Lackawanna - The Larger Story

The discovery of an alleged "sleeper cell" in Lackawanna with reported ties to al-Qaida has shaken all of us to our socks. Of course much more work has to be done and clarifications have to be made before we can draw definitive conclusions on Lackawanna ties with terrorism.

One thing, however, is very clear up front. We have to be extremely diligent to prevent any sign of bias or bigotry against people of Yemenite ancestry. As we did last year in the immediate aftermath of "9/11," so again this year we have been speaking out against bigotry aimed at Muslims, Arabs, Arab-Americans, and now with specific concern for Yemenites.

The Yemenite people in Lackawanna have distinguished themselves for hard work and strong family bonds. They work in Catholic social service agencies and Catholic health care institutions. The wonderful Yemenite children attend Catholic schools. Father Peter Drilling, Pastor of Saint Anthony's Parish in Lackawanna and esteemed professor at Christ the King Seminary, has established fine relationships, formally and informally, with the Yemenite people, who live in immediate proximity to the church.

We should note here also that in recent years, Catholic-Muslim dialogues have been increasing in our Diocese both in number and in significant content.

Tragic Paradox

A tragic paradox is unfolding here. Representatives of the media from all over the United States and various parts of the world have descended on Lackawanna to identify the city with terrorism. Who would have imagined it? Lackawanna, the City of Charity!

Larger Story

I do hope the media will take a closer look at Lackawanna. Find out why it is called the City of Charity. Western New York knows the story. It is the story of Father Nelson Baker, and the story goes on. It deserves national and international attention.

Ordained on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1876, Father Baker served 59 of his 60 years as a priest in Lackawanna, until he died at the age of 95 on July 29, 1936. He was the leader whose inspiration and indefatigable work, in God's grace, brought about and developed the institutions of charity that have been the pride of Lackawanna for generations and, we pray, will continue for generations yet to be.

The list is staggering: St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum, St. John's Protectory, Our Lady of Victory Infant Home (which continues to care for the most physically handicapped people in the country), two missions, two homes for working girls, a home for working boys, trade schools, a farm, Our Lady of Victory Hospital, an elementary school, a high school, and finally Our Lady of Victory Basilica which he began in 1921 at the age of 80 and completed in 1926, with all the bills paid at the time it was finished.

Of course the story is not merely one about institutions. It is the story of Father Baker's personal charity and concern for countless people of all ages. It is a story of sanctity, and we pray that his hoped for canonization some day will bring that story of inspiration and edification all over the world.

For now we are grateful that the inspiration and the works are here. Naturally changes have been made. Father Baker made many changes in his own time to meet changing needs and to adapt to new circumstances. Baker-Victory Services continue to expand and provide state-of-the-art help to so many people in serious need. Our Lady of Victory Basilica remains a magnificent shrine encouraging holiness in pilgrims coming from near and far. Pastoral, educational, and health services continue to thrive under the patronage of Our Lady of Victory, and under the enlightened leadership of Monsignor Robert Wurtz, Pastor of the parish, and all his colleagues.

The story radiates through the other six Catholic parishes of Lackawanna and throughout Western New York. The Catholic Charities' agency in the middle of the Yemenite neighborhood is one of 62 Catholic Charities agencies spread throughout the eight counties of Western New York. The people of Western New York respond with generosity that is an example for the world. The Catholic Charities Appeal this past year showed a total contribution of $10,760,000. Given the size of the population of our diocese, that is a goal for any diocese in the country devoutly to wish for.

Fortunately the story of generosity is a story that applies to Western New Yorkers generally. When people here know the need, they respond, and do so with admirable benevolence. Time after time, need after need.

Whatever be the story of terrorist links, we pray it will be uncovered completely and properly addressed, for the safety of the world.

It would be helpful, also, if the larger story of Lackawanna, the City of Charity, were told at the same time, for the inspiration of the world.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
September 24, 2002