by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The visit of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn will live forever in the memory of our Archdiocese.
Many have thanked me for inviting the cardinal. In reality, I played a very small role in the cardinal’s visit to our archdiocese, but I benefited greatly from his time with us. Cardinal Schönborn’s visit to the archdiocese was a tremendous personal grace. He provided me with a beautiful, if challenging, example of what it means to be a shepherd after the heart of Jesus Christ.
On Jan. 30 around 10:30 p.m. Cardinal Schönborn arrived at the convent of the Little Sisters of the Lamb in Kansas City, Kan. By that time, the cardinal had been traveling for more than 24 hours. If I were him, the only thing that I would have wanted to do at that moment was to go to bed.
When we drove down Boeke Street in Kansas City, Kan., it was lined with people holding candles and balloons. Musicians and dancers were there to celebrate the arrival of this special guest to their neighborhood. The cardinal could not have been more gracious, attempting to greet personally every individual.
The Little Sisters told me that Cardinal Schönborn was the first person in the chapel the next morning. Despite the busy day that lay in front of him, he asked the Sisters if it was possible to invite their friends and neighbors to come back that night so he could spend more time with them.
On Sunday morning, I arrived at 8:30 a.m. at the little Sisters convent to join the cardinal and the Sisters for morning prayer. As part of our prayer, Cardinal Schönborn, on behalf of the Community of the Lamb, presented me with a beautiful wooden pectoral cross with an etching of The Lamb. On the back of the cross in Latin is the motto for the community: “Wounded, I will never cease to love.”
The Little Sisters arranged for me to have a private breakfast with the cardinal. He was very interested in hearing about the life of the church in northeast Kansas. He spoke with great admiration for his former professor, Pope Benedict XVI. The cardinal also shared some of the difficult challenges the church faces in Austria and throughout Western Europe.
Cardinal Schönborn related how his own study of the Fathers of the Church as a young Dominican friar had been a great blessing and preserved him from becoming swept up in much of the theological confusion so prevalent in the late 1960s. It was during this same period that the cardinal met Little Sister Marie, the future foundress of the Community of the Lamb. Cardinal Schönborn spoke with great affection about his friendship with the Community of the Lamb and the many blessings he had experienced because of his association with the Little Sisters.
At noon, the cardinal celebrated Mass for an overflow crowd in St. Benedict’s Abbey Church in Atchison. After Mass, he patiently posed for many photos and greeted as many faculty and students as possible. The cardinal’s lecture that afternoon focused on the essential relationship between faith and reason. He made the case why faith never needs to be fearful of science or any authentic pursuit of truth. The cardinal noted that science was premised on an understandable order in nature. Bluntly he stated, it was simply “stupid” to believe that the world was the product of chance.
After his lecture, the cardinal again patiently posed for pictures with as many groups and individuals as possible until we absolutely had to depart for vespers and dinner with the priests of the archdiocese. In his homily, he spoke words of encouragement and support to our priests. After dinner, the cardinal did not wish to leave until he had the opportunity to greet individually each priest.
Around 9 p.m., we returned to the Little Sisters of the Lamb convent, where quite a crowd had assembled. About 60 people crammed into the biggest room in the convent. The cardinal invited everyone to describe how they had come to know the Little Sisters. It was touching to hear the testimonies of the many blessings the Little Sisters had brought to so many lives in such a short time.
Cardinal Schönborn came to the archdiocese because of his love for the Community of the Lamb. The Little Sisters made their first foundation in Kansas City, Kan., because Father Anthony Ouellette, one of our young priests, became friends with the Little Sisters while he was studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Father Anthony introduced me to the foundress, Little Sister Marie, during one of my visits to Rome. Like so many others, I was immediately captivated by the Little Sisters of the Lamb — the beauty of their communal prayer, their love for the poor, their simplicity of life and their joyful witness of the Gospel. I assured Little Sister Marie that whenever the Community of the Lamb was prepared to establish a convent in the United States, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas would warmly welcome the Little Sisters.
And the rest is, as they say, history.
In the turbulence of the 1960s, God used their love for the writings of the early Church Fathers to bring together the lives of a young Dominican friar and a young Dominican Sister. Many years later, a young seminarian would introduce his new archbishop to that same Sister, who had become the foundress of the Community of the Lamb. As a result of the Little Sisters
of the Lamb’s convent in Kansas City, Kan., the Dominican friar, who was now the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, came to visit our archdiocese. Is not God’s providence beautiful?
Cardinal Schönborn made a lasting impression on the Catholic community of northeast Kansas. Even more so, the Little Sisters are touching powerfully the hearts of everyone who encounters these joyful ambassadors of the Lamb.