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Spotlight Report

At BC, students watch with optimism, awe

By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff, 7/31/2003

NEWTON - As a Boston College senior, Tim Arth received an internship at the Archdiocese of Boston, and with it an unexpected ticket into history: an invitation to Archbishop Sean O'Malley's installation.

He could only describe as "awesome" the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of cheering, clapping Catholics as O'Malley entered the Cathedral of the Holy Cross yesterday in Boston's South End.

"I've always seen that kind of enthusiasm at a sporting event, but this was so much more important," said Arth, 21, of Falmouth. "It was the new leader of 2 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston."

On the BC campus, just across the street from O'Malley's reception at St. John's Seminary, most young Catholics weren't so closely involved in the day's events. Students ate cereal for lunch or read Dostoevsky on their work break instead of tuning into the ceremonies on television. But they were keenly aware of O'Malley's arrival, and reflected on how the friar-turned-archbishop could help repair the damage wrought by the clergy abuse crisis.

Yesterday, signs looked good, at least to the next generation of church faithful. Despite the anger they shared over the scandal, many students spoke optimistically about the chance to heal.

Pete DeMartini, a 22-year-old theology major, said O'Malley's track record cleaning up after abuse scandals in Fall River and Palm Beach was a good sign. "He seems like a man with a lot of compassion for the victims," said DeMartini, a senior who lives in Brighton and attends Mass every Sunday. "I hope that's where his focus stays, on the victims."

This period of hardship is forcing the church "to go through a stage of purification," DeMartini said. "Some people will lose their faith, but those with stronger faith will work hard and bring the church to a better place with a better focus: on Jesus's love, not on `How can we save the hierarchy?"'

Other young Catholics said O'Malley's down-to-earth persona had a strong appeal.

"He's definitely a fresh face," said sophomore Chris Fadeff. "He seems humble. He seems empathetic."

Kevin Collins, 20, and classmate Megan Matiasek, both of whom were on campus working as orientation counselors, spoke passionately about their own experiences with the Catholic Church in college. They praised priests who ate peanut butter and jelly with them in the dining hall, and said they have felt encouraged to explore their spirituality, not necessarily to follow church doctrine by rote.

But they also expressed concern that the conservative politics of O'Malley and the Vatican leadership will continue to alienate young Americans. "The church hasn't recognized the need to change with the people, and that has been a problem throughout history," Collins said. On the question of gay marriage, which the Vatican opposes, Collins asked, "What is the church holding on to? What is it afraid of?"

Some students said that, while many young Catholics stray from church teachings, they will continue to look to the church to help shape their morals.

"Maybe the church is a little out of step with where it should be, but in a lot of cases it's American social values that are out of step," said DeMartini. "There's always an argument in my head, `Do I agree with the church on this?"'

Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com.

This story ran on page A7 of the Boston Globe on 7/31/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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