes committed by others during our lifetimes and covered up by Church leadership," the cardinal said.
"It was the courage of the victims of sexual abuse who came forward, the work of the free press in our society and the efforts of many committed Catholics to redress the crimes and injustices of the past that put the Church here on a path towards reconciliation and healing," he added.
He said protecting children and vulnerable people "must be the number one priority."
"Evangelization, the works of mercy, our education and health ministries can only succeed if we can assure the people we serve that we are doing everything to create a safe atmosphere for their children," he said.
The cardinal acknowledged the difficulties priests face, and renewed his pledge to support them.
"Your lives are not a romantic narrative but the daily hard work of witness to our faith and your commitment to a calling and a way of life which is often difficult for many in our society to understand."
The program closed with Cardinal O'Malley leading the priests throughout the room in singing "Salve Regina."