Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Because of “Scenes from a Parish”

Posted by Webster 
I am always proud to be a Catholic, occasionally proud to be from the Boston area—when the Red Sox are winning, especially. Tonight, I’m busting with pride to be a Boston Catholic because PBS is airing a little masterpiece about one special church in our archdiocese.

If you haven’t seen or heard about “Scenes from a Parish,” check it out at the Independent Lens web site, right here. Search for your local listings. Then see it.

St. Patrick’s Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is the parish. Lawrence is the 23rd poorest city in the U.S. and the poorest in Massachusetts. St. Patrick’s is in the throes of a demographic shift, with older Anglo parishioners feeling pushed aside by an enormous Hispanic influx. The publicity I’ve read for the 90-minute documentary stresses the tension between ethnic groups in a changing American city, as though this were a cinéma vérité version of “West Side Story.”

But as a Catholic, I was on the edge of my seat watching the stories unfold. Of Elvys Guzman, a former gang member who got his life back in order through the Church. Of Theresa Santell, homeless from age six and mother to five children—on whom the St. Vincent de Paul Society refuses to give up. Of Bobby McCord, a mentally challenged parishioner, whose devoted sister Sarah proudly wins a full-boat scholarship to Boston University but worries that Bobby will forget her when she goes to school. Of the older white parishioners who wonder if anyone in Lawrence is really hungry.

And especially of Fr. Paul O’Brien, a Harvard classmate of TV talk king Conan O’Brien, who gave up a life of privilege to be an inner city priest. Father O’Brien dreams of, then builds, the Cor Unum meal center, over the cries of those older white parishioners who can’t understand why such a center makes any sense at all. Built for $1.4 million (Conan shows up at the grand opening), the center served 100,000 meals in its first year of operation and is going gangbusters. Central to fund-raising is Father O’Brien’s brainchild, Labels are For Jars, which sells t-shirts with labels like ADDICT, HOMELESS, and MENTALLY ILL. Father O’Brien’s idea is to undermine such labels, which only serve to marginalize the poor and create a forgotten underclass.

His beautiful words are read over the final credits: “What each person is thinking, saying, doing at any moment is critical because God is likely to be present right there. God is speaking through the least likely people all the time.”

Now read the story of filmmaker James Rutenbeck. You’ll see that making the film was a chapter in his own spiritual journey.

Now go to the Web site for and buy a shirt to support Cor Unum. I just bought the ADDICT shirt shown above, and I promise to model it here at YIM Catholic as soon as it arrives.