• April 27, 2009

Tribute to Father Michael Sepp

Father Michael Sepp, Bronx (NY).

Reverend Michael Sepp, the widely-loved pastor of Sacred Heart Church in the Bronx (NY), was diag­nosed with lung cancer in January 2008 and died on March 13, 2009. He was a great sup­port to the foun­da­tion of the first Heart’s Home in the US and a close friend of our com­mu­nity.

I was deeply moved by the last months of Fr. Michael, that brought out his close rela­tion­ship with God and bore wit­ness to the fact that this rela­tion­ship makes a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence in the way we go through the worst sit­u­a­tions of life.

When we met a few years ago, it was not easy for me to enter in con­tact with him, since my English was not that good and his patience not so exten­sible. But then I real­ized that his impa­tience was due to his eager­ness to serve: his pre­cious time was shared between prayer and his parish­ioners. He vis­ited the sick people and the home­bound, lis­tened to his parish­ioners at the end of every mass, prayed for them, prayed with them, sought solu­tions for housing issues, orga­nized food pantries... All his atten­tion was actu­ally focused on the people that Heart’s Home was serving and I was touched by this American priest praying on his knees among Latinos and sharing their devo­tion to the Sacred Heart or the Virgin Mary.
On Easter cel­e­bra­tion 2008, Fr. Michael announced that he had cancer. From this time, his parish­ioners would not alter their sup­port and tes­ti­monies of affec­tion to this man who was a real shep­herd to his people. Heart’s Home moved to Brooklyn but the com­mu­nity kept on vis­iting him. During these visits, he would entrust us his phys­ical pain and weak­ness, his wor­ries and wishes for the parish. The more I saw him, the more radiant he would appear to me.
In February 2009, on our very last visit to him with Sister Regine, the atmo­sphere in the rec­tory was par­tic­u­larly heavy, con­sid­ering the seri­ous­ness of his sit­u­a­tion. Fr Michael nev­er­the­less greeted us with a gen­erous smile. Then he said to us: «when I was told I had cancer, I accepted the dis­ease, I even accepted the fact that I would die but I could not accept the idea to suffer. Our bodies are so reluc­tant when facing suf­fering! These past few months, I have how­ever under­stood that I have to embrace suf­fering as well. For if I want to live com­pas­sion until the end with Christ and all those who suffer, I must accept the suf­fering. Today, I say «yes». It is cer­tainly painful for my body but my heart and my spirit both say «yes» (…) I have been asking God for a spe­cial grace on the twenty-five-year-old anniver­sary of my ordi­na­tion. Here it is! I thank God because if I am to keep living, this dis­ease would have made me closer to God and a better priest. And if I die, then I’ll die a better priest!».

Fr. Michael def­i­nitely gave us a great lesson of humanity: an eternal grat­i­tude for the past, a real enthu­siasm for the pre­sent, a deep love for his fel­lows accom­pa­nied by a great desire of Good for them, a dis­arming sim­plicity, no more expec­ta­tions than what is already given by reality. This is Freedom, isn’t it?

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