On Friday September 25 I had the good fortune to concelebrate, along with a few hundred other priests, the Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden. We gathered with 20,000 other joyful participants, a joy sustained even after close to three hours spent on line very slowly making our way up 7th Ave. Initially I walked along with Fr. Joe McShane, S.J. ’67 and other Fordham Jesuits as we all headed west on 23rd St. in search of the end of the line. The line ran down 7th, turned west on 23rd and then went north along 8th Ave. all the way back up to the Garden at its longest. About halfway along 23rd a friend spotted me and called me to join her. I’d like to say that I felt bad abandoning Fr. McShane and my brother Jesuits by cutting in, but if I did it was so fleeting as not to be memorable. While waiting I had a conference call with board chair Peter Labbat ’83 who was further up 7th Ave., greeted quite a few Regis staff, alumni, and two current students as they made the trek to where they could join the line, and enjoyed my friend’s company and that of the mix of people around us. The mood was helped by NYPD officers who repeatedly reassured the crowd that everyone with a ticket for the Mass would get in. We all did, and it was worth the wait.
The Mass was beautiful, the crowd enthusiastically responsive, and the Pope’s homily captivating. Noting that we were “in Madison Square Garden, a place synonymous with [New York City],” Pope Francis said that “big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions, and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life...” The Church, the Society of Jesus, and Jesuit schools are all overwhelmingly urban phenomena. It is in cities that the vast scope of the work of the Church and the Society takes place. We may easily be reminded of the old adage “Bernard loved the hills, Benedict the valleys, Francis the towns, Ignatius great cities.” Why did Ignatius love cities? Because of the great concentration of people found in them, cities have been privileged places to proclaim the gospel though a variety of ministries: universities, secondary and middle schools, parishes, hospital and prison chaplaincies, and retreat centers. Of all the great cities with Jesuit schools few can compare with New York in its complexity, vitality, and history of change and reinvention. These traits of the city are ours as well, and must continue to be if we want to celebrate anniversaries well into the future.
This year as part of our Second Century, Second Founding conversations we are celebrating many of the “generous lives” of graduates and of the wider Regis community which exemplify the transformative impact of a Regis education, not just on individuals who have experienced Regis but on uncounted others whose lives are better because of the lives and good work of Regians. Regis has graduated “men for others” for a long time, well before former superior general of the Society of Jesus Fr. Pedro Arrupe identified this as the primary goal of all Jesuit schools.
The significance of that goal has only grown in the 42 years since Fr. Arrupe first named it, as has the need for people who live generously for others. So many of Pope Francis’s public statements show an acute awareness of this. In his homily at the Garden he noted that “Living in a big city is not always easy… big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens. In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath ‘the rapid pace of change’, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’ to be there, no right to be part of the city… These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.” I believe learning to see and learning to love the world and its people here in New York and all the places where Regians live and work is central to what we are about today and what will continue to define us in our second century.
Committing ourselves to building a better future is an act of hope, a hope deeply grounded in the Christian tradition. Pope Francis reminded everyone at the Garden that “Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty “connections”, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city. Because God is in the city.” As we have been and will continue to be. May you encounter God wherever you are.
James P. Croghan, S.J.