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BRIGHTON -- Nearly 70 members of the Boston Area Order of Malta gathered together to celebrate Advent on Dec. 1 at St. John's Seminary. The annual gathering began with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.
The cardinal exhorted the members of the Order of Malta to live this Advent focusing on the true meaning of the season.
"In order to better understand Christmas and Advent, we need to go to Pagan times," he explained. He noted that the pagan world celebrated the triumph of light over darkness as part of the winter solstice festival because days began getting longer from that moment on.
He noted that Christmas, too, shows how "the world that was steeped in darkness has seen the arrival of the light of Christ."
"We live in a world where there is so much brokenness," he said, noting that many people are "emotional paralytics" because of the divisions they have felt in modern society.
"The antidote is Advent," he continued. "Advent is a time of hope, of longing, of patient waiting ... Advent has been established to help us reunite with Christ."
As the Mass came to a close, Jack MacKinnon, was honored for leadership on behalf of the oOrder of Malta and his support of the archdiocese and Catholic organizations. Coming forward to the cardinal's chair, Cardinal O'Malley presented MacKinnon with the medal of the Bishop Fitzpatrick Award.
Following the presentation, Damien DeVasto, area chair for the Order of Malta, addressed the assembly, noting that the "range and the scale of what Jack and his wife have done for the Church in Boston is immeasurable."
DeVasto went on to list the many ways Jack and Rosemary McKenna have helped the Archdiocese of Boston.
"They are truly an exemplary pair," he said.
After the Mass, members of the Order of Malta shared a dinner together in the seminary refectory, where both Father Stephen Salocks, interim rector at St. John's Seminary and Cardinal O'Malley addressed the dinner guests.
"I would like to begin first by considering how this year began here," began Father Salocks. "On Aug. 25, we welcomed the 135th class to enter St. John's seminary. Twelve new men arrived with their families and, with the assistance of their families, friends and the upperclassman -- the seminarians who are veterans if you will -- helped them move into their rooms and began several days of orientation.''
Father Salocks then related the history of St. John's Seminary, noting that "there may have been some changes from those earliest days of the seminary, but we continue to approach the time of formation with hope and enthusiasm and dedication.''
"Our primary goal is to continue fulfilling our mission to prepare candidates for ordination to the priesthood and to recommend them to sending bishops and religious superiors," he said.
Father Salocks went on to explain that he first entered St. John's Seminary in 1975 and has spent most of his adult life in the seminary.
"I believe in St. John's seminary. I believe that we are doing something very good. I believe that our seminarians are fine men dedicated, committed to their progression toward priesthood," he said.
Following Father Salocks' talk, Cardinal O'Malley also addressed the Order of Malta.
He thanked Father Salocks for "stepping into the breach" and becoming interim rector, noting that this spring will see the largest ordination class in close to 20 years.
The cardinal also exhorted the members of the Order of Malta "to be defenders and promoters" of the faith.
He urged them to help people "discover a path that leads them to experience God in their lives and to understand how much God loves (them)."
"When people want to talk religion, today they immediately talk about all of the controversies -- very important things, but they are really on the periphery. Until we can help people understand how much God loves them, and when we know that God loves us, then we have the courage to be able to embrace the difficult challenges of the gospel that are there," the cardinal said.
"The work and the testimony of (the Order of) Malta needs to be part of what Pope Francis calls the 'beautiful face of the Church,' particularly in this time of crisis," Cardinal O'Malley continued. "We need to show people that we care about them in their suffering and that we are not here to condemn, judge, but to try to draw people closer to the community of faith."
He noted how "privileged" the members of the Order of Malta were to be able to celebrate the start of Advent in communion, and concluded by thanking the Knights and Dames for "the great work that Malta does, for the witness of your lives, for your works."
At the conclusion of the night, DeVasto, who for the past six years has served as area chair of the Order of Malta introduced the new area chairs -- Craig and Nancy Gibson.
Craig Gibson took the opportunity to thank DeVasto for his service, noting that DeVasto "has accomplished so very much."
"We are thankful because the robust activity of the order here in Boston is as strong as it has ever been," he continued, citing the increase in services performed by members of the Order of Malta.
At the concludion of the dinner, Cardinal O'Malley presented DeVasto with an engraved cystal bowl on behalf of the Boston Area members and American Association of the Order of Malta and in recognition of his leadership and service.