Parishes work together to bring Jesus’ message to the north side
By Connie Berry
Last fall when Syracuse experienced a few homicides in a month’s time, Father Richard Prior felt called to do something. He is pastor of Holy Family Church in suburban Fairmount and said a group of people from different parishes came together to vision what they might be able to accomplish. So for three days, July 27, 28 and 29, they hosted an event with food and fellowship at the parking lot outside the Franciscan Church of the Assumption. The neighborhood is struggling with poverty and the people there come from all over to get the free sandwiches passed out at the parish seven days a week.
Father Prior’s group offered dinner and fellowship, open to everyone in the neighborhood all three evenings. Speakers were invited to talk to the community about forming a relationship with Jesus out of the despair and challenges that come with living in poverty and hopelessness. Many of the people had come to get some barbecue, fruit and salads, but some of them stayed to listen to the message.
Thursday’s speaker was Brian Greenfield, part of Hard As Nails Ministry. Greenfield came to Syracuse from Florida and works with Justin Fatica, executive director of Hard As Nails Ministry. Fatica was a member of Father Prior’s initial group, which also included Dan Downes from Hard As Nails, Father John Manno and Sheila Austin from St. James Church, Jim Brown from the Knights of Columbus, Mary Ellen Masterpole from Holy Family Church’s Social Justice Committee and the rector of Assumption Church, Father Brad Milunski. The chicken barbecue Thursday night drew a large crowd. Children were running around and playing while the grownups caught up with each other. Volunteers from the churches did the cooking and serving. There were a few priests walking around visiting with the people and then under a tent in the parking lot, Greenfield delivered his version of the Good News. His microphone cut out a few times but was hardly needed with his booming voice ringing out loud and clear. “Change starts from inside tonight,” Greenfield told them.
He said all the little kids running around the parking lot might be able to tell him about the lyrics of a rap song, but what could they tell him about Jesus Christ? Greenfield said people today are choosing death, choosing to believe and listen to society when it tells them they are nothing, they are no good, they can’t make anything out of their lives.
“We embrace that death. We live in it and we agree with it,” Greenfield told them. “We begin to think that’s all we have. It becomes about surviving. We’re not living, we’re just surviving. God has promised us so much more.
“We’re standing on the outside and we choose to follow society and that death becomes our friend. I’m here to tell you to stop listening to death and start listening to that voice inside us. Can I hear an ‘Amen’?” he said.
Ruth Paul had a definite “Amen” for Greenfield. She lives in the neighborhood and helps out on Tuesday mornings when a couple of the Sisters of St. Francis host a coffee and donuts get together down the street as part of the Franciscan Northside Ministries. Paul is working on buying her own home in the neighborhood so she doesn’t have to rent anymore. “Most of the people here just need to know somebody cares,” she said.
Father Milunski gave all the credit to Father Prior for coming up with the idea for the event. “He wanted to find a way to unite people in the suburbs with people in the city. We had food, talks and music and our procession for peace. Everybody got their taste of the city. They face challenges [the people in the neighborhood]. There’s definitely poverty; the numbers coming to the food pantry never go down. There are a lot of working poor here who just don’t make enough.”
Greenfield left them with this message:
“I know there are so many pressures in life. We feel like we’re carrying a ton of bricks and we don’t know where our hope lies. I know, I’ve been there. I’m not saying God makes it easy but I’ll tell you this: God will never let us go.”