Mystery Players Gather in New Jersey

Jocelyn Thomas Features

KEARNY, N.J. — “This brings me great joy that you get to meet each other,” said Francis Pompei, OFM, looking around a crowded gym where theFranciscan Mystery Players had gathered here.

For the first time in the ministry’s 30-year history, 140 members of seven Franciscan Mystery Players (FMP) groups convened to share experiences. The teenagers and their leaders traveled from Florida, Colorado, northern New York, and New Jersey to the April 4 event at the Newark, N.J., Archdiocese Youth Retreat Center.

“For years, I have wanted to do this — gather the groups in one place,” said Francis, who launched the ministry in 1976. 

“My intention has always been to teach you how to talk to Jesus. He wants you to know him,” Francis said. “Jesus has created this family, Jesus is in this gym.”

The players participated in prayer, discussions and activities to celebrate their ministry and share stories. It was an opportunity for the groups to “become richer by learning about other FMP groups,” said Sandy Reilly, leader of the Aurora, Colo., FMP. 

Making Introductions
The gathering opened with a welcome from Reilly, who got cheers and applause from the young people scattered in the bleachers. “Today, we’re going to forget the towns we are from and leave behind any language about how we are different or better,” she said. “Today, we are all Mystery Players.”

Francis introduced the seven groups in the order in which they were formed. He described the first play he created with his brother Fr. Fred Pompei, a diocesan priest from Syracuse, N.Y., and told how the plays were developed and the 11 FMP groups were formed.

Francis thanked Paul Beattie, originally from Clayton, N.Y., who now leads a Cape Coral, Fla., group, for organizing the gathering. He presented a shirt to Beattie showing the text, “WWFD: What Would Francis Do,” followed by 10 phrases.

“Fran is amazing,” said Beattie, a 20-something former FMP member. “It truly is the Holy Spirit that works through him.”

Sharing Ideas and Experiences
FMP is a youth ministry for youth by youth, according to Francis.

The FMP Web site describes the members as “teenaged itinerant preachers on journey from church to church, acting out four meditations.” Lent is especially busy for FMP groups, mostly performing “Jesus the Healer” and “The Sorrowful Mysteries.”

The gathering in Northern New Jersey included activities that fostered getting to know each other better. Adult leaders also met to share ideas and experiences, including a discussion of team-building and recruitment.

“It’s been nice to see the reaction of adults in our parish to these young people,” said Rich Wijneski of New Jersey.

The players were asked to perform impromtu skits that reflected the stages of a mystery play preparation. The performances elicited smiles of recognition, laughter and applause.

The afternoon ended with “The Circle,” where players gathered around a candle and a crucifix to, as Francis said, “Talk to Jesus and share things going on in our lives.”

“We ask the Lord, as good Franciscans, to make us instruments of his peace,” Francis said. “The Prayer Circle is where Mystery Players first experience Jesus.”

In The Circle, the young people tell “glory stories,” Francis said. “We share stories of how God has touched us.”

Seated on the gym floor, the mystery players, many wearing Tau crosses, shared their experiences, often telling how the ministry benefited them.

They made comments such as: “This has changed my life,” “I feel closer to you guys than I do to my friends outside of the Mystery Players,” “This ministry helped me adjust when I moved to a new state,” and “This has helped me feel closer to my family, especially my father.”

Other comments included: “Before Mystery Players, I felt antisocial. Instead of one friend, I found that I now have 16 friends”; “Participating in the Mystery Players has helped me with just about everything in my life”; “Last year when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, it was these friends who gave me the support I needed”; “I realized back when I was 7 years old and saw my first Mystery Play that I wanted to be part of the Franciscan Mystery Players.”

FMPItinerant Preachers
Beattie said that interacting with 140 mystery players as part of The Circle was appreciated by the young people.

“The prayer circles are a very important part to the Mystery Players, and to hear those witnesses on that Saturday was amazing,” Beattie said. “The kids and adults truly felt the Holy Spirit and were moved by the stories they heard.”

After dinner and relaxation time, the St. Mary’s Mystery Players of Clayton. N.Y., performed the “Sorrowful Mysteries” at Sacred Heart Chapel on the grounds of the archdiocesan center. As with all mystery plays, the narration and sound was guided by adults, as the teenagers reenact events from Jesus’ life. 

Before arriving in New Jersey, the mystery players from Florida had an opportunity to visit a Franciscan parish. On Thursday evening, they performed at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, S.C., where Patrick Tuttle, OFM, is pastor.

“We literally were itinerant preachers,” said Beattie. “That is what being a Mystery Player is all about — going out and spreading the word to other people.

“My kids are still talking about how powerful that weekend was. It helped them realize what being a Franciscan Mystery Player was all about. The Mystery Players is an amazing ministry and I am truly blessed to be a part of it.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.