A Community Shares Tears and Grace

community in wordsBad things happen to very good people. I had seen this story on the news, one of too many. As I have been talking to our parishioners this week, a Dad told me that his two sons went to school with the victim of this latestes senseless murder, Don Green, and they were “feeling the shock, so senseless” an act. If you’re unaware of what happened Friday night, you can read about it here – “Two Suspects Sought After Juniata Man Gunned Down”. The name, “Don” stuck in my mind and I checked Facebook and realized that I had talked to Don’s Dad, also Don, when we were distributing our information to our fellow parishioners at Holy Innocents. Don had stood outside on a dark, cold, windy Saturday night and listened to me as I explained our desire and need for a weekly Mass in Frankford. His son had gone ahead to the car (I bet to warm it up!!) and waited patiently while Don took the time to listen. A true act of kindness! Don is very involved in Holy Innocents and his community. I shared the story with my brother-in-law because he works at Naval Support Activity on Oxford Ave with Don. He knew Don and had volunteered in a tutoring program that Don ran at Carnell Elementary School. Our prayers, hearts and thoughts go out to the Green family and to all whose lives young Don already touched or would have touched in the future. We are all one community – one in Christ. I am respectful of all that must be happening at Holy Innocents as they prepare to say good-bye to Don, a young man taken much too soon. Lord, may you bless, in particular, the Green family, with all the love and support that they need, during this most difficult time and may the community also surround them with all that they will need.

I have been calling our St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa parishioners regarding a petition to reopen St. Joachim – to get a weekly Mass in Frankford. I realized that Frankford is the community that has kept us going since St. Joachim closed in June 2013. Community is the most often mentioned word encountered when I talk to people and their experiences since both Catholic Churches closed in Frankford. That’s what we miss and that’s what we try to hold on to and it’s what we look for at the many parishes we visit trying to find that “Frankford style of community”! It’s rare. It’s a community where you can speak the truth and people will listen and let you have your say. We may not always agree but we try to work it out. We try to find that common ground – which is our faith – which is ourselves!! 

Father Higgins announced over the weekend at Mass that the St. Joachim convent had been sold for $200,000 to the Capuchins. I called Father Higgins this morning and left a message hoping to learn more about the purchase. I also told the secretary that we are sorry for the grief the Green family are experiencing and that all are in our prayers. We are respectful of all that must be happening and that learning more will just have to wait for the appropriate time.

Well, we do know that Archbishop Chaput is a Capuchin. We know that the Capuchins run St. John the Evangelist Church on 13th St. But we don’t know what plans they have for Frankford yet.  Until, we know more, we must keep working to reopen St. Joachim and doing what we think (with God’s help) will bring that about. 

As for our Frankford community, we do know what has been said up until now. The Archbishop tells us that Father Higgins makes all the decisions for the Worship Site. We know that Father Higgins has told us nothing would change as long as he is Pastor. We know that he did not even acknowledge our requests for a Mass for the Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Joachim on December 13, 2015. Our experience tells us that for over 2 years and 7 months, the community of Frankford, the community of St. Joachim, the community of Mater Dolorosa and the community of St. Joan of Arc have not received  compassion or a willingness to honor or value our communities.

We do know that at St. Joachim, Father Steve had us say a prayer to Padre Pio before Mass during the time of the Area Pastoral Planning Process. We know that Padre Pio was a Capuchin. We know that we’ve had the Blessed Mother’s ear, the love of her Son, and the watchful presence of His grandfather, St. Joachim. We know “by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

We know that we are steadfast in our hope and belief in the need for a Catholic Church in Frankford. We know we are Keep(ing) the Faith in Frankford and beyond.

 

Can We Be People of La Mancha?

Man of La ManchaGod never asks us to do anything easy and neither does the Pope with his belief of mercy for all. Every time I want to get angry and ask for God’s wrath and mighty justice, I struggle with having compassion and mercy towards Archbishop Chaput and Father Higgins for their actions in closing our two Churches in Frankford. Their ease in refusing to see the hurt, the damage done to the faith and to the faithful, not just in Frankford, but throughout the Archdiocese truly boggles my mind. I choose God always so I choose mercy. Whether your Church remained open, was closed and merged, or now, partnered with another parish, we are all affected as we are all members of the “One Body of Christ”.

I seek forgiveness from all those whose parishes started closing in the struggling urban areas of our city starting in back in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. I’m sure I felt sadness as my Mother’s beloved parish, Our Lady of Holy Souls, went through many transitions, but is still alive as Our Lady of Hope. Where was my voice in outcry at the beginning of the abandonment of our city? If you haven’t read this post, “Dooming Us To Repeat History” by David Harris, please take the time and inform yourselves that this effort, especially closing Churches within city boundaries, began long ago. So many people that I’ve met have told me they’ve attended Churches throughout our metropolitan area that were closed, merged and closed again. The sadness is real and did this have to be?

Well, that’s why we need to be the people of La Mancha? Who are the people of La Mancha? You and I should consider ourselves people of La Mancha! We are very real – we believe that we can affect change – and those of us who opposed the severely-flawed Area Parish Pastoral Planning Process can take heart today that we did, ultimately, affect change for those parishes undergoing the process after us. There’s a new model the Archdiocese is using, “Partner Parishes” where a Church is not closed but partnered with another nearby. The “Partner Parishes” share a Pastor, staff and combine their Parish Councils. However, since each Church remains a Parish, they each have their own Finance Council. It seems this model has already been used in other Dioceses – why was Philadelphia so slow to adopt it?

David Harris shared with me earlier this week, the January 10, 2016 Weekly Bulletin from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary regarding the outcome for the five Port Richmond parishes in PPA 570. You may remember they were granted additional time last year to more fully come to a consensus on their futures. (I checked the other parish websites but the weekly bulletin for this week was not yet posted as of this writing.) You can read their decisions that have been submitted to the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and the Archbishop and the explanation of how they arrived at them pictured below here on page 3.Nativity BVM January 10 2016 bulletin page 3

We pray with the parishioners of Our Lady Help of Christians, which will become a Worship Site of Nativity BVM that their Pastor has the mercy to see to it that they have a Weekly Mass celebrated there at the Worship Site. That was all we wanted in Frankford – a weekly Mass. As many have said, “What’s so hard about that?”

What has Archbishop Chaput, the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and, hopefully, the Pastors learned about this PPA Process? A lot and it shows. Here are some changes to the process since we underwent it in 2012-2013:

  • Meetings were held to “reach agreement”. For PPA 560 (the faithful in Harrowgate, Frankford and Juniata), the meetings were simply to get it done.
  • When “the Committee was unable to reach consensus”, they were given more time.PPA 570’s experience reflects a real process with invested members treated respectfully and “had the opportunity to contribute and present his or her viewpoints throughout the discussions”. The antithesis of what happened in our process. In PPA 560, we had two Committee meetings and then it was between the Pastors. Father Higgins and the Archdiocese ultimately decided.
  • “Every member of the PPA 570 Committee stated that he/she would accept and support the restructuring decision made by the ASPC, regardless of what it ultimately would be.” The committee members also had to state this later “publicly”. Someone didn’t want trouble after the decisions were made. I went to our archives to see what I was doing when St. Joachim first closed. Take a look here – Keep the Faith in Frankford. As a member of the Transition Team, I “walked the walk” and gave the “new” parish of Holy Innocents the openness they deserved. I attend Holy Innocents but fervently believe that we in Frankford need and are worthy of a weekly Mass.
  • As already explained there is a new,  to Philadelphia, “Parish Partnership” model. Who has the courage to “right the unrightable wrongs” to parishes that didn’t have this opportunity for consideration? It only leads us to believe that once the Archdiocese took the assets of the 46 plus Churches closed/merged, they had “righted their financial ship” and didn’t have to take such drastic measures. We believe those drastic measures were never needed had the Archbishop and our hierarchy been straightforward, honest and transparent with us rather than using the guise of the PPA process. Real estate, you’re money is in real estate was the rallying cry of those advising our Archbishop!
  • Keeping the finances separate is a good idea and there must have been some trouble or feedback about combining financials earlier. We estimate, and have proof from financial information shared by Father Thomas Higgins, Pastor, Holy Innocents, that rental income from St. Joachim School was $364,505 and Mater Dolorosa $231,952 for two years totaling $1,190,914 plus Mater Dolorosa had over $900,000 in the bank thus the assets of Holy Innocents gained over $2 million dollar when we both closed. Father Higgins, at the time was Dean, and we believe there was a real conflict of interest. Nevertheless, in spite of our contributions, Father Higgins reports as of this coming fiscal year (2016), Holy Innocents is projecting a loss of $776,871.00
  • Partnering allows “each parish in the partnership (to) remain a parish”. The parish of St. Joachim was suppressed; we’re appealing and believe no decree can suppress a parish community. It doesn’t work that way. We have had a parish in Frankford for over 170 years when 23 men and women first asked for one. We will not let our forebears down.
  • “Pastors and representatives all agree that the success of the process will ultimately depend on members of all parishes embracing the new communities…” Here, we can give you all real advice. Don’t fire people from the Transition Team simply because they used their rights as members of the laity to file a Vatican appeal. Don’t say “the decision is already made and we are not considering any changes.” “Don’t tell your new parishioners that “As long as I’m the Pastor of this parish, nothing is going to change”. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies!

Father Higgins has refused to allow us to use St. Joachim for either private or public worship except for the occasional funeral, wedding and annual Feast Day Mass. The Congregation of the Clergy in January, 2015 established a precedent in the Diocese of Greensburg in Western Pennsylvania that every Worship Site also have a Mass on their Dedication Day. We wrote and emailed Father Higgins and he ignored us. We have looked to Archbishop Chaput to help us gain justice for Frankford as we have been totally ignored within Holy Innocents. St. Joan of Arc, a Worship Site, has a weekly Mass.

We celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Port Richmond and keep all those, especially those of Our Lady Help of Christians in our hearts and prayers. Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us! The people of La Mancha are with you all as we continue our efforts (to reopen St. Joachim and once again and to have a weekly Mass in our community) and as you await the final decisions of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and the Archbishop in late January or early February. We’re very much aware that such recommendations have not always been so easily accepted. St. Joachim was supposed to stay open, too! The Holy Spirit is with us and our faith is strong! The people of La Mancha still believe that for us things “are impossible but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Here’s a soulful rendition by Luther Vandross of “The Impossible Dream”! Thank you for reading and enjoy!

Mega-Mergers Do Not Make Us Mighty!

merger aheadIt began, for us, in 2012. Ascension of Our Lord Church in Kensington would close in October 2012. You can read more about the parish here. Parishioners had a choice of going to Holy Innocents Church or Visitation Church. How much choice the parishioners really had in this decision, they would have to tell you.

St. Joachim, Mater Dolorosa and St. Joan of Arc were part of the Area Parish Pastoral Planning Process taking place in our Deanery (560) during 2012 and culminating with “recommendations” and “decisions” in mid-2013. If you have been following our story, you know that the parishioners of St. Joachim were not involved in this “process” which we maintain is severely flawed for many reasons. Here’s a brief synopsis of our cause. Much has transpired in the more than two years of our Vatican appeal (it’s still active and we are waiting for a hearing before the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican Supreme Court).

We were warmly invited by Dean Jon Clodfelter to work out of St. Mark’s Church. St. Marks, an Episcopal Church, has a history of working with St. Joachim parishioners before when outbreaks of diseases greatly affected the various waves of immigrants coming to Frankford looking for a better life for themselves and their families. Keep the Faith in Frankford participates in the Dining with Dignity program and does other community events, for free, as well as our public efforts to bring attention to all the churches that have been closed/merged.

Most, if not all, of the people we meet have had contact with Frankford at one time or another. When we tell them we no longer have a Catholic Church in Frankford, they are dumb-founded, as we still are as well. We have not yet had any significant interaction with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, other than for him to tell us that he would no longer answer our letters. We write anyway. Father Thomas Higgins, Pastor, Holy Innocents Parish, has told us many times in one way or another, that “As long as I am the pastor of the parish, nothing is going to change”.

Yet, we continue to work to re-open St. Joachim. (We began wanting a Catholic Church in Frankford but only the parishioners of St. Joachim filed a Vatican Appeal.) While St. Joachim is a Worship Site, in effect, it’s closed unless there’s a request for a funeral or a wedding. We have an annual Feast Day Mass in July and we are hoping for a Mass in honor of our dedication of the new Church, December 13, 1981. This second Mass resulted from a Decree this past January that a Worship Site should have at least two Masses. This decree also suggested that weekly Masses do not always have to be at the main Church.

The laity know that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has bigger problems than just closing/merging Churches. They are losing souls because the pastoral care we are receiving is not about God’s saving love, mercy and compassion but the need to fill the Church coffers – it’s always more, more, more. This week’s Bulletin from Holy Innocents shows an $11 decline from last year. $11, I know, not bad, but when you figure that before the mergers, Holy Innocents had less than 2100 families and after the mergers almost 2900 families, there’s a much deeper problem. Also, Pope Francis was just here in Philadelphia and you know, the hierarchy was hoping for a resurgence in faith based on his visit. I think we were just sad when he left.

Both Archbishop Chaput and Monsignor Daniel J. Kutys, Moderator of the Curia, tell us that “The parish of Holy Innocents is under Father Higgins’ leadership so it is up to him to decide what worship sites will or will not be used based on his experience of the needs of the parish at large”. Every liturgical season for two years, we have asked Father Higgins for services at St. Joachim. We have asked for a Mass, for an opportunity for us to hold a Prayer Service (we’re hearing about mission and lay leadership) and to use our Church for private worship. All for naught. After our Feast Day Mass this past July, Father Higgins wanted to have a “conversation” after Mass. We believed he was looking for real solutions to real problems he has. But here again, nothing.

We made and sent a proposal to Father Higgins. You can see our proposal below.

SJ Proposal Possible Meeting Sept 2015

Here is Father Higgins’ response.

Higgins Re St Joachim Proposal

Now, think about it. Father Higgins was interviewed and told Joyce Evans, Fox 29 News, that 4 of his 5 Masses aren’t full and could use “hundreds of more people”. (See this interview and our response here online.) Say a Mass in Frankford, you would get our collection! Father Higgins wants to tell you, those who are already attending Mass, the need for giving more during the Masses on November 14th and 15th. This doesn’t make sense. Well, we have another idea for you, Father Higgins. Come and use St. Joachim as the main worship site. Our church is newer, smaller, easier to maintain and upkeep and we have a parking lot. Think this is a crazy idea? It’s no crazier than closing two churches in Frankford.