“There is great dignity in labor.” These were the words of Father Augustino, the Franciscan friar and leader of the CFRs in Paterson, New Jersey. The CFRs, or Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, are a group of religious brothers committed to lives of evangelization, asceticism, and service to the poor (following the example of St. Francis of Assisi). Our mission team spent a day working and worshiping with these extraordinary men of God in preparation for our journey to Ecuador.
We began the day with a beautiful time of worship in the friary’s chapel. The small room was decorated with brilliant 19th Century French stained glass and the joyous sounds of our voices. Not only are the brothers tremendous leaders in the community and completely devoted to service, they are also incredibly talented musicians. Singing at the tops of our lungs was a fantastic way to start our retreat day.
After our prayer and songs it was time to get down to business. Several members of our group (John, Danielle, and Matthew) spent the morning evangelizing at a local abortion clinic, but the majority of our work revolved around refurbishing the friary. Formerly a decrepit brick building in a poor Hispanic community, the brothers’ home is being transformed into a comfortable and beautiful house for the Lord. To help the brothers along, members of our team took up several home improvement tasks. Meaghan, Allyssa, and Matthew stained the wood paneling and door casings of the third floor, Chiara, Claire, and Kristina painted the second story hall, Will, KK, and I removed the drop ceiling from the front office, and Father Lachlan hung light fixtures in the dining room. It was incredibly rewarding to see the progress that we were making and it felt wonderful to change this place to something suitable for these men who have given their lives to God and the service of those less fortunate.
Several hours of work flew by and before we knew it, it was time for mass. One of the most intimate, personal masses I have ever witnessed, it’s safe to say that the Holy Spirit was present to inspire our team and the CFRs. Father Augustino’s homily was tailored to our visit and focused on service to the poor. He did not just concentrate on the materially impoverished, however, but more so on the poverty of those who have not realized God’s love for them.
Father told an anecdote of a trip to Vienna for a music festival in which the CFRs were invited to perform – I told you they were terrific musicians! A protest broke out against the sponsorship of the festival by the Catholic Church and Father was confronted by several of the demonstrators. Through his discussion with these young people, Father Augustino learned that some of them had no concept of Christianity or Jesus because of their post-modern, Central European upbringings. Father’s homily made each of us realize how fortunate we are, not only to live where we live and to have the things that we have, but how truly fortunate we are to know God and to know that He loves us and will always love us.
After mass we sat down for a delicious feast prepared by our teammates, Stephany and Rosie. In honor and preparation for our trip, we dined on rice and beans with beef and assorted vegetables. Coincidentally, a Cuban woman had made dinner for “the bros” the night before and left many of our ingredients. Our leaders have warned us of the mass quantities of rice and beans that we will be eating in Ecuador, but if it at all resembles our meal from Saturday, I will be a happy man!
Over lunch, several of the friars shared their missionary experiences with us and told us stories of service in Latin America. Their knowledge and willingness to share with us were truly invaluable and our team was blessed to learn from them. They exposed to us some of the harsh realities of life in Central and South America. We were also assured that our somewhat shaky Spanish would not cripple us in our mission because our actions and our kindness will be remembered long after our words are forgotten.
We did a few more hours of work after lunch and completed most of our projects. Though I had been confined to the office that I was gutting with KK and Will for most of the day, I took a few minutes to wander around the friary and see what progress everyone else had made. Knowing the state of much of the house, I was shocked to see how much nicer our work made the place look. New lights brightened the dining room, fresh stain made the bedrooms more cozy and warm, and a coat of paint turned the second floor into a brand new space. When it was time to leave, everyone felt a great sense of accomplishment and dignity in our labors.
The team stopped in Manhattan on the way home for dinner at Chipotle – generously donated by the Ecuadorian manager – and a time of adoration at Catholic Underground at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on East 90th between 2nd and 3rd. As we walked from dinner to adoration, we sang Christmas carols at Rockefeller Center, on the subway, and throughout midtown Manhattan. I wasn’t sure how we would pull it off when a woman on the subway requested Handel’s “Messiah,” but we sang “HALLELUIAH!” until we reached our stop.
Adoration made the evening even more remarkable. Our Lady of Good Counsel was packed to capacity and the people were singing with all of their hearts. It was the perfect way to end our retreat.
Our thanks and gratitude go out to the CFRs of Paterson for welcoming us into their home and for their outstanding service and wisdom.
Thanks to the CFRs of NYC for putting on the most beautiful adoration.
A special thanks to Jean Delfino and the staff of Chipotle Restaurant on Park Ave. for their generosity in supplying us with a delicious meal.