‘Faithful fans’ cheer Giants

Franciscan friars visited all 30 ballparks this summer

By Melissa Vlach

“Are you guys Padres fans?”

“We’re actual padres. We’re the real deal.”

So went the exchange between a food vendor and Franciscan Father Casey Cole, who together with fellow Franciscan Father Roberto “Tito” Serrano, attended the Giants v. Chicago Cubs game at Oracle Park in San Francisco July 28. The stop was the penultimate stop of the ‘Bleacher Brothers’ tour to all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums.

They were joined at the Giants game by about 60 parishioners, mostly young adults, from St. Augustine in South San Francisco.

Exchanges like this are part of the goal for these Franciscan friars, who planned their trip with the desire to talk to ordinary people about life and faith, while enjoying their lifelong love of baseball. The two priests are members of the Order of Franciscan Friars Minor or OFM’s, the same order which ministers at St. Boniface Church in San Francisco.

The Bleacher Brothers tour. Courtesy website

“St. Francis of Assisi didn’t just preach in churches, the places where people who already had faith gathered. He spent most of his time preaching in the city square, among ordinary people, talking in ways they could understand,” Father Casey wrote on his blog, breakinginthehabit.org, noting that now people don’t gather on the streets as they did in the 13th century, they gather in big stadiums. The avid baseball fans came up with the idea of “spending a summer visiting the homes of America’s pastime, inviting people ‘home’ to the Church.”

The game preceded a talk at St. Augustine Parish the following night, July 29, at which the friars and parishioners discussed faith in the family and the spirituality of baseball, among other topics.

St. Augustine parishioners cheered the Giants with the two traveling Franciscans (Photo by Melissa Vlach/Archdiocese of San Francisco)

“It’s kind of an honor for them to visit us, and we wanted to give them a warm welcome as they come here,” said Erlan Tapawan, youth minister at St. Augustine. He noted that he was familiar with their YouTube videos and was excited to learn more from them.

Reflecting on their trip, Father Casey said that one of the surprises was how much they had spoken with Catholics during their visits. “We kind of expected that we’d talk to non-religious who were curious and confused by who we are, and we do that, but a lot of it is, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you in our parish bulletin, and, you know, we’re so excited about what you’re doing.’”

They interacted with non-practicing Catholics quite often, noted Father Tito. “We’ve met so many either fallen away Catholics or, you know, Catholics who were kind of stale in their faith.” They encourage such Catholics to reignite the fire of their faith.

 “I’m just really happy to be here. I think it’s a really cool event, a really cool opportunity, and yeah, I’m just really glad all of us were able to make it today,” said youth ministry member Abby Verino.

Denise Guevarra, pastoral commissioner for youth and young adults at the parish, said young people were very involved in planning the event and extending the invitation to other parishes.

“It’s really a group effort to set something up that’s not only fun and spiritual, but something that’s going to be memorable,” she said.

“We’re journeying together… in sainthood, which I think is really important, especially for this population of Catholics because they’re often the ones that are least heard, and they have a lot to say and a lot to contribute.”

Denise Guevarra, St. Augustine Parish

She also reflected on the importance of having opportunities for young people to be involved in Church ministries and activities. “We’re journeying together… in sainthood, which I think is really important, especially for this population of Catholics because they’re often the ones that are least heard, and they have a lot to say and a lot to contribute.”

The Bleacher Brothers joined the St. Augustine group for a while during the game, before continuing to make their way around the stadium and talk to fans.

Father Tito said the topics of conversation haven’t surprised him as much as the way that people open up to them. “We tend to finish our conversations by asking people if we can pray for them in some way, and just seeing how quickly people open up when you offer that, how they tell you what’s going on in their life, what’s going on with their friends or relatives, and so often the prayers that they ask for are, you know, for someone else, and so that immediately draws them to think of other people.”

Father Casey said a powerful moment for him at one of the baseball stadiums was hearing someone’s confession who had been away from the Church for 25 years.

Asked if they were rooting for the Giants, Father Casey replied, “We always root for the home team.” Their support must have helped; the Giants beat the Cubs 4-2, breaking a seven-game losing streak.

–Melissa Vlach is the social action/digital media coordinator in the Office of Human Life & Dignity.