Boston Friars Offer Messages of Hope Amid Violence

Maria Hayes In the Headlines

BOSTON — Almost immediately after two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, first responders and citizens alike sprang into action to help their fellow man. Among them was Brian Jordan, OFM, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was one block away from the site of the detonations.

“I heard the explosions. I didn’t see them. I thought it had something to do with the Patriot’s Day celebration,” Brian told The Tablet, the publication of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “But then I saw the horrible sight of people suffering, running from the scene. It was a terrible scene of blood and confusion, and I knew it was an attack on the people of Boston.”

Realizing that he would be of most help if he were in his habit, Brian returned to where he was staying and donned the garment before returning to the streets, according to The New York Times. Earlier that day, he had celebrated a pre-race Mass for a group of roughly 100 friends who were running, including Boston firefighters, Massachusetts State Police officers, and several Army soldiers recently returned from Iraq.

“I’m not a medical person or a police officer. I’m just a Franciscan friar,” he told The Tablet. “I just went up to people and talked to them. I tried to give a message of serenity and peace, a message of hope.”

Boston Friars Work With Victims
The message of peace and hope was alive at St. Anthony Shrine, the church on Arch Street, where a healing and thanksgiving prayer service for first responders was celebrated one week after the bombings. The prayer service was originally planned for Friday, but had to be rescheduled due to the lockdown during the manhunt for suspects. Among first responders who rushed to the scene was Siena College graduate Jim Plourde, ‘99, who was pictured carrying an injured woman in a photo that ran with many news stories.

The day after the prayer service, John Maganzini, OFM, was in the main lobby of the shrine when he was approached by a man who asked for an extra copy of the prayer service program. He told John that he was a retired firefighter who had attended the prayer service. “I went to the special prayer service at the cathedral and, though it was very beautiful, this one was very special.” He thanked John for the copy of the program and added, “Brother, for me the Franciscans are and will always be ‘the first responders’ of the Catholic Church.”

The shrine remained open after last Monday’s explosions, but the city had fallen silent.

Richard Flaherty, OFM, was present in the lobby for any who might need comfort or solace,” said James Kelly, OFM, director of St. Anthony Shrine. “Maybe a dozen people stopped by to say a prayer. A miniscule number showed for confession and fewer still for Masses. Some were not celebrated. Richard said that all he could see were small plastic bags blowing around the streets. It was a veritable ghost town.”

Soon after the explosions occurred, James made sure all friars and staff members were accounted for. No one from the shrine was physically injured.

“We feel numb. This feels very personal,” he said. “That day was glorious. The sun was bright, it wasn’t too hot, and after a long, snowy winter, everyone wanted to be outside. We are all grieving for the victims.”

Brian Cullinane, OFM, assistant director of the shrine, was in New York City for a meeting during the attack.  In an interview with WABC-TV while in Penn Station, he said: “It’s scary. I lived in New Jersey during 9/11 here and could see the towers coming down. It’s frightening to realize now it’s happening in Boston.”

Daniel Horan, OFM, a graduate student at Boston College, was in the suburbs at the time of the blast, but experienced the lockdown that occurred Friday as police searched the area for suspects.

“Things here are extraordinarily quiet, which gives my neighborhood an eerie feel that reinforces the bizarre and tragic events that continue to unfold,” he wrote on his blog Dating God during the April 19 lockdown. “I continue to be proud of my neighbors and fellow residents of this city, and I hope and pray that this crisis will come to a safe conclusion soon.”

Province Offers Prayers and Support
Boston native John Anglin, OFM, of St. Petersburg, Fla., watched with the rest of the world as his hometown reacted to the crisis.

“Though I no longer live in Boston, my heart will always be there, and it is a broken heart after the terror attack at the Boston Marathon,” he wrote on his blog The Wandering Friar. “I will add, however, that I truly believe in the Scripture verse which says, ‘The Lord heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.’”

At St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., parishioners submitted the names of friends and relatives affected by the bombings to be prayed for. “We are saddened by the explosions, deaths, injuries and trauma experienced by so many people in Boston,” said Thomas Gallagher, OFM, pastor, in an email. “Our prayers go out to each person who suffers the pain of the experience.”

Jim, a Massachusetts native who has been stationed at the shrine for nearly two years, acknowledged the generosity of the citizens of Boston and those who offered comfort. “The amount of kindness being shown from citizen-to-citizen is remarkable.”

Brian Jordan shared his personal thoughts about the tragedy as someone who has run 21 Boston Marathons.

“The Boston Marathon is the greatest, purest, and most aesthetic marathon in the world,” he wrote in a reflection published in SFC Today for students of St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, where he is chaplain.. “Anyone who has ran the Boston Marathon can testify that the people along the pathways of this treasured race — the volunteers, the medical personnel and the cheering, adoring supporters — pump an endless supply of energy in both the elite runners, the middle-of-the-road runners, and the back-of-the-pack runners like myself. We cannot finish the marathon without those shouting voices, friendly faces and helpful handshakes.

“In recent days, cries for revenge and dangerous speculations have struck both the greater Boston area as well as the nation,” he continued in the piece titled “Why I Love the Boston Marathon.”  He added, “I feel tempted myself to ascribe to the Old Testament teaching of an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth … After careful reflection, my sermon for today is ‘Calm down, be smart with your heart, be kind to your mind, and console your soul.’”

John Anglin also warned about giving in to the temptation to react to last week’s news in anger. “Anger has its place. Anger motivates us to seek justice, and then to seek reconciliation with those who have wronged us. Often, however, justice is not granted. We are wounded. The anger is unresolved,” he wrote. “What to do with such anger? Ask the Lord to heal our angry hearts. … Anger that is originally justifiable and understandable turns to bitterness and resentment.

“Let us head (sic) the words of St. Augustine,” he continued. “’Maintaining resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies.’ I would add that sometimes it leads people to outright kill. Lord, heal our wounded and angry hearts!”

In an effort to prepare for future emergencies, the shrine has created an emergency response team and is in the process of determining resources that it can offer in a crisis.

As the country continues to process the violence wrought on the city of Boston, Brian Jordan hopes people will remember the message delivered by eight-year-old victim Martin Richard.

“The greatest image we should remember from this tragedy is not the show of force in the manhunt, but the photo of young Martin Richard holding up a poster with his words and his hope for the entire world — ‘No more hurting people. Peace.’”

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.