As friars minor, our call to “minority”, or being “lesser”, brings us to a new way of life through a spirit of prayer and devotion, evangelization, and fraternal life. It also requires us to make preferential options in how we live, where we live, and our associations. St. Francis opted to live in community, without anything of his own, and minister to those on the margins of the society of his day, the lepers. Our JPIC Summer immersion program seeks to reflect on these Franciscan values and Catholic social teaching in our society now.
Our trip began with an opening Mass in the Friars’ Chapel in Ellicott City on the feast of Our Lady of Consolation. After mass, we traveled to our first destination in Shamokin, PA. Once a bustling coal mining town, it has fallen on hard times. The collapse of the coal and manufacturing industry left the area economically distressed. The abandoned mines have also caused environmental problems in the soil, rivers and creeks. Abandoned houses and shops are legion, as are drugs and opiates.
But there is also incredible hope. On our first day, we received a walking tour of Shamokin from the mayor and his wife, who are working hard with local business owners and citizens to improve the town. One of the local business owners hosted us for lunch and shared her story. In an experience similar to St Francis, she felt God calling her to rebuild her town, which was falling into ruin. And so, with no prior experience in this, she started rebuilding – one building at a time. As she recounted each property she and her family have rehabilitated, we could see the hand of God working through her, not just in making the town look nice, but by inspiring others to join in.
Of course, the Friars, who have been in Shamokin for over a century, are deeply involved in this effort. On our second day, the new Franciscan Center (where we are staying) was blessed and dedicated by the Bishop of Harrisburg. It was an absolutely beautiful Memorial Day – we could not have asked for better weather! Fr Marty Kobos welcomed the crowd that turned up for the event.
Right after Bishop Gainer blessed the Franciscan Center, he made a remark that summed up our experience in Shamokin so far. He quoted an old saying, “A rising tide lifts all the boats.” Even in our short time here, we’ve met and heard the stories of dozens of people, more than I can tell in a short blog. But each of them, in their own varied way, are working to bring back hope and goodness. When you aggregate them together, you can’t help but see it as a movement of the Holy Spirit. While it is a small tide now, the boats are starting to gently jostle. We pray that the new Franciscan Center will be another step in raising the Spirit’s tide.
friar Rich Rome OFM Conv.