What Church Really Is – A Consecrated Building But, Most Importantly, Consecrated People!

joachims closed copy

This post was written by Gregory Minetola, a member of St. Joachim Parish and Keep the Faith in Frankford!

Recently, Joe Taylor and I had a meeting with Fr. Higgins, Pastor of Holy Innocents and Dean of Deanery 12, Lower Northeast Philadelphia, and Joe Paesani, Business Manager. I would not want to comment on the specifics yet I will tell you that it was an open dialogue full of passion and principles on both sides. As I have reflected and prayed on that meeting, a few ideas keep playing in my mind.

The first thing that I have not be able to get past is the idea that they really think there is a Catholic Church in Frankford. When I made the statement there is not a Catholic Church in Frankford I was looked at in disbelief. Joe Paesani stated, “There is a Catholic Church in Frankford, it’s Holy Innocents.” Yes, Holy Innocents does share part of the 19124 zip code yet, we, in Philadelphia, are strongly defined by our neighborhoods. Not only is it where we live, it is where we have loyalty. Some, especially Archbishop Chaput do not understand that because, especially, in his case since he has been in Philadelphia he knows the stats but really doesn’t know his people or the connections we, as Philadelphians, have. In a lecture at St Charles Seminary in Oct 2013 during the Q&A at the end of the lecture he alluded to the fact that Philadelphians often introduce themselves by which parish they are in. He stated no where else do they do this. That is right! We are deeply connected to our neighborhood and the parishes in them. There is a disconnect with our Archbishop. If you look at his public calendar he is very often somewhere else in the country or in the Frankford mapworld other than truly leading his flock. If he was here long enough to learn about our neighborhoods he would learn that Juniata is 1.025 sq miles with 23,000 people to Frankford’s 2.6 sq miles with 56,000 people. The question arises, How can one parish serve so much area effectively and with no one falling through the cracks?

It was interesting on their understanding of why we have an active appeal. They think it is only about the building. To a certain extent it is. It is our Church! In 1843, 20 people meet in a small home to consult and devise plans to build a Catholic chapel. They knew the people in the area needed it. Our ancestors saved, built and sacrificed during the depression for much needed renovations, scraped to send their children to Catholic School and volunteered to do things to make up the difference of what they could not contribute. They were doing it for their faith community. The understanding was that this was our Church with ties to the Archdiocese and in turn Rome. Well, one would say we have been baited and switched. A little known fact is that The Bishops changed that and put our churches “in trust” for the people.

Then, years later the Archdiocese of Philadelphia creates “the PPA process”, which is copied around the country. Then, in our wave of parishes under study with little conversation with the people and very hush-hush meetings, it is decided that St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa, which St. Joachim helped to establish for the Italian immigrants of Frankford, will close and in one document by the Archbishop dissolve and suppress 172+years of history, honor, tradition and leave the community with no church to worship in. Wait, didn’t we build and maintain it? Why have they decided our fate? Church is not about numbers. Where two or more gather in his name! So it is IMG_5982about the building even though it is the third St. Joachim Church. It is our ancestor’s legacy and what they left for us – a comforting place where we can meet socially and spiritually.  Our Church is an inheritance from our grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers. How would you feel if after you parents died your childhood home was taken with no one asking?!! This is what has happened, Our church has been taken!

Fr Higgins and Joe made it clear that without the rental income from the school, we could not have been able to operate the parish.Those properties, too, are our ancestor’s legacy as well. The rental income fact may be true but we did not decide. Pope Francis has called for a smaller church overall that reaches out to those in need. Should we have been the ones to decide our fate? Maybe a storefront church on Frankford Ave. Maybe we sold one or two of those properties? We were not given the chance, it was decided for us. When St. Joachim closed, in one of my letters to the Archbishop, I asked where all of the rental income from the school & convent building went. He,or someone writing for him, stated it stays in the parish. Since St. Joachim Church was closed in June 2013, the parish of Holy Innocents has realized $600,000 plus in revenue from the school alone not counting the convent. What the Archdiocese doesn’t realize many people know is that parishes are required to keep a certain percentage of their funds in a Archdiocesan account that the Archdiocese borrows on and makes investments with.

Cornerstone

Cornerstone for the new church in 1874

Then there is the fact that Fr Higgins is the Dean of our Deanery and pastor of the merged parish. Is this conflict of interest? As he has said many times “I thought there should be a Catholic Church in Frankford, but the Archdiocese didn’t think there should be”.  Why would he say that if he didn’t feel it was right or if he thought our Church could not be supported? One would thinks as the Dean he would say “I think there should be a Catholic Church in Frankford and I am going to fight for one”. This is about obedience. The Archbishop likes to used this word especially with initial contact with us. The clergy with important positions know they have to be obedient to look good in front of their boss and keep those positions of power, potentially even move up. In 2011 now retired Msgr. Rodgers who was the mastermind behind the PPA process said “The role of the Deans is to offer a better means of communication between the Archbishop, the priest and the people”. This quote is very telling. We are told what to do from communication handed down from our Archbishop never having a chance to participate in this process or in communication with the Dean and then Archbishop. This is the PPA process in a nutshell.

I was told to my face in this meeting that “There are very few Catholics in Frankford”, that “The Parish was on life support”, that “There will be no cooperation or collaboration as long as there is an active appeal”, that “We are not going to have people look over our shoulders” , that “Lots of time and money has been wasted on this appeal”, and “Don’t continue”.  Well, our ancestor’s legacy, our history, our spiritual life and our neighborhood is too important to not continue.

A Tale of Two Shepherds

Archbishop and MeWell, Archbishop Chaput, at a lecture he was giving in Manhattan (imagine how many people like us were there) “blasts Vatican debate on family, says ‘confusion is of the devil””. Now when you read this article, I started to wonder if Archbishop Chaput really wants Pope Francis to come here. I have personally heard him speak about how “concerned” and worried Catholics are because of Pope Francis – his words and his actions. He most definitely seems to be speaking for himself. Yet this article should not be a surprise to us as there can be not debate, no discussion with the Archbishop about anything. Does he think his style and words are drawing people back to the church? Is he even helping to keep people in the church? I get concerned about people who always think they’re right. I’m concerned about our local Shepherd telling us “the decision has been made and we are not considering any changes”. Are you as concerned as I? You decide after reading – “Archbishop Chaput blasts Vatican debate on family, says ‘confusion is of the devil'” Thanks to Greg Minetola for sharing this article.
Pope Francis

Thank God for Pope Francis. A light and a beacon that tells us it’s alright to have these discussions. He’s another opener of doors like Pope St. John XXIII. Let’s talk about it – let’s see how we can heal those whose lives have already been broken by society, by the loss of a love intended to be forever through divorce and anyone who feels a distance from Jesus’ love. Pope Francis is not about “winning” or dictating. He’s about making visible the kingdom of heaven on earth. How different than what we’re used to. Pope Francis, himself, is an expression of unity and of bringing all of us together. Here’s a summary of the Synod from the National Catholic Reporter. “Synod a win for Franics and openness”.

I’m glad ours is a church of diversity and expression of that. But we mustn’t let fear or judgement be our guide. We must have the courage of the Holy Spirit! It confirms what we believe. It is even more imperative and necessary that each and every Catholic add their voice to these discussions. Are you willing? Can you believe?

Pope Francis photo credit: KOREA.NET – Official page of the Republic of Korea via photopin cc

Archbishop Chaput: “Laypeople have the exact same dignity as clergy and religious…”

PC LaityWe congratulate Archbishop Chaput on his appointment Thursday by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Our Archbishop has a wonderful way with words and expounds on a wide range of topics regarding Catholic life and beliefs. When you hear him give a homily, you know he is sincere, learned and a man of God. I wonder, though, if it’s his responsibilities that have removed him further from the people, the “laity”, from us. As you know, we are formally appealing to the Vatican Supreme Court to reopen St. Joachim Church. Basically, we’ve done this because no one in this Archdiocese has been willing to talk with us about the real reasons our Church was closed or how being “co-responsible” for our Church (in the words of Pope Benedict XVI) that, if we were truly involved, we could have come up with a different solution altogether rather than closing two churches in Frankford and ending a Catholic presence that has been 170 years strong. No one came to see us; no one visited us; no one asked for our opinions or our ideas. No one has been willing to hear us! Decisions and decrees being made without real and meaningful participation of all those most affected by these dictates always meet with resistance rather than ownership, acceptance and compliance.

I think that’s what surprises the Archbishop the most. He and his staff mean well and expect that we will be “obedient” but if we believe, as he says he does, that the laity are not “second-class members of the body of Christ” then we expect to be treated with the same respect and consideration that he is entitled to expect from us.

The Archbishop wrote a speech for a symposium in Mexico in 2009, “Voices: The Lay State and Religious Liberty”. Because of his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Denver, the Archbishop was unable to attend. He sent one of his senior advisors, Mr Luis Soto, to give this address on his behalf. You may read the complete text here. What follows is the expert from that speech pertaining to the “lay vocation”:

Here’s my third and final point: the nature of the lay vocation. In May this year, speaking to a pastoral convention of the Diocese of Rome, Benedict XVI made a comment that many people overlooked. But I think his words have exactly the spirit that needs to guide this conference.

He said that the Church needs “a change in mindset, particularly concerning laypeople. They must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy, but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity.”

Christians are in the world, but not of the world. We belong to God, and our home is heaven. But we’re here for a reason: to change the world, for the sake of the world, in the name of Jesus Christ. That work belongs to each of us. Nobody will do it for us. And the idea that we can somehow accomplish that work without engaging — in a hands-on way — the laws, the structures, the public policies, the habits of mind and the root causes that sustain injustice in our countries, is a delusion.

Laypeople are not second-class disciples in this task. They’re not second-class members of the Body of Christ. There is no such creature as a “second-class” Christian. Baptism is a sacrament of redemption; but also of equality in God’s love. Laypeople have exactly the same dignity as clergy and religious — and this moment in history cries out for mature, intelligent, zealous and faithful lay leaders in an urgent way.

Priests and bishops cannot do the work of laypeople. That’s not what Christ called us to do. It’s not what the Church formed us to do. Our role as clergy in bringing Jesus Christ to the world, and the world to Jesus Christ, flows through you lay men and women who hear the Word of God; who love the Church for the truth she teaches; and then bring that Catholic witness into society to change it and sanctify it in Christ’s name.

Every Christian life, and every choice in every Christian life, matter eternally. Laypeople, not clergy, have the task of evangelizing the secular world, and only you can do it as God intended.

So never be embarrassed by your baptism. Never be afraid of the consequences of your faith. Take pride in your Catholic identity for the blessing and mandate it is. Act on it. Share it with others. More than any other country in this hemisphere, Mexico and its soil have been made holy by the blood of martyrs. All of us who are Catholic in America, north and south, need to revere that gift. We need to find in it once again the confidence to live and preach our faith – in everything we do — without apologies or excuses. And if we do that, then we won’t need to ask what the “new evangelization” looks like. We’ll know – because we’ll be incarnating it in our lives.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Another very well-respected Catholic blogger, Rocco Palmo, who lives here in Philadelphia as well, in his blog, “Whispers in the Loggia”, also wrote a post about the Archbishop’s new appointment titled, “Quote of the Day”. It is well worth reading!

We will send a congratulatory letter to the Archbishop and again ask if he is willing to meet with us and show by practice that he means what he preaches. We learn by our experiences and the unexpected closing of our church has given us our voice and a greater sense of determination to live as witnesses and disciples of Christ.