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 CNS Story:

FOLEY-CHURCH Nov-28-2007 (500 words) With photos. xxxi

New U.S. cardinal says St. Sebastian is reminder of defending faith

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Celebrating Mass where St. Sebastian was killed under Roman persecution, U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley said the third-century martyrdom should remind modern Christians of the importance of defending one's faith.

St. Sebastian was executed because he refused to renounce his Christian beliefs to the Emperor Diocletian, Cardinal Foley said. Today his witness is a lesson in how pagan civilizations pass from the scene, he said.

"False religions will die. The true religion endures. No one can kill the true faith," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Foley celebrated Mass Nov. 27 in the Church of St. Sebastian on the Palatine, which was symbolically placed under his pastoral care as part of his elevation to cardinal.

The church, whose foundations date back at least to the 10th century, stands amid the ruins of imperial Roman residences. It was built on the site of ancient Rome's Temple of the Unconquered Sun.

The small interior was packed with pilgrims from Cardinal Foley's native Philadelphia, including friends, relatives and former classmates.

The cardinal greeted them all from the altar and said it amazed him to think that even his eighth-grade teacher, Sister Elizabeth Gorvin, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, was in Rome to help him celebrate.

Sister Gorvin said afterward that she never thought her young student would become a cardinal, but that he really hadn't changed much.

"He was the same then as he is now: a very simple, very nice person, with a great sense of humor," she said.

Also in attendance were white-robed members of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, the chivalric order of which Cardinal Foley was made grand master earlier this year.

In his sermon, Cardinal Foley explained the story of St. Sebastian, who is usually depicted in paintings as pierced with arrows. But according to tradition, the saint recovered from those wounds -- only to defy the emperor again when asked to repudiate Christianity.

Roman soldiers then clubbed him to death and threw his body in a ditch near the site of the church. His body was eventually moved to the catacombs, but the tradition of worshipping at the place of his martyrdom goes back at least 1,000 years.

"Isn't it impressive?" Cardinal Foley said. "May we remain as faithful to Jesus Christ as did St. Sebastian and those Christians who have worshipped here over the centuries."

Among those who joined him for the Mass was Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. The rector of the church, Father Alvaro Cacciotti, warmly welcomed the new cardinal and told him he should feel at home.

The church, which is mainly used today for weddings and retreats, holds about 90 people. Cardinal Foley said lack of funds and Rome building restrictions prevent making it any bigger.

He invited those in attendance to come back and join him for liturgies, but "in groups of no more than 50."

END


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