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!

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!

 

The Closing of St. Joachim RC Church Has Opened Even More Hearts!

Up close creche and treeYes, this was not what the Area Pastoral Planning Process was supposed to do! At the end of this process, we were supposed to have at least one Catholic Church in Frankford! Now, we have none! If that doesn’t speak to the wisdom of this process!! But God does work in mysterious ways!

Christmas reminds us of this so very well. How would the Redeemer come to save us? The government would announce a census and all citizens had to return to their hometowns. Thus, Joseph and Mary (9 months pregnant) would have to make their way back home. Not finding anywhere to stay, an innkeeper let them use a stable. So, in this humble stable, and sharing his nursery with the animals, Jesus was born. A great and bright star would hover overhead and lead the Wise Men to this wisest of children. Those of us of St. Joachim Parish know what it is to be on the outside – to no longer have a true spiritual home. But has it weakened our faith? Have we become disbelievers? No, we are even more determined to reach out to others, who like us, know even better what it is to be marginalized, voices unheard and unwanted. Joseph and Mary must have felt pretty lonely and alone, too!

During our prayer service today, we sang “The First Noel”! This is a first noel for us, of sorts, too. The first year, in 169 years, there was not a Christmas vigil Mass or a Christmas Day Mass at St. Joachim. (The fire in 1979 disrupted the Church but immediately there was talk of rebuilding.) We have filed an appeal with the Vatican and cannot be sure of the outcome. The Congregation of the Clergy has ruled that Archbishop Chaput did not do anything canonically wrong. That does not change the unjustness or obvious preference of the Church here in Philadelphia to “follow” the monied pointsettias and treeCatholics to the suburbs and insist that Catholics have left the city, so it’s alright if they do, too!

But we have said, “No”, that’s not the right thing to do! We have met so many people during our efforts who have been touched in some way by St. Joachim and/or Frankford! Here we are! St. Joachim Parish is alive and well! St. Joachim Parish is telling all who listen our story, calling all who remember to help and asking those who want to give and give back to join us in our efforts to reopen the Church and open our hearts further to our brothers and sisters in Frankford.

This Christmas, we can celebrate that St. Joachim Parish has rallied together to keep united, to keep the faith alive and to hope that we are able to reopen St. Joachim.

Yes, indeed, God works in mysterious ways! May your Christmas be blessed in a special way this year and may we work to keep the light of Christ even brighter in our hearts in 2014!

 

 

 

 

 

Coverage from the Northeast Times

Three Northeast churches have their last Masses. 

The bells beckoning parishioners to worship rang for the final time at the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday outside St. Joachim Roman Catholic Church in Frankford.

Inside, about 500 people crowded into the pews for the last Mass at the oldest Catholic church in the Northeast. St. Joachim opened in 1845 and, like two other churches in Northeast Philly, was told in May that it would have to close because of declines in weekend Mass attendance, marriages and baptisms.

Parishioners at St. Joachim are fighting to keep their church alive, promising to take their campaign all the way to the Vatican. But at Frankford’s only other Roman Catholic church, Mater Dolorosa, it’s a different story. Parishioners have decided to accept the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s decision to close the church  as of Sunday.

Follow this link for the rest of the story.