By NADIA MARIA SMITH
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – St. Joachim Parish drew a couple hundred people Friday night, Aug. 8, for a special Mass to pray for peace in the community and an end to violence in the city of Philadelphia.
Father Steven Wetzel, O.S.F.S., the pastor of St. Joachim Parish in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, organized the Mass as a pastoral initiative that brought together members from St. Joachim and Ascension of Our Lord parishes.
He had been getting calls and visits from concerned parishioners about the recent increase in violent activity in the neighborhood.
“This summer things turned sour really quickly,” Father Wetzel said. “At the end of May, I noticed many teens and young adults in their 20s gathering on the streets terrorizing people all day and night.”
Father Wetzel reports that several youths were hanging around on the street corner in front of the rectory throwing telephone books at cars driving by. A month ago, on a Sunday afternoon, Father Wetzel witnessed a violent street fight in which nearly 30 young people were fighting with baseball bats and knives. One person even had a handgun, he said.
He has also noticed a return to drug sales and usage in the neighborhood.
“It seemed like [the violence] was rolling out of control and it was unstoppable,” he said.
That’s when Father Wetzel called the 15th district police station and the local branch of the Guardian Angels, a non-profit, international, volunteer organization of unarmed citizen crime fighters, to patrol the streets surrounding the church.
With the increased police patrol and the presence of the Guardian Angels in front of the church, the delinquent youths have scattered and “it has allowed people to feel safe enough to come outside and sit on their porch again,” Father Wetzel said.
But more needs to be done, he added. “We want to be part of the solution.”
In the coming weeks, city officials will be meeting with the parish community to provide the tools and resources needed to reclaim their neighborhood, but before they do that Father Wetzel wanted to make sure that the community came together to pray first.
“Praying together in this Mass … helps us realize that we are all in the same position. All the communities, whether Kensington, Frankford or Mayfair, are struggling with the same thing,” said Kris Sierko, a life-long parishioner of St. Joachim Parish, who is also the youth group coordinator.
She organized her youth is to stand in front of the church with signs before the Mass that was concelebrated by Father Wetzel and Father Michael Chapman of Ascension of Our Lord Parish. The signs spoke words of peace from saints and the Gospel.
“It’s a good beginning for us to come together in prayer … without prayer first there is nothing else. Without God on your side leading the way we’ll be lost,” she said.
Parishioner Raymond Perez added, “It’s important to work together, no matter if you speak Spanish or English, because working together will lift up the spirit and give us courage.”
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.