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!

We Possess Divine Truths But Is Our Hierarchy Listening To Our Human Truths, Too?

Satan may be aTime with Godfoot but it took me at least 30 minutes to troubleshoot why the Fox 29 News video wasn’t playing. For you tech types, was it the embed code? Was it a problem with WordPress? No, it was as simple as the “Play” button is overtop the white cloud on the left. Who knew? Now you do and, hopefully, you’ll take the time to view it. Give the first movie a moment to start. Also, therein lies the answer to all of our problems – with God, high above the clouds and that’s where we need to direct our attentions so that we can make a difference in this earthly world here below.

Deacon Phil Geliebter of St. Mark’s Church is a sharing guy and I had just read one of his inspirations today and thought it was perfect for right here. Thanks, Deacon Phil! I also used it for our 8 AM Prayer Service Announcement outside St. Joachim tomorrow morning.

The title of this blog post came to mind because, as Catholics, we do have many beliefs that we consider to also be truths of the Church. Much like our Declaration of Independence has certain truths that our country is based on. But there is a problem – our church hierarchy is spending so much time trying to counteract the voice of the laity when this time and effort could be so better spent in us listening to each other and finding a way to solve the urgent issues of today’s church. As you know, our efforts were featured in the September issue of Philadelphia Magazine in the Bob Huber article titled, “Archbishop Charles Chaput: The Hardliner”As the Archdiocese was aware of this impending article, Father Higgins is interviewed to counteract us. And so it goes! So, we give you both versions of the story. Please watch both videos! Our churches depend on you being informed!

Last night on Fox 29 this segment aired about Holy Innocents and about many of us. Keep the Faith in Frankford continues to, as my Aunt Pearl would say, “Speak the truth” and try to get justice not only for the closed churches in Frankford but for all closed churches in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Rather than writing a long explanation of our response to this report, I make a video, too, which I hope you’ll take the time to watch. We would love to hear your “truths”, too! We are brothers and sisters in the one Jesus Christ, who can unite us all!

Keeping It Real – Is St. Joachim a Worship Site…Or not?

Do you believe that St. Joachim RC Church should be used more often, providing pastoral care now lacking? Is St. Joachim a “Worship Site”? As Advent draws to a close, I wanted you to know our efforts to have St. Joachim truly be a “Worship Site” as the Archdiocese itself defines one. We have written to Father Higgins (cc’ing Archbishop Chaput) several times during this year requesting services at St. Joachim other than for our funerals and weddings. You can read our latest letter for yourself here – Letter to Father Higgins Nov 17 2014. In this letter, we asked for:

  • A weekly Advent Mass or allow us to conduct a weekly Prayer Service inside the Church (after approval of the Prayer Service);
  • A special Feast Day Mass on Monday, Dec. 8, as our beloved Blessed Mother’s parents were Sts. Joachim and Ann; and
  • A Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day

We also said that We, the laity, are willing to provide what spiritual care we can for the parish, why not let us use the Worship Site to do that?” We can do a prayer service or a blessing of the Advent Wreath by the rights given to us with our Baptism.

For the first time in over 50 years, our Church made me feel like a “guilty Catholic” on Thanksgiving Day. Bob and I went to Mass at Holy Innocents, where we are registered. It was a beautiful Mass. It was trilingual, there before us, the Spanish choir, the Vietnamese choir, the English choir and three priests and a deacon on the altar. I felt guilty because I could get to Holy Innocents but what about my brothers and sisters in Frankford who cannot? I also thought, as beautiful as that Mass was, did we need three priests and a deacon on the altar. Could not one of them be spared to say a Mass for the parishioners of the two churches that were closed in Frankford?

Here is what the official church document says regarding “Regulations for the Use of a Worship Site Within A Parish Other Than the Parish Church”. This can be found on the Archdiocese’s website. There are “just causes” for establishing a worship site and two of them are particulary relevant to us here in Frankford:

  • to allow greater accessibility of the faithful to liturgical services; and
  • to reduce the inconvenience of the faithful traveling a great distance for worship;

These are indeed reasons we should be using St. Joachim Church more often for worship. We know from our parishioners, themselves, that many cannot get to church – except the Mass that’s provided on TV. The Route 89 bus runs every hour on the weekends. These regulations go on to further state that:

  “4. One Mass is permitted to be celebrated on Sundays in a worship site within the parish in addition to those celebrated in the parish church. For pastoral reasons, and when sufficient priests are available, Mass may also be permitted in such a worship site on a holy day of obligation and/or on a weekday. There are 3 priests at Holy Innocents.

   6.  For pastoral reasons, devotional services (such as ceremonies associated with a patronal feast, a public novena, stations of the cross, etc.) also be permitted in a worship site within the parish other than the parish church.”  Here, again, “pastoral” care justifies the use of St. Joachim more often.

David Harris did a report on closed/merged churches regarding their use as a Worship Site. You can see his report here – “List of Worship Sites PPA 2012-2014”.

Father Higgins, Pastor of Holy Innocents, responded that “..the services … requested for St. Joachim’s for December, we already celebrate at Holy Innocents. We are not able to provide these services at any of our Worship Sites, except our weekly Spanish Mass at St. Joan of Arc”. Well, according to the Holy Innocents Parish bulletin dated 11/16/2014, at St. Joan of Arc, there was a Novena to Our Mother of Divine Providence ending Nov. 16 at their weekly Mass. There was a bilingual Thanksgiving service at St. Joan of Arc on November 25, 2014 according to the 11/23/2014 parish bulletin. What to think?

IMG_1335

We rescued this tree from the dumpster when Holy Innocents was cleaning out our Rectory. Bob and I usually have a “real” tree but this is our tree this year!

Father Higgins also stated “Just for the record, Pat, I as dean, did not recommend that St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa be closed…I proposed to keep St. Joachim open…” In all sincerity, did you go to the mat for what you believed, Father? I’m sure you can understand that we don’t think it’s so easy for you to just “wash your hands” of this decision. Sadly, too many don’t find it worth fighting for what they believe or what they think is right.

You can read Father Higgins email response to our letter below:

From: Thomas Higgins <frtom54@gmail.com>
Subject: Response to your letter
Date: November 26, 2014 at 3:12:56 PM EST
To: patmsmiley@gmail.com, Archbishop Charles Chaput <absp.cchaput@chs-adphila.org>

Dear Pat,

Thanks for your November 17th letter.  As you know, all the services that you have requested for St. Joachim’s for December, we already celebrate at Holy Innocents.  We are not able to provide these services at any of our Worship Sites, except our weekly Spanish Mass at St. Joan of Arc. This was decided by our Transition Team last year.   We have discussed these possibilities in the past, so nothing has changed in the past 18 months.
Just for the record Pat, I, as dean, did not recommend that St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa be closed.  I explained at our first Transition Team meeting that I proposed to keep St. Joachim open, with Mater Dolorosa and St. Joan of Arc as Worship Sites.  However, the Strategic Planning Committee of the Archdiocese did not accept my proposal.  They did not see my proposal as viable for the long term.  This planning committee then put forth the current configuration which was approved by the Council of Priests and the Archbishop.  And now we are doing our best to make it work.  So, I can only continue to encourage you and anyone appealing this decision to become active members of the new Holy Innocents.
Blessings on your Thanksgiving.

Sincerely yours,
Fr. Tom Higgins

Archbishop Chaput has not answered us as of the writing of this blog post. What shall be our answer? What response will open their eyes and hearts to know that a Catholic Church is needed in Frankford? That is our mission and I hope that you make it yours as well!! I would love to hear your thoughts!! God bless us all!

 

Are You “A Prophet”?

Father Judge High School has been a prominent fixture in Northeast Philadelphia since 1954. My husband, Bob, attended Father Judge as well. It’s interesting to note that Father Judge’s boundaries were broadened in 1957 to help reach their enrollment of 3500 students and that’s how Bob attended Father Judge while both his older and younger brother went to North! He’s always been the man in the middle!!

Not so much is commonly known about Father Judge. But he believed in the power of the laity and that we are the ones to “Do Good! Be Good! Be a Power for Good!”. The Church needs to focus on the laity as the center of a circle, if you will, with the clergy being the outer part of the circle. A circle symbolizes unity, cohesiveness, respect. Father Judge saw the great potential when the laity were viewed as real partners with the clergy in carrying out the missionary spirit of the Church.

John the Baptist preachingEarlier this month, Pope Francis raised the question of why so many people are leaving the faith. Read about it in this article, “Pope Francis and the Catholic Crisis”. In this article, you’ll find links back to a meditation from Pope Francis during Advent last year, explaining that by the power of Baptism, we are called to be prophets. That’s right, you and me and everyone else who is baptized. Pope Francis’ meditation from Dec. 16, 2013 – “The Eye That Is Opened”.

Pope Francis concluded his homily recommending “a prayer over the course of these days, as we prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s birth”. He prayed to the Lord that prophets not be lacking among his people: “All of us who are baptized are prophets. Lord, may we not forget your promise; may we never grow weary of going forward; may we never close ourselves in through a legality that closes doors. Lord, free your people from the spirit of clericalism and come to their aid through your spirit of prophecy”.

So, as we reflect on these final days of Advent, what can you and I do to more fully develop our powers of prophecy and to do and be the good in our world so desperately in need of our gifts and talents? How does this influence the work we do to reopen St. Joachim? How do we be a “Power for Good” as the Catholic presence in Frankford?

 

 

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

You Don’t Want to Miss This Event!

What’s the hottest ticket in town? No, it’s not along the Avenue of the Arts! It’s the ticket for tonight’s presentation at the Historical Society of Frankford, 1507 Orthodox St. See you there! The most fun for $5 you can have anywhere!!!!

HSF September 2014 program half page

Food for Thought – “People Long for Spiritual Home….

SaintJoachimRomanCatholicChurch_1 copy 2I have been researching the Archdiocese’s Parish Pastoral Process which failed the faithful in Frankford – miserably. It has taken a little over a month to put the pieces of this puzzle together. We will tell the story. We also want to save future parishes from this obviously flawed process. I came across this post on CatholicPhilly.com and found Franciscan Sister Katerina Shuth’s explanation of changes in parish life pertinent. In her lecture, “Shaping Parish Life: Ongoing Influences of Vatican II and the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, Sister used the life of Monsignor Phillip J. Murnion to illustrate how parish life has changed from 1963 to now. Monsignor was the founding director of the National Pastoral Life Center in New York and this later became the home of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. What hasn’t changed is what the best pastors know:

Msgr. Murnion’s efforts to envision and support vibrant parishes relied on a deep understanding of the Incarnation and a commitment to dialogue, partnership and collaboration among all levels of the church, Sister Schuth said.

Monsignor passed away in 2003. Monsignor Murnion, pray for us, as we try to find the “common ground” here in Philadelphia. Read all of the story at People Long for a Spiritual Home, an Inviting Parish, Says Franciscan Nun