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Even though many of us do not see ourselves as migrants, humans seem to have migration in their blood. Over many millennia, our ancient ancestors migrated from the cradle of humanity in the horn of Africa to every corner of the world. And even today, millions of humans are on the move.
Sometimes migrations happen by choice as people are looking for adventure, are driven by curiosity or are responding to opportunity. Sometimes migrations happen out of necessity as people flee war, persecution, hunger and certain death. Sometimes migrations happen by force as people are removed from their homesteads or homelands and sent into endless misery or even are sold into slavery.
The bible is full of stories of migration. Adam and Eve were forced to leave Paradise. Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland to create a new nation. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. His descendants migrated from Egypt and ended up in the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert. Even the Holy Family fled their home out of fear that Jesus might be killed by Herod.
Pre-existing communities have not always welcomed migrants with open arms. Sometimes weariness and suspicion about these new arrivals was warranted as they used force to stake claim to the land driving those who already lived there out. Just look at what happened in Biblical times; or look at what happened to the First Nations of the Americas when Europeans arrived; or look at what is happening around the world today.
And yet, sometimes the reception of newcomers has been less than welcoming due to xenophobia or fear of strangers. And yet, the Bible makes it very clear that we are to treat strangers with dignity and respect. The letter to the Hebrews 13:2 admonishes Christians to “show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
As we know, Pope Francis is very concerned with the plight of migrants and refugees. On September 29, 2019, the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees Pope Francis dedicated a new monumental sculpture in St. Peter’s Square entitled Angels Unawares. Of note is that this sculpture was the first in some 400 years to be added to this iconic square. The sculpture was commissioned by Michael Cardinal Czerny who is the Under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Angels Unawares was created by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian Catholic sculptor who has dedicated much of his work to the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Our Homeless Jesus is one of his well known works.
Angels Unawares depicts 140 almost life size people on a boat. They represent migrants from all times and all places. Some of them have experienced migration by choice, others by necessity or force. Among them are a Jewish man fleeing Nazi Germany; an Irish boy fleeing the potato famine; an African family being forced into slavery; a Syrian man escaping the civil war in his home country; a Cherokee man on the trail of tears; a Protestant man escaping the Counter-Reformation. The ship even includes the Holy Family.
As he sculpted each one of these 140 people, the artist used old photographs to represent historic migrants. Some of them he found in the Ellis Island archives. He also had recent immigrants come to his studio to model for this sculpture. Thus each one of the characters on the boat represents an actual person who migrated. In their faces one can see fear or anticipation, relief or dread depending on the reason for the migration.
At the center of this tightly packed boat are two large angel’s wings referencing the Letter to the Hebrews admonishment that any one of these sisters and brothers of ours might be “angels unawares.”
Catholic University in Washington D.C. was given a second cast of the sculpture. Before its permanent installation this fall, Angels Unawares has been traveling to several cities in the United States at the request of the artist. Minneapolis and the Basilica of Saint Mary will be the last but one stop on its way back to D.C. We will host the sculpture throughout the month of August. It will sit on the plaza in front of The Basilica.
On Sunday, August 1 we will have a welcome ceremony and we will bid goodbye to the sculpture on Thursday, August 26. There will be lots of programming around Angels Unawares between those to dates. More details are to follow.
In the same way as the Homeless Jesus calls us to solidarity with people who are experiencing homelessness, Angels Unawares calls us to solidarity with people who had to leave their homes and found refuge here. As we care for them, we may be caring for angels unawares.
Visit mary.org/angelsunawares for more details.
Christopher Stroh, has discerned the call to a new position at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. Beginning in mid-July, Chris will start his ministry at St. James Cathedral as Assistant Director of Music and Assistant Cathedral Organist. St. James Cathedral is among the few major Catholic parishes that compare to The Basilica parish’s own diversely rich spiritual, artistic, inclusive, and social outreach.
Chris has been a true gift to our parish and he will be dearly missed. Yet, this is a great opportunity and we congratulate him on his new position.
Chris has shared deep gratitude for his nearly 15 years of service to The Basilica as organist. The wonderful Basilica parishioners, sincere volunteers, staff colleagues, community partners, and the distinctive “Centennial” organ (Wicks Opus 3047) are among the things Chris mentioned he will miss most from The Basilica.
During summer we will welcome regular substitute organists at our liturgies as we conduct the search and interview process for candidates to the position. We are pleased by the great interest already received.
We invite you to join us for 9:30am Mass on Sunday, June 27 when we will celebrate Chris’ ministry at The Basilica. The Cathedral Choir will sing this Mass. At the end of Mass we will have a special blessing for Chris. And following Mass we will have an ice-cream social on the plaza in front of The Basilica.
Chris will still play the 5:00 pm on July 3, 7:30am and 9:30am on July 4, 10:00am on July 5 and the Memorial Mass for Walter’s Father on July 6 at 10:00am.
As we make this transition let us pray for Chris as he assures us that The Basilica will remain in his prayers. Let us also pray for the success of our search for a new Basilica Organist and Liturgical Music Associate.
Johan M. J. van Parys, Ph.D.
Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts
In our video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. In this third installment about Mary, Johan discusses different apparitions and depictions of Mary from around the world.
Please also note that Art that Surrounds Us will be posted monthly, rather than weekly, during the summer months. Our next episode will post in July.
After much prayer, consultation, and discussion, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota today announced that the Sunday Mass obligation will return the weekend of July 3-4. I encourage each of you to read the full text of the Minnesota bishops’ statement, which may be found here. It includes the rationale for the decision, the importance of the return to the Mass, and possible exceptions to the Sunday obligation.
I hope this message finds you and your family continuing to stay well during these challenging times.
Today I want to talk with you about the decision by the city of Minneapolis to drop its mask mandate and what this decision will mean for us at The Basilica. First, this decision came as a surprise. I expected the mask mandate to be in place for a few more weeks.
However, since the mask mandate has been dropped, trying to continue to enforce it at The Basilica would put our staff and volunteers in a very difficult position. Given this, we will no longer require masks for people who attend services at The Basilica.
We will also no longer ask people to pre-register to attend services at The Basilica. We will, however, strongly encourage people to wear masks while attending services here. And we will continue to ask people to maintain social distancing. Finally, at least for now, we will also keep every-other pew taped off.
I have discussed these changes with our staff and I believe they will continue to ensure the safety and well being of our staff, our volunteers, and those who come to The Basilica, while at the same time helping us return to a new normal.
On a related note, as I have mentioned previously, beginning the first weekend in July we will resume our 5:00pm Mass on Saturday and 7:30am Mass on Sunday morning. Additionally, we will eliminate the 6:30pm Mass on Sunday and change the time of the Sunday afternoon Mass from 4:30 to 5:00pm.
As always, if you are not able, or don’t feel comfortable joining us in-person for any of our liturgies, we invite you join them via our livestream. I will continue to try to keep you informed as we move forward into our new normal.
If you have any questions or concerns about these changes I invite you to contact me at the parish office. My contact information is available on our parish website.
Let me close today in prayer.
Lord, Father of our human family, you created all human beings equal in dignity;
Pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit and inspire in us a dream of renewal, encounter, dialogue, justice and peace.
Move us to create healthier societies and ma more dignified world; a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.
May our hearts be open to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty that you have sown in each of us, and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects, and shared dreams. Amen
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