For the second time this year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, visited New Paltz to address the local Catholic contingency.
“Young, Merciful and Over-Joyed! An Evening with Cardinal Dolan” was held on Wednesday, Oct. 5 in the Multi-Purpose Room of the Student Union Building. Dolan was introduced by both SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian and Bishop Dominick Lagonegro of Newburgh. The audience included SUNY New Paltz’s Catholic Campus Ministry, along with youth groups from Vassar College, Rockland County Community College and Mount St. Mary’s. Dolan’s previous visit came on June 4 for the 50th anniversary celebration of St. Joseph’s Church.
The evening began with a recitation of the Christian hymnal “All Creatures of Our God and King” and proceeded into a short prayer session. From there, Dolan began to speak about coming to the Hudson Valley to be in the presence of young Catholics.
“I was offered to go to the Mets game tonight,” Dolan said with a laugh. “But I chose to be here with you all and I’m very happy to be here. And God willing, there will be more baseball in the future.”
On the day after the feast of St. Francis, Dolan spoke on two specific themes, mercy and joy, focusing on how they relate to a person’s relationship with others and God. Dolan emphasized that “God’s mercy lasts forever” as he praised the closing months of the Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis on Dec. 8, 2015.
“Pope Francis wrote a book, a bestseller in Italy, entitled ‘The Name of God is Mercy,’” Dolan said. “Once you strip back the caricature that has been made of our wonderful Pope Francis, you realize that he is constantly talking about asking God for mercy.”
Dolan cited “presumption” and “despair” as the primary issues leading people to surrender to sin. He said that people could find inspiration in Jesus Christ and Pope Francis, who both identified as sinners. In doing so, they admitted their faults and plead for God’s mercy, a lesson that Dolan stated is applicable to people of faith. He also tied this in when recollecting the death of Judas Iscariot and the redemption of Peter.
“None of us have sins so great that we can’t be forgiven,” Dolan said. “We can’t do anything to merit God’s mercy, we can only pray for God’s mercy.”
Throughout his speech, Dolan interwove stories of Catholics enduring personal struggle, including when he met a suicide hotline worker named Elijah, who was one of their most successful employees. Dolan later discovered that this was due to his past self-harm, which Dolan said allowed Elijah to “extend God’s mercy to others.”
Afterwards, Dolan answered select questions from the audience, including whether or not he had ever been shaken in his faith and what his favorite moment of his faith journey was. Responding to the latter, Dolan spoke about when his niece, Shannon, was diagnosed with bone cancer. Dolan at the time was living in Rome, across the street from a children’s hospital named Bambino Gesù Hospital, which translates to “Baby Jesus Hospital.”
He said that he was depressed and surrounded by the screams of children and their mothers and even saw a father carrying out a small casket “the size of two shoeboxes.” As he shut his window to quiet the noise, Dolan recalled John 6:68, a Bible verse that has remained with him since.
“Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”