Monday, May 28, 2007

A Tale of 3 Dinners

Oakland. (May 17) It’s 5:15-- time for evening prayer here at the St. Elizabeth friary in Oakland’s Fruitvale district. FelipĂ© and JosĂ© have been invited to dinner before the monthly Spanish-language group begins at 7:30. Yolanda, our cook, has prepared grilled chicken breasts, rice and beans, a table full of salad fixings, and a huge platter of fresh strawberries. After the guardian, Father Ponchie Vasquez, blesses the food, plates are handed to the newcomers, and everyone gets into the buffet line.

Father Peter Krieg, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, presides at the head of a table that easily seats 20. Everyone else grabs a ready chair and latecomers squeeze in at the far end. Except for Fathers Kenny,Oscar, Gabriel, and Ponchie, most of the friars in the house are in full-time studies at places ranging from Laney College and Holy Names University to the Franciscan School of Theology—FST). The strain of final exams is showing tonight. Several of the brothers, absorbed in their thoughts, mop up their plates in a hurry, then dash back to their computers to work on final papers. Still, there’s plenty of table talk as puns, jokes, and lively banter bounce around the room in both English and Spanish. Brother Nghia, famous for his love of spicy flavors, has prepared a plate of chopped red onions laced with a lethal dose of chopped jalapenas. Only the truly brave dare to sample.

In tonight’s group, there are eight men, including three newcomers. We start in the chapel with Night Prayer (Completas), then move to the reading room for discussion. We’ve selected a story from Friar Murray Bodo’s Francisco: el viaje y el sueno/ Francis: The Journey and the Dream. The discussion is animated, with lots of personal anecdotes and reflection. Friars Martin Ibarra and Sebastian Sandoval are on hand to help facilitate. By 9:00 pm, we make plans for our next meeting, then close with prayer.

Los Angeles (May 18). It’s Friday here at St. Francis of Assisi friary in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood. Local friars— Fr. Rick Juzix, the pastor; Fr. Alberto Villafan, parochial vicar; and Br. Hajime Okuhara--- have been pitching in to help set things up for our dinner and meeting. It’s been a balmy, late-spring day so we’ll eat out on the patio. Rick and Hajime have hauled a church table and chairs over from the parish hall. I’ve been working on the culinary side: roast pork loin, a black bean salad, some leftover potato salad, and a big gooey cholocate cake from Vons.

Soon, our guests will begin to arrive and then keep trickling in over the course of the evening “depending on the traffic.” By 7:15, we’ll have a quorum and sit down to eat. Five inquirers tonight: two regulars, including Eric who has just been accepted for postulancy—and three newcomers, all of whom initially contacted us through our province website: The conversation is a bit stiff at first, until we get on the subject of hospital ministry. Several of our inquirers have had health care experience, and Brother Hajime still has vivid memories of his recent stint in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training. Alberto shares about an early experience in priestly ministry: “It doesn’t always work if only the family asks for the priest to come”, he reflects. “The patients themselves have to want us to be there.” The friars nod knowingly; we’ve been there. “Oh. And one thing I learned early on,” I offered. “ If you enter a room unannounced wearing a black shirt and clerical collar, good luck. The patients may panic and figure: ‘The priest is here. That means I’m going to die.’ That one gets a few chuckles, as we move indoors for more serious talk. Eric is asked how he feels about entering postulancy in September. He shares—eloquently-- about his own faith journey and discernment. There’s more talk about process, until at nine, we close with informal night prayer in the house chapel and chant the “Salve Regina” together.

Tucson. (May 18) Brother David Buer is handling things this month at historic Mission San Xavier del Bac. This will be a small group: Manny, a member of the Tohono O’odham nation and a regular, is here. Antonio has managed to get a ride from Nogales, 40 miles south. John, a recent inquirer, is expected soon.

David escorts our guests into the house chapel for evening prayer. At six, everyone sits down to dinner. As the serving plates are passed, guests are made welcome and friars check in about their day. Brother Brian works at the school and is resident computer whiz; David has been doing work with an interfaith group providing humanitarian assistance along the border. Fathers Steve and Edgar as well as Deacon Ed all work in the Mission parish. Father Camillus has been tending to the garden.

After dishes, a few of the friars will sit with David and our guests. There is a check-in followed by sharing. Friar Deacon Ed Sarrazin talks about his upcoming priestly ordination on June 16. Also, tonight, there’s a short dvd, The Gubbio Project, involving our own Fr. Louie Vitale, who has long been involved in peace and justice work…. As always, things close with prayer.

Why Prayer and Discernment Groups?
Prayer groups are a great way for inquirers to meet the friars and each other in a friendly and informal setting. The groups provide regular contact, information, referrals, and support. They help to break down isolation and stimulate personal growth.

Only Three Groups?
Right now, groups meet from September through June in LA, Tucson, and Oakland. New groups can be formed as interest arises in an area.

How do I join a group?
Contact Father Chuck at the Office of Vocations: 916/443-2714. Or email us at: