Early last week, Cardinal Donald Wuerl called Fr. Greg to announce his full support in the Newman Center’s efforts at The George Washington University. Two days later, the Cardinal’s secretary called and sent along the Cardinal’s intention to celebrate Mass with the GW Catholics on Sunday. Preparations were put into place, and word spread that the Cardinal would attend mass to show solidarity with Fr. Greg.
And so on Sunday night, students and local parishioners joined together to support Fr. Greg. Hundreds of students were there in what many considered the largest student mass in our time at GW. Fr. Greg’s family was in attendance, as were half of a dozen priests who wanted to show their support for our chaplain.
And after a week that featured dozens of media outlets, nearly 40 blog posts, thousands of web site views, countless arguments, Bill O’Reilly, and many other crazy twists and turns, we all gathered to listen to the Cardinal. There was a sense that this was the end to the whole ordeal, that somehow the Cardinal’s presence was the exclamation point to finish off what had been a trying, tiring time for those of us in the faith.
Personally, I wondered what he would say. In some ways, I worried that he would incidentally flare the whole controversy up again. I took comfort in knowing that the Cardinal is about 100 times smarter than I am, but I was still uneasy about how his homily would be received. Part of me even wondered if he would say anything about the controversy at all. Indeed, his presence itself was enough to send the requisite message around the Archdiocese and the university, and words were almost unnecessary at that point.
But the Cardinal chose to spoke. Oh did he speak.
Wuerl’s homily touched upon all of the necessary themes, with a clear yet uncontroversial message.
He started by saying, “We are here in solidarity with your chaplain”, and from there he used the day’s Gospel as a starting point for his homily. He spoke of the message that all disciples must “feed My sheep”. He commended Father Greg for the successes of the New Evangelization at GWU, and thanked him for feeding us, his sheep, with the Gospel and Sacraments.
He continued by talking about religious liberty. “We do not impose the Gospel on anyone,” he said. “We propose eternal life with Christ and the truth of the Gospel, and invite people to join us…The Church respects everyone and must be respected.”
He continued by stating that we must not engage our opposition in an earthly manner, but with love. As Christians, he said, we are all called to love everyone.
Toward the end of his homily, Cardinal Wuerl used heavy language to explain the dire necessity to protect religious freedom. To do this, he referenced the Acts of the Apostles passage in which the Apostles were told to stop preaching Christ’s word. This story, he said, was especially relevant in society today
“We must remember,” he said, “that what follows ‘you can’t say that’ and ‘you can’t do that’ is ‘you don’t belong here.’” As I looked around, it was clear that the entire congregation felt the weight of this statement.
In closing, Cardinal Wuerl told the full congregation to never, ever be afraid to live out your faith. It will not be easy, he said, but it is necessary. We are made for more than Earth. We are to obey a power higher than man.
Everything that the Cardinal said was perfectly on point. He hit each theme delicately, yet with a profound clarity that resonated with all who could hear. His soft voice danced lightly, barely audible, through the Church as though it was the Holy Spirit itself speaking directly through him, tired from the journey from Heaven to Earth, softly releasing itself to the faithful who were listening. It became apparent that among all of the screaming, shouting, and disagreement of the past two weeks, this was the last word. The shepherd was delivering his message to the flock, and his soft voice would have the loudest impact.
As the joyful Cardinal finished his homily, tears filled the eyes of many people in the Church. Many of those who didn’t tear up during the homily did so during Communion. A certain spirit filled the room. It was not quite a feeling of triumph, or a feeling of outward joy. No, it was more subdued than that. It was a measured feeling of peace. It was as if the strengthened bonds that were forged at The Newman Center over the past few weeks could now be tangibly felt among the crowd, and that there was something larger at play than anything that our mortal minds and bodies could properly feel.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Father Greg approached the podium and thanked Cardinal Wuerl for coming. “Let there be no mistake,” he said, “You, Cardinal, are the shepherd to feeds this flock.” The crowd, which was already on hits feet, erupted in applause.
When the applause died down, the Cardinal approached his own microphone and thanked Fr. Greg one more time. The crowd once more erupted, this time in raucous applause that echoed off the walls of the church. Some people whistled and hooted and hollered, and the cheering continued for well over a minute.
It was the standing ovation that Fr. Greg has deserved consistently during his time as our shepherd at GWU. We took a weird path to get there, but it was a moving display for the “flock” to finally show their support in the way that we should have all along. Once again, people were tearing up in the pews. And if you ask me, the chaplain looked like he may have been a little choked up, too.
Indeed, the past two weeks have not been easy for GW Catholics. But they brought the local Catholic community together in ways that were never expected. They made us stronger. It was as though we were forging a lasting peace for ourselves through each other. For years, Fr. Greg has been laying the cornerstone for that peace through his impact on our lives. Together, we have attempted to build that peace together. Last night, the joyful Cardinal made a lasting contribution toward that peace.
As I was down at the tidal basin yesterday looking at the cherry blossoms, I found myself in front of a group of GW undergrads. There were about 8-10 girls, and they were discussing Fr. Greg’s situation. Most of the girls sounded Catholic, although none seemed particularly religious or close to him. Their discussion was thoughtful and initially involved differing viewpoints. As I eavesdropped, more began to feel sympathetic towards Fr. Greg as they began discussing the details of the situation. By the end, all of them really felt passionately that he is the victim of an unfair smear campaign. Those girls probably won’t vocally support Fr. Greg in a public way, but they seemed like solid representatives of the GW student body
I remember Fr. Greg when he was a seminarian intern for the Church at which I attended Mass and I became interested in the situation after hearing a radio blurb. I later picked up a copy of The Hatchet. As a gay member of the Church, it made me proud that Fr. Greg invested in individuals with a known same-sex attraction and went out of his way to make them at home within the organization. It should be tremendously reassuring to gay students that they are welcome at the Newman Center and that Fr. Greg’s openness extends way beyond distant politeness. I am also puzzled as to how a student so devoted to Catholicism can leave and join a schismatic church. I wonder how that must make Fr. Greg feel, after over a year of sharing close experiences with him.
I only identify myself as a gay Catholic for the purpose of showing support for Fr. Greg. In truth, I cringe when politics and religion are too closely intertwined. I find it insulting that a priest within my Church is being persecuted for the sake of gay rights. Just like the GW students at the tidal basin, I don’t fit the profile of a piously devout Catholic who never questions the church’s teachings. Yet, we all are bound by our support for Fr. Greg. He also has my prayers. I hope that Fr. Greg emerges stronger and with the knowledge that this gay Catholic very much appreciates all of his efforts.
During my senior year at GW, I was in a destructive relationship, and one confession with Fr Greg helped me to realize this immediately. He was the only priest to tell me exactly Jesus’ words – the words I needed to hear – to get out of that relationship and to live in what Father called freedom. Now my life is devoted to the freedom found only in Christ, and this priest played a vital role in my faith formation. Father Greg’s devotion to the Eucharist has also inspired my own. No wonder the devil is attacking the GW Newman Center – look at all the good that is happening there!!! Padre, while this blog about you is amazing, I know that you would only want to point people toward Jesus Christ, not yourself, so thank you for doing that. We love you, and we support you.
When I met father Greg I was angry about the way the Archdiocese of DC was presenting the Church’s teachings on abortion. I had heard father Greg defending these teachings during a mass and I was enraged.
I didn’t know father Greg personally so I wrote to him a very rude e-mail saying everything that I couldn’t understand in his teachings. I was expecting a defensive reaction, but instead he thanked me, he thanked me for opening myself and expressing my thoughts. Instead of arguing back he just loved me and understood my anger and pain.
Through father Greg I met God’s love and forgiveness. For months, he dedicated one hour of his extremely busy week just to listen to me. I was a foreigner and not a GW student, and yet he was there. Father Greg’s kindness changed my life.
One time, during his vacation, I was desperate, having a real tough night, it was late, but I texted him asking for a prayer. He offered to open the church to me in the middle of the night just so I could be with Jesus during that hard time. I couldn’t go there so he prayed and talked to me until things were better. I will never forget that night.
I still don’t fully agree or understand all of the teachings from the Church, but I will always stand for father Greg, because I know that he would never disrespect or discriminate anyone based on his or her believes. Au contraire, he is the most compassionate non-judgmental person that I have ever met.
Padre Greg, you can always count on my prayers all the way from South America! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me!
The last thing before my daughter boarded the plane on her route to George Washington University was having her blessed by a priest. We were very happy weeks later to know that she had found a Catholic Church and a priest that she thought she could relate to. I have never met Father Gregg before but I hear his name almost every week from my daughter.
With her being far away from home it is very good to know she can find a place that is “home away from home”. When we are not there to give her immediate guidance she finds that guidance with Father Gregg. We have trusted that she would be kept safe on all the missionary trips and have gotten nothing but excellent responses and of course the picturesof the trips dont lie.
My daughter is very much an introvert so it was so important that she had someone with whom she could depend on and a place to feel comfortable while she was away from home. She never wanted to miss going to Newman Center and looked forward to going there everyweek. It is so important that our child be able to practice her faith and to find comfort in the same place as where she gets her education.
I was 13 when I started using drugs, drinking alcohol, and abusing my body. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about killing myself. My family has always meant the world to me, and it seemed like every other year I would lose one to cancer, a car crash, or freak work accident. For this reason I spiraled in and out of depression, and doing the things that hurt me. I was in therapy from the time I was 7 years old until just last year, and anger management for half of that time. I had lost my way, and throughout high school it was a constant battle between who I was becoming and where I actually wanted to be.
I love GW, it was my first and only choice, but I was hit by another pretty big shake in my life before coming. The loss of my uncle, who helped fill the void left by my father’s death, passed away from Pneumonia a little while before my graduation. I had surrounded myself with people I thought could “help” me, the ones who could make me forget about the pain. Numbing it didn’t help though, and I found myself avoiding everything that had meant the most to be.
I was hit by what we in the faith call “Catholic Guilt”. It’s this absolutely mind numbing guilt when someone asks you, for example, “Have you been to Mass today”. A normal person would shrug it off, but when you are really hit with the guilt it’s almost divine in how powerful it is. This guilt came in being asked if I had gone to the Newman Center by one of my first real friends at GW. When I responded no, she quickly forced my guilt into coming for a visit. I was welcomed by the most sincere and honest people I had ever met, greeted with open arms, laughs, and smiles. No one cared who I was or where I had come from, all they cared about was getting to know me. I was immediately hooked, and haven’t left since.
Father Greg has been an inspiration in my life and helped me bring back my faith in Catholicism and life. I no longer abuse myself in the way I used to, and recently when my grandmother passed I wasn’t left alone. When I told Father Greg I had to leave GW early because my Grandmother was dying, he immediately cancelled his appointments and spent time praying for her with me. A week and a half later, while I was home after my Grandmother had passed, I received a letter from DC. Inside was a card from the Father Greg and dozens of people had sent their prayers for me. Only a couple months after my first visit, and here was Father Greg and the Newman Center thinking about how I was doing and wanting me to know that I was loved.
I can’t think of any of a better community to be a part of. I’m more happy then I’ve ever been, I have amazing friends, and I feel like my life has a purpose. The people around me no longer see the depressed student trying to numb the pain, but someone who likes to give hugs and spend an afternoon baking cupcakes.
I’ve sat in Father Greg’s office and told him every horrible thing I have ever done in my life, and he has never judged me. When I fall into sin again, he’s there with open arms to help me back up again. When I feel like I’m alone, he’s answers his phone at 3 AM. When I am having trouble, he’s there to lend a helping hand. The Chaplain I know is a man who will put out his hand in support for anyone, all you have to do is take it.
I came to George Washington as a grad student, not knowing a soul on campus. I lived off campus, and likely would never have entered the Newman Center if not to grab dinner on Tuesday nights before classes. What I thought would be a free meal every week turned into the most profound religious education of my life. And this was because of Father Greg.
Above all else, I learned from Father Greg the central importance of the Eucharist. Even though I had gone to church my whole life, I scarcely understood what it meant until he constantly explained what it was and how central it was to the faith. It was from that that all of the goodness of the Newman Center flowed. It was under Father Greg’s influence that I first attended Eucharistic Adoration, went to confession more than once a year, and attended Bible study. I started coming to mass at St. Stephens on Sunday nights even though I had to take the metro to and from campus. And under Father Greg, the community at the Newman Center was nothing like I had ever experienced. I had never been around so many young people who were excited to be Catholic. I had never been in a place where God’s presence was so obvious.
As it is written, “you will know them by their fruits”. The spiritual fruit that Father Greg has harvested at the Newman Center is plain to see. In my brief time at GW, I knew multiple young men who entered the seminary. I saw mass attendance increase significantly. I saw a series of students come in as goofy freshmen and become true disciples of Christ.
I came to the Newman Center looking for a free meal, and I found the truest manifestation of the Church of Jesus Christ that I have ever witnessed. All thanks to Father Greg.