Wanted: One TV so parishioners of a poor church can watch Bergoglio in Philadelphia…
St. Francis of Assisi, the poorest parish in Harrisburg, is hopeful and praying that it will come in possession of a TV so parishioners can watch Bergoglio when he visits Philadelphia in September. Most can’t afford to travel there.
The good friar is praying for a TV. That, by most church needs, is not a tall one.
But for the Rev. E. Orlando Reyes, a Capuchin Franciscan friar and head pastor at St. Francis of Assisi in Harrisburg, it could mean the difference between many of his parishioners having a chance to see Pope Francis or missing out on what is certain to be an historic event.
“There’s so many people that would love to go but they can’t,” said Reyes. His parish – which has been on Market Street in Harrisburg for 114 years – is the poorest in the Harrisburg Diocese. The majority of the parish is made up of immigrants from across most of Latin America, but increasingly from Asia and Africa. Reyes said many parishioners do not own TVs or cars, and unless he somehow procures a TV, many will miss out on “seeing” Francis when he visits Philadelphia in September as part of his first trip to the U.S.
“We have so many needs every day.” – Rev. Orlando Reyes
Francis, who will make stops in Cuba, Washington, D.C. and New York, will cap of his trip with a stop in Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and 27. He is scheduled to celebrate an outdoor public Mass to an estimated 2 million people that Sunday. He will celebrate Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway. Although the Mass is open to the public transportation restrictions and lodging limitations are bound to make it difficult for visitors to make the pilgrimage. Reyes is praying – and he knocked on wood – that somehow, out of somewhere, his church comes in possession of a TV, which he would install in the church basement and invite the parish to watch the pope’s Mass and public addresses together. His parish, after all, bears the name of the popular Argentine-born pontiff.
In March 2013, when he was selected to succeed former Pope Benedict XVI, Francis explained that he chose to be called after St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.”
“How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor,” Francis said at the time.
Reyes has embraced Francis with special admiration and affection not just because he is a fellow Latino, but because of his work with the poor. “That’s what I see in him, another Jesus Christ walking among us, being the gospel to us, a gospel that is sometimes hard to understand,” Reyes said. “But we see the way he has embraced the people. That has touched my life.” Reyes said he trust in God to send benefactors, not only to deliver a TV, but to help in the work with the poor, “Not just to talk about the poor but to meet with the poor, to come and help us.”
St. Francis may be the poorest church in the diocese – and faces a $741,000 debt – but it runs a soup kitchen that feeds up to 280 people every day of the year, Monday through Saturday. Parishioners also volunteer to visit prison inmates and the sick in hospital. “We have so many needs every day,” said Reyes, who is from El Salvador. “It’s the poorest parish but at the same time we do so much here and offer to the community.”
Reyes has tickets to the papal events, including the private Mass the pontiff is scheduled to celebrate that Saturday with members of the Philadelphia clergy at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Reyes, however, says he probably will stay back in his church.
“My people,” he said. “They cannot come. I don’t feel comfortable just leaving them and me going over. One of my hopes is – knocking on wood – if someone can least help us or donate a tv or something that we can put in church basement and be able to have the whole celebration to present here in the church.”
In spite of the financial hardships that many of his parishioners face, Reyes last year challenged his St. Francis community to renovate the church, which was in disrepair. Parishioners went above and beyond his call. They stripped and restored the pews, refurbished the statues of saints and took up the old carpet in the altar to reveal a beautiful hardwood floor. All the materials – from the paint, to brushes, to the machines and tools needed for the various jobs – were donated by parishioners. “This is amazing,” Reyes said. “They have to work two, three jobs to be able to survive with their families but they were able to give back. That is so special. It’s such a special community. I’m so blessed with all of it.”
St. Francis, he said, also has a dedicated and faithful white membership. The work, Reyes said, brought the community together. “It’s adding to the community. They are taking care of the church,” he said. Now, he said, if anyone is caught scratching a pew, fellow parishioners will call out that person. “Those little things make a whole difference,” Reyes said.
Sunday collection at St. Francis – from its four Masses – rarely exceeds $3,500 – nearly $3,000 short of what the church needs to pay its bills and upkeep. That’s the reason St. Francis faces a $741,000 debt.
“What can we do?” Reyes said. “Like I told the bishop, what can we do? Just close the church and let them go? I don’t think so. We have to do something.”
Reyes says he is confident a TV will turn up.
“I have a hope that God will provide,” he said. I don’t know why I have that certainty but I do. I believe. I tell people we have to pray, we have work, but at the same time we have to find resources to be able to do it.”