By William Gonch
Special to The CS&T

MANAYUNK – This Lent, parishioners from across five parishes in Manayunk gathered for Masses and a series of talks titled “Lenten Journeys.” The series attracted between 50 and 100 people each night to hear homilies and talks on “the personal call to holiness.”

Members of St. John the Baptist, Holy Family, St. Josaphat, St. Lucy and St. Mary of the Assumption parishes participated in the program.

After each Mass, a lay volunteer active in a local ministry gave a short talk on his or her ministry and its relation to holiness.


“These are not unusual stories,” said Father Charles Zlock, pastor of St. Mary’s. “We have people in our pews who do this all the time. And if you look scripturally, especially in the early Church, that is what attracted people: How is the Lord Jesus Christ working in people’s lives?”

Dena Lyons, one of the speakers in the series, hosts meals after Mass at St. Mary’s in a ministry called “Cooking for Christ.” She spoke about the importance of fellowship for bringing people into the Church and about the role that food plays in her spirituality.

“I brought it back to being fed and remembering the relationships that my parents had sitting at the table with their friends and neighbors and community,” Lyons said. “A lot of people don’t consider mundane tasks like preparing a meal holy, but if you think about the impact you have on everyone who shares it, it is holy. Food, to me, is love.”

Lyons works with Chante Rodenas, whose path back to the Church ran through Lyons’ kitchen. She spoke of being young and drifting from church to church until, one day, she sat next to Lyons, who welcomed her and invited her into the cooking ministry. Rodenas said she wanted her talk “to give people hope that you never know who you’re going to make an impression on at Mass.”

“Dena started talking to me, and all of a sudden I found myself at home,” she added. “It was kind of my journey back to the Catholic Church.”

Amy Scalera, another speaker in the series, also used the theme to talk about her journey with God. She spoke of attending pharmacy school, feeling frustrated, and wondering if she should leave school to work with children. One evening she prayed, “God, I’m really unhappy; if you want me to do something different, let me know by tomorrow.” The next morning she received a call from a local church offering her a job as a youth minister. Scalera is now starting a nonprofit to help at-risk children.

Father James Lyons of St. John the Baptist Parish was one of the homilists in the series.

He preached on “working out … the call to holiness,” and described his message as such: “Although we’re called to be saints, we don’t have to be saints right now to be holy. Start out as a sinner and work your way closer.”

William Gonch is a freelance writer and a member of Our Lady of Hope Parish in North Philadelphia.