Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Green Island’s St. John’s Church opens its brand new food pantry, soup kitchen and food distribution center!

By Jeffrey Li

St. John’s Church, one of the oldest churches in Worcester,  has just opened its new addition, the Saint Francis Xavier Center, a food pantry, soup kitchen and food distribution center. The renovated, free-standing building is named after the devoted missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus.

Located on 20 Temple St., right next door to the church proper, this center was originally a vegetable and fruit store of Clem’s Italian Sausage. The church bought it one and half years ago and has just finished its total renovation. The newly renovated Saint Francis Xavier Center looks beautiful and spacious. The large glass windows and doors were shining under the bright sun of May and so was Father John Madden’s bright smile. Father Madden is the pastor of St John’s and the catalyst behind the church’s mission to feed the hungry – support poor people and working people in a tough economy.

Father Madden said the opening of new Saint Francis Xavier Center will provide a larger and more comfortable place for the church’s current food pantry and free meal service, where people in need can get free meals in the morning five days a week and can also take the free food, mostly canned and packaged foods, to home with them to prepare for themselves.

According to Father Madden, the church has served free meals every weekday morning in its kitchen at the lower level of the church ever since July 12, 2004, with the help of its family members, food donation from businesses like Wegmans Food Markets, and volunteers from other churches. Recently, some volunteers also come from Assumption College. At the very beginning, few people came for the food. However, as the word spread  and the economy took a great downturn, more and more people walked in for the service, and it soon became obvious that the kitchen was just not big enough for the crowd.

When Clem’s Italian Sausage put the building on sale, the church immediately jumped on the opportunity to buy it. The church families went all out to raise funds to buy the property, and they finally succeeded in getting enough funds to cover the total cost – about $1.5 million, including the renovation. The grateful Father Madden thanked lots of people for their help and donation. He also mentioned the highest donor, Frank Carroll, president of the Small Business Service Bureau Inc. and a native of the Vernon Hill section of Worcester, for his donation and his tremendous help as a fund raiser.

The church wasted no time to start renovation after it bought the property. People just couldn’t wait to move to the new building. Now when the work is pretty much completed, Father Madden is still busy talking and arranging things with the contractors. People were so excited! After all, they have waited too long for a decent place like this for them to serve more and more people with due dignity and respect. The staff has tried their best to keep up with serving more than 100 people on daily, but they just couldn’t keep themselves from bumping into each other. They would set up two tables full of sweets and breads and try to arrange as many dining tables and chairs as possible, usually helped by Mr. O’Connor of the Wegmans, and Ryan and his men from Assumption College. Mr. O’Connor also brings in the donated food from the Wegmans four days a week. As there are no open windows in the kitchen, they have big ventilation fans set at the narrow doorways ready to help keep air flowing and keep the temperature down. To accommodate the limited kitchen utilities, the church’s chef Bob Kwiatkowski and his assistants have to get up very early and work long hours to prepare the soup and other foods for the service starting at 8:00 am. Christine, a volunteer from another church, comes every Wednesday morning to chop lots of celery, carrots, potatoes and meat for Bob. She loves her job. “It makes you feel good because you are helping people that need you,” said Christine.

People here believe whenever they feed the hungry or give the thirsty something to drink, they are in essence also giving food or drink to Jesus Christ and this is why when asked for the motivation, Father Madden’s answered without hesitation: “The Gospel says feed the hungry.”

With its history going back to 1834, St. John’s Church is said to be the oldest established Catholic religious institution in the city of Worcester. However, don’t be fooled by its age. The church currently has about 1,000 family members and is full of life and activities. The church has made great contributions to  society and is looking forward to continuing its  great work. For a long time to come!

 

Now that Pope Benedict has retired …

By Rosalie Tirella

… I think it is important to note that the Catholic church isn’t all about what the media lays out … some ossified institution filled with pedophiles, governed by out of touch old guys … . An institution made funny with all its byzantine rules and costumes.

To me, a once practicing Catholic, but now just a broad whose ENTIRE WORLD VIEW, OR AT LEAST A HUGE CHUNK OF IT, HAS BEEN SHAPED BY CATHOLICISM, my religious roots are beautiful. The Catholic church, especially Our Lady of Czetchowa (St. Mary’s) on Richland Street, in Green Island, has given me:

* Incense. How cool it used to be to attend Mass as a little girl and to have the wonderful, colorful, deep pageantry of the Catholic church force-fed to me, courtesy of my lovely Polish, Catholic, Old World mother. Every Sunday. The music, the singing, the holy water, the candles burning low, the velvet knee rests. And ESPECIALLY the incense. The purple haze that wafted through the church, so close to me I could almost reach out and comb my fingers through it. The priest swung his metal orb, the incense orb, gold plated and ornate. It was this orb that was filled with the lovely smelling powder, the burning incense that the priest used to create mini-clouds while walking up and then down the aisle between the two rows of pews. The church would look smoke filled, the way you used to see nite clubs glow with cigarette smoke as the rock bands played on. But it was church, so it was holy. Very ethereal and cool looking. I loved the smell of incense as a little girl. Something about it calmed me right down!

* The praying. The praying together. A bunch of folks from all over Worcester, especially Green Island and Vernon Hill, coming together to agree on something. To say YES to the same ideas, causes, heroes, demons. Reciting the same words week after week, year after year with many of the same people made me feel like I was standing on some kind of huge rock. Was it Peter or Paul who built my church? I forget. But you never forget the feeling of foundation you get while praying in church.

* Jesus. The best part of Catholicism. What makes my religion fantastic to me. The whole thing in a nut shell? “The last shall be first! The first shall be last!” Most theologians say Jesus indeed said this cuz it makes no sense to modern folks. But it is the core of my Catholic faith. So radical I love it!!!

What Jesus was saying was all the folks of the PIP, all our panhandlers and homeless teens and strung-out hookers matter more than City Manager Mike OBrien, rich folks in the Burncoat or Forest Street ‘hoods. That the poor’s suffering is sublime. That big houses count for shit. That love is the answer.

War on Women

By Mary Bennett

There are only a few places in the world where women have some semblance of equality. The U.S. is one of them, thanks to the brave work of feminist scholars and researchers who helped bring about this seismic shift in our cultural understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. Moving toward more egalitarian relationships hasn’t been an easy transformation, but the gains made have greatly enhanced the well being of American families and institutions and it has also given hope to others in the world struggling for equality.

The so-called “war on women” playing out in the media has served to heighten awareness of potential threats to women’s rights. Powerful coalitions between religious conservative groups, including Catholics, with the blessing of the Vatican, are working together over issues relating to sexuality in particular. Adding to the concern is the recent attacks on women religious in the U.S. who have been ordered to reform their statutes, programs and affiliations and conform to “the teachings and discipline of the Church.” However, before you dismiss this matter as a Catholic problem with little consequence for the rest of us, please consider that the Catholic Church has worldwide influence over the lives of women throughout the world and many of them are depending on that influence to hopefully bring some semblance of equality into their lives too!

And, what are these statutes, programs and affiliations these women religious have engaged in that have given rise to so much criticism? They are programs supporting impoverished Americans, antiwar efforts, social justice issues including abolishing the death penalty, health care for all people, etc., and, according to the Vatican, not enough on abortion, contraception and gay marriage. And, heaven forbid, some of their affiliations were in support of the ordination of women! Now that will get you in trouble with Rome!

What women religious have done is really quite extraordinary for they moved way beyond outdated patriarchal constraints, and transformed themselves into models of egalitarian non-hierarchal communities. And unlike their brothers in Rome they have applied what Vatican II encouraged 50 years ago, more collegiality and a decentralization of power.

Perhaps Rome has demonstrated something here that is worth noting, because the way in which they stepped in without regard for the sensibilities or accomplishments of these women, with such remarkable disregard for their feelings and needs, serves as a chilling example of patriarchal thinking and entitlement and how it leads to abuse.

Although the Catholic Church has never been a democratic institution, the recommendations of Vatican II for greater collegiality and shared decision-making were an invitation to at least “open the window” in that direction. It is not surprising that Rome would have problems with the idea of shared decision-making and shut the window. Believing in their own superiority, most men in the world have done the same. One of the problems with power is that it is so hard to let go of. This is the same type of resistance that occurred in so many families throughout the U.S.

Growing up in Worcester in an Italian American family, I recall my father struggling with this shift in thinking that questioned his authority as head of the family as he insisted that he had to be in charge because he reasoned someone has to make the final decision. To his credit when his three daughters questioned this logic with hands on hips insisting on shared decision making between he and our mother, he changed.

Whether you are for or against abortion, contraception or gay marriage – we need to ask why conservative religious groups place so much emphasis on matters of sexuality? Abortion and gay marriage in particular have rallied so many conservatives. Yes, these issues are part of what they believe to be true. The question is, why isn’t there the same fervor and concern for issues related to nonviolence? Jesus was all about nonviolence. Love of neighbor. Sell all you have and give it to the poor. You would think war making, economic injustice, corporate greed, climate change and its catastrophic consequences, to name a few, would get the attention of conservative religious institutions. Perhaps the focus on sexuality and “traditional family values” may have more to do with a longing to return to the past, where male dominance was the rule?

Nonviolence and equality go hand in hand. What happens to women when cultural, familial and religious values do not promote equality? Women suffer. Some of the horrors include acid in her face, beatings, coercion, and female circumcision. She can’t drive, she can’t go out, and she can’t speak. You know this list.

Inequality also harms women’s psyche. As a young woman coming out of the Worcester public school system in 66 career options were very limited for women and there were constant reminders of my inferior status. A few examples include my guidance counselor who said, “You don’t need math because you are a girl.” Getting a job meant I had to endure the humiliation of being asked if I intended to get married and if I did would I use the pill. At home it was clear that my father was in charge (it was a slow transformation for all of us) and at church a male hierarchy would not allow women to come near the altar. In so many ways, like so many women I put myself last and believed I was less. It is shocking to remember how much I believed these cultural messages. 46 years later, it is shocking to note that most women in the world probably still do.

However, the real problem IS NOT MEN! The real problem is power. Women are just as likely to abuse power and act with aggression if they have the power to do so.

We have been studying women’s anger in Worcester at UMass Medical Center. There is ample research on interpersonal violence showing that if there is aggression in a relationship it is bilateral –unfortunately, women are “manning up,” and acting tough as men has done. This is bad news for women, because men are generally more physically powerful, which means women are still suffering and dying due to male aggression. The bilateral nature of the aggression suggests that women feel more empowered in their relationships and they are also using aggression just as men have done to try and get their needs met. In other words, it seems that equality has given women an equal opportunity to be aggressive. We certainly do not want this to be the end product of women’s rights!

There is also evidence that the perpetrator suffers as much as the victim. Acting out with verbal or physical aggression will generally cause an increase in cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, stomach acid, etc. We are in fight or flight mode and this causes stress to our vital organs and we suffer psychologically. Did you know that almost 60% of men and women coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? That’s moderate to severe PTSD! We are just beginning to catch on to the fact that the human species may not be designed to do harm!

Equality is a fundamental human need – women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, Palestinian and Israeli, Bahraini, Egyptian, Libyan, environmental justice, animal rights, etc. All beings have an intrinsic value and they have their own needs, which also means there will be conflicting needs. Power struggles are inevitable and using aggression to try and win the argument, to make others comply by force is ultimately self-defeating. Conflict resolution skills / nonviolent communication / anger management – these skills are giving men and women the tools they need to navigate conflict safely.

We can’t afford to wait for Rome, Wall Street, Corporations or the Dictator, to change. The church belongs to the people of God – that was also recognized by the Second Vatican Counsel. We the people are the 99% who own the government, not the other way around – The Occupy Wall Street Movement showed us how to remind those in power of that fact with their awe inspiring, radically egalitarian, non-hierarchal and nonviolent methods.

We have other examples in Worcester that are also showing and teaching us how. The Center for Nonviolent Solutions in Worcester is an amazing resource and Professor Michael True, who helped found it, has been one of Worcester’s most preeminent teachers of nonviolence. The Goods for Guns program founded by Dr. Michael Hirsh is another. The Quakers at Worcester Friends Meeting House, with their emphasis on the peace testimony, The SS. Francis & Therese Catholic Worker House, along with Scott and Claire Schaeffer-Duffy and Annette Rafferty who started Abby’s House in Worcester and Rose Tirella who had the guts to start this newspaper and keeps those in power locally accountable. That’s just a few. Worcester is an awesome place to work for peace.