The Project's Christmas Miracle

Merry Christmas to all Project fans, admirers, well-wishes, enemies and malcontents!

The Archdiocese dropped a very large lump of coal in the Project's stocking, but that didn't stop us from having a tremendous and informative Christmas.

Case in point: we attended the Christmas Eve vigil at Our Lady of Hope in Logan. We've actually revisited Our Lady of Hope several times since our initial, Project-spawning trip, but for some reason we were compelled to spend the holiday here.

First, the bad news. The building is still ridiculously damaged. The water scarring seems worse than ever, particularly in the two transepts, where the stained glass windows are the largest. Since this wasn't official Project business I didn't bring the camera, but believe me: it's bad, with a capital "B."

The good news is that the church was packed. Christmas masses, like Easter ones, tend to be misleading indicators of a parish's attendance, but even so, this has to be considered good news. It was diverse, too, along ethnic and age lines. Black, White, Hispanic, Filipino. Young and old, families and children. It was an amazing sight for a parish that's suffered more than its share of indignities in the past two decades.

Now, here's where things get interesting. It turns out that one of the Project's favorite priests, the indomitable Rayford Emmons, is now stationed at Our Lady of Hope as a parochial vicar. The intensely charasmatic Father Emmons seems to have this section of North Philadelphia cornered, as he's a veteran of both neighboring St. Helena--the Project's childhood parish--and Incarnation of Our Lord.

We spent some time talking to Father Emmons after mass, and a few interesting tidbits emerged:

Our Lady of Hope is not laying down. According to him, the parish does indeed have a plan in place for the repair and restoration of the building. Some work as already been done, as the large Romanesque arch in the sanctuary sports all new stone tiles. The copious damage means there's a lot more to be done, but Father Emmons was vehement that they have a plan and they're working to address it as best they can, with whatever finances they can muster.

Cardinal Dougherty may not be dead. The Official Mother of the Philadelphia Church Project, along for the ride, discussed the announced closing of nearby Cardinal Dougherty. An alumna, she's naturally devastated about the news, and she told Father Emmons point black that they (presumably the Archdiocese) can't let it happen.

Father Emmons, for his part, shocked the Project by admitting, point-blank, that "the bishops have lost sight of the importance of Catholic education in the city of Philadelphia," and that "we are working to correct that." Whether that means the Archdiocese (AD) comes to its senses and reverses the decision, or they allow the WeAreCDFoundation or some other entity like Cristo Rey to take over, is unclear.

But the very fact that the straight-shooting Emmons would openly say such a thing means that not all of the AD's minions are towing the company line. That's very encouraging indeed.

Catholic Education is still within our reach. Emmons than turned to the broader focus of Catholic education, which, as Project readers now, is a troubled thing indeed. He asserted that the model is not obsolete and unworkable; according to him, if every family in every parish donated 4% of their income, there would be more than enough to cover schooling for everybody. The Project doesn't know where that math comes from, but we'll trust him at his word.

Since tithing technically requires 10% of income, 4% doesn't seem so bad. The real problem, as others have pointed out, is that people just don't trust the Archdiocese. Since no one has ever conducted an official audit of the organization's finances, people simply don't know where their money goes. It's clear that parishioners want to support their parishes, and would, if only they could be sure the money was going to the school, instead of a shiny new marble altar in an already-pristine Basilica.

All in all, an incredibly enlightning couple of minutes. The school discussions are provocative in and of themselves, but the Project is most heartened to hear that the parish is making a real attempt to fix the building. Given the exorbitant price tag, though, they're going to need better publicity if they're going to succeed. Hrm, just the thing that's tailor-made for the Project. Don't be surprised to see us more involved in this as it goes on.