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 world 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 about 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.
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.
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?
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Response to your letter
Date: November 26, 2014 at 3:12:56 PM EST
To: email@example.com, Archbishop Charles Chaput <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
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!
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.
Earlier 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?
Well, 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.
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
As you know, Keep the Faith in Frankford, has many active committees working to continue and promote the Catholic presence in Frankford. Our Rebuilding the Parish committee has engaged Sharon Browning, a local retreat faciliatator and spiritual guide and teacher, who will present an evening titled “Our Hearts Are Restless; Embracing the Lenten Journey!” To learn more about Sharon, please check out her website, JUST Listening.
This time of year can be so filled with energy and new life, not simply because we are excited about spring, but as we travel and relive the last days of Jesus here on earth, it offers us an opportunity for us to experience new life and a “resurrection” from self. Jesus has called us to conversion – not to think about ourselves – but what gifts we are able to share with others! Matthew 22:1 says “Love your neighbor as yourself”. We can forget that we must first of all, show ourselves the love and compassion that recognizes that we are beloved children of God. Then, we reflect that love and compassion to all we meet. Then, we are fully alive and sharing in the mission of Jesus! We are creating a better world for all!
Please join us! Bring your family and friends for what is sure to be a rewarding evening! Please share this information and all are welcome to attend. We look forward to seeing you!
We 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.
Today, on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, the Pope announced the newest Cardinals that he will install on February 22, 2014. You can read about it here, “The Scarlet is Served – Pope Reveals 19 New Cardinals”. If you have been “cardinal watching”, you know that it was speculated that there would be no new American cardinals. Our own Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles were thought to be under consideration. However, their predecessors, Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Mahony, respectively, were still under the age of 80 and it is unusual to have 2 Cardinals within the same diocese.
Now, I must be honest. I have said this before but it bears repeating. I recognized the difficult job Archbishop Chaput undertook when coming to Philadelphia. I watched his intial welcoming to the city, his installation and felt strongly that he was doing the best job he could do, so I supported him and his efforts. I was genuinely sorry the Archbishop wasn’t a Cardinal so that he could participate in choosing our next Pope after Pope Benedict XVI retired. However, his Area Pastoral Planning Process failed the faithful people of Frankford, who last year had two churches, St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa, and today, have none. Reaching out to the Archbishop directly, and those representing him, we were told there would be no meeting, no consideration, as we repeatedly heard, “the decision has been made and we are not considering any changes.”
Well, we can take heart in Pope Francis’s words to us, “Dear Lay Faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.” We believe strongly that we must, each of us, take charge of our faith and be living witnesses to all we meet and to expect that we share in the priesthood of our clergy as well through our Baptism. (Today is, after all, the Baptism of our Lord that we celebrate.) That is our call to continue to reach out to all with the “Good News”, the joy of being Catholic.
As for our dear Archbishop Chaput, perhaps his heart could be more open to the Pope’s call as captured in his words on Holy Thursday at the Chrism Mass,
“Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men.” (Refer to link in post to read the entire message.)
We have heard the Archbishop refer to himself as a manager. We have tried to thank the Archbishop. Even after he told me, at one of his Sunday night Masses, (and I was being pushed along by his security) that this was not the time or place to discuss such matters, (yet he would not make or give us any time or place to discuss such matters), I, instinctively turned around and said, “We love you, Archbishop”. I later wrote to him asking if he heard me.
The Archbishop is a good man, a holy man but we need to find another way besides closing churches, selling nursing homes and leasing cemetery grounds to balance our budget and reach our objectives. The very people that would help you, Archbishop, are the very people you are shutting out and turning away.
Isn’t that what all people want – just to be heard? So we continue. St. Joachim’s appeal was turned down by the Congregation of the Clergy. The ruling was that the Archishop did not do anything canonically wrong – he didn’t break canon law – but it was still not a right and just decision. Just this weekend, we filed an appeal with the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican Supreme Court. I believe we will be heard. I believe we will continue to do all within our power to reopen St. Joachim Church to continue the work of our ancestors in a community that wants to be heard and wants the healing that only our Lord Jesus Christ can provide.
Thank you for reading and God bless you!