The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has launched a new podcast series to help area faithful transition back to in-person parish life after weeks of COVID-19 restrictions.
The Arise podcast explores Catholic life in the archdiocese and offers reflections on the word of God as it speaks to us in our own day.
The show’s title is derived from that of the Arise initiative, a multifaceted archdiocesan effort that offers a wide array of resources for parishes in navigating the coronavirus crisis.
Featuring Father Richard Owens, O.F.M. Cap., Father Eric Banecker (parochial vicar of St. Pius X in Broomall) and Gina Christian (CatholicPhilly.com), the podcast presents the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith to Catholics, fellow Christians and all those who seek something more.
The series, which is slated to run for six to eight episodes, features a two-part interview with Archbishop Nelson Perez. In this second session, Archbishop Perez shares his thoughts on “setting a welcoming table” at church, “not staying too long inside yourself” and choosing hope over fear, both during a pandemic and always.
(Music by Johnny Markin, taken from the “Instrumental Acoustic Hymns Project,” owned by Essential Christian under the imprint Elevation, with an arrangement copyrighted by Music Services. For more information on the Arise Project, visit archphila.org/arise.)
If you’re accessing this podcast on a mobile device and do not wish to download the SoundCloud app, simply click on the “Listen in browser” option. You can also find us on Stitcher, Google Play, and iTunes.
Scroll down for a full transcription of the Arise podcast’s first episode.
The Arise podcast, Episode 2 – An Interview with Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez
Father Richard Owens: Welcome to The Arise Podcast. This is Capuchin Father Richard Owens.
Father Eric Banecker: And this is Father Eric Banecker.
Gina Christian: And I’m Gina Christian.
Father Eric Banecker: Where we explore Catholic life in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and reflect on the word of God as it speaks to us in our own day. We welcome back Archbishop Pérez, Archbiship of Philadelphia, who’s here for the second part of our Arise Podcast. Archbishop, welcome back.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Thank you. Thank you, Father Richard.
Father Richard Owens: Have you ever had any time to taste some cheesesteaks and pizza between this podcast and the last?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Well, I wish I did actually, but no, I didn’t.
Father Richard Owens: All right.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Do you have one?
Father Richard Owens: I do not. Archbishop, we’ve all been instructed to stay home and maintain social distancing at this time. But I think Catholics feel like there’s much more that can be done. What would you say to those people and for those Catholics who are anxious to get back to celebrating mass?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Well, obviously it is a time that at the end, we could either use it well or use it not well, one or the other.
Father Richard Owens: True.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Our complaining about it and our fretting about it is not going to change it. It’s bigger than us, it’s bigger than what we can control. So it’s better to take advantage of it, so I think spending a little quiet time.
Father Richard Owens: Sure.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: There’s a quietness about this time because we’re not doing what we ordinarily do. So finding time for quiet time, to spend time with the Lord in prayer and reading, and even engaging the various opportunities that the church has done through social media.
Father Richard Owens: Sure.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: That’s certainly something that we could do, is within our control to do that.
Father Richard Owens: Okay.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: I also think it’s a time to reconnect with family. Families today live very complicated and hectic lives. I had a friend of mine said to me recently that they have four kids and they love the fact that they could have movie night together, and that all these sports and activities and stuff don’t get in the way. Usually they are like ships in the night, because everybody’s so busy doing all these extracurricular activities, which are wonderful. But all of a sudden this thing has forced families to sit around tables.
And the other thing I would say is, because of the quietness and that our normal routines are in there, there’s always a temptation to live in your head and to avoid that.
Father Richard Owens: Sure. Yeah.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: To avoid living in your head. It’s good to crawl in there from time to time, but to live in your head all the time is not always a healthy thing. So it’s also a time to connect with people on the phone. We have these little things that we could talk to people and we connect, and not live in our head.
Father Richard Owens: Sure. Yeah.
Father Eric Banecker: All right. Archbishop, at your installation, Father Richard and I were both part of the ceremonies cruise. We were running around the lot, but we were both in the sacristy I think during the homily. And one of the things you said during that homily was, it’s time to come back to church to the people.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Right.
Father Eric Banecker: And of course, nationwide and within our own diocese, I’m sure you’re aware of the number going to Sunday Mass is not what it used to be. Now at some point, Sunday Mass will return of course in the archdiocese. And so what would you say parishes can be doing, to once we have Sunday Mass again, what can we be doing to keep people there? To make them want to come back and to make them want to stay?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Well, set a good table.
Father Eric Banecker: Yeah.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: The table has to be set well with good preaching and good music and there’s the beauty of the church, and beauty attracts. And I think that’s important to do. We do it in every other place in our lives. So when we invite people to our homes, we set the best table before them because we want them to feel at home, but also we want them to feel special. But we take out our special China and tablecloths. And so I would say to our parish communities, set a good table and figure out what that means for them. But set a good table, because if you set a good table, people will come back.
Father Eric Banecker: Yeah. I’m sure there’s a lot of young people listening to this podcast. What would you say to a young person that’s maybe thinking about their future at this time, maybe discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Persevere in it. Talk to God and talk to people.
Father Eric Banecker: Are there any priests or religious in your own life growing up that really influenced you and inspired you to consider becoming a priest?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: One of them was at the installation actually. He sat in the front pew, very first few. He didn’t concelebrate because he’s he’s 89 and has a little difficulty walking and stuff. But I introduced him actually at the very end of the installation for them, Michael Feketie.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: In many ways he had a lasting impact, especially as a child that never actually left. I was on a national Facebook type of live … Facebook Live they call it, with Culture Project just last night. And the question, “Who influenced you growing up?” And I would say, “Well, John Paul the Great.”
Father Richard Owens: Sure.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: St. John Paul the second. At all different moments and in different ways. The very first time I laid eyes on him, I was a teenager in Madison Square Garden in New York in 1979, and there was a youth rally. And he captivated not only 20,000 young people, but also me.
Father Richard Owens: Sure. What do you enjoy most about being a priest and a bishop?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: First and foremost, the celebration of the Eucharist and everything that that implies. Because it’s not just my little celebration, it’s a celebration of the church and therefore other people. So it’s connected then to being with people, I would say. And then having been over the years accompanying people, not only in their happy moments, but sometimes in their challenging moments as well.
Father Richard Owens: Sure. I was going to say, we found ourselves in Easter, the season of hope and resurrection and new life. Have you experienced any instances or examples of new life and hope and new beginnings in the diocese the midst of this pandemic?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Actually, yeah, yeah. I think, even though I stand at the Cathedral every Sunday morning at 11 before an empty cathedral, basically there are the two priests who live at the cathedral rectory. They sit on one side, socially distant from each other. And then the lectors sit on the other side, socially distance from each other. And then a couple of servers and a cantor. But when I look out, it’s three people, maybe four, that’s all that’s out there. But there’s over 50,000 people actually tuning in to that Mass. So in a sense, in one way, it is one of the smallest groups I’ve ever preached to. And at the same time, it is the largest group I’ve ever preached to.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: And I got a call from actually a friend of mine who lost her husband about a year and a half ago. And she called me a couple of weeks, about two weeks ago. And she says, “Listen, I just wanted to tell you this.” She said, “I know you stand there basically in front of an empty cathedral and you don’t know who’s on the other side listening, but I just wanted to let you know that lots of people are listening. And the words that you say in your homily or touching, including my own heart.”
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: And that was great. And there are people tuning in that … There are people in my family and among friends that really haven’t always been churchgoers. And I know for a fact that by 10:30, quarter to 11 on Sunday mornings, they’re texting each other, “Let’s get on to Nelson’s Mass.” And so there are people going to Mass now hat were not before. My hope and my prayer is that this will bring them back home. If God has allowed this, then that’s up to God and their hearts.
Father Eric Banecker: Yeah, I think we’ve seen that the internet, iPhones, live streaming, has been a great opportunity for evangelization.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Absolutely.
Father Eric Banecker: And of course, for some people, of course, it can be an opportunity, unfortunately go more into isolation and the things that go along with that. So what advice do you have either for priests about how to evangelize in this time and lay people, how do they use technology well and not for those isolating thing?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Certainly this particular situation of this pandemic has shown the church and priests and parishes and stuff, that there is maybe an underutilized resource in the digital sphere that needs to be used more effectively, as you’re doing through this podcast. And there’s an audience there that we have to get to. We are using it now. We didn’t do this stuff of streaming Masses in the way that’s happening now.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: So I think there’s a lot of great learning, lessons learned, out of this particular challenging moment that we could take on and beyond. After this, we could go back to public celebration of Mass and ecclesial life.
Father Richard Owens: Archbishop, what message would you give to those who are grieving or scared at this time? Is there a short message or scripture that you would reference?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Well, the Scriptures constantly called us to not be afraid.
Father Richard Owens: Yeah, sure.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: It’s one of the phrases that is used over and over again in the Old Testament, and then Jesus himself uses it several times. And there’s a reason why he says it. He doesn’t say it because he didn’t have anything else to say. He said it and called us to not be afraid, because we are afraid. Fear is a very powerful human feeling. Some fear is good, because it protect us and keeps us from harm. But the fear that takes away the deep piece of our soul might not be so good.
Father Richard Owens: Sure.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: And so I would say, listen to the words of the Scripture, do not be afraid. Be prudent, do your due diligence, and then trust and hope.
Father Richard Owens: Archbishop, before we go off to air here, just out of curiosity, do you have a favorite Saint?
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Well, St. John Paul II is one.
Father Richard Owens: Got it.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: St. Rita of Cascia is another.
Father Richard Owens: Okay.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: St. Francis is another.
Father Richard Owens: Great, good to hear that.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: And St. Clare, St. John Bosco —
Father Richard Owens: Okay —
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: — the founder of the Salesians, Dom Bosco is a powerful saint. St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic.
Father Richard Owens: Okay, cool. Archbishop, thank you for spending time with us this afternoon. We hope that maybe after this, we can go out and grab maybe a nice pizza.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Yes.
Father Richard Owens: Your treat me —
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Pepperoni and sausage.
Father Richard Owens: Your treat.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: No, the Capuchin is going to pay for it.
Father Richard Owens: The Capuchin.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: They all have a lot of money.
Father Richard Owens: But we’ve taken something called a vow of poverty,
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Oh please. You can buy a pizza.
Father Richard Owens: Archbishop, thank you for your time and we hope to visit you again.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: Thank you.
Father Richard Owens: Perhaps the same place, same time in a few weeks.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez: And thank you so much. You guys are young, vibrant priests, a great gift to the church.
Father Eric Banecker: Thank you, Archbishop.
Father Richard Owens: Thank you.
Father Eric Banecker: And now we’re going to take a look at a very famous and beloved gospel passage, the story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, a famous Resurrection account. So let’s listen first of all, to the Scripture from the Gospel according to Luke.
Father Eric Banecker: “That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’s disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus. And they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself, drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?”
They stopped, looking downcast. One of them named Cleopas said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus, the Nazarene, who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. How are chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel. And besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.
“Some women from our group, however, have astounded us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body. They came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him, they did not see.”
And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther, but they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening in the day is almost over.’” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found, gathered together, the Eleven. And those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
Father Eric Banecker: When I had the privilege of traveling to the Holy Land with some seminary classmates, my last year, my deacon year in the seminary, just the way they organize the tour was very nice. We were in Galilee for the first days and Galilee’s more of a peaceful, quiet, beautiful place, reflecting on our Lord’s public ministry, on his birth, on his Blessed Mother.
And then you take the second part of the trek down to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is of course the modern bustling city. But of course it just, you can feel the weight of history in Jerusalem and the three great religions and their interaction there. And the different Christian denominations that are all centered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And just in that southern part of modern Israel, it’s a whole different feel to the place.
And so on our trip, on the last day, the last thing we really went to, was a place called Ein Karem, which is the modern city where Emmaus was, about seven miles from Jerusalem. It was basically, we packed up our things in Jerusalem, and then we went to Ein Karem and then we went to the getaway dinner. And then off we went on the plane back to the United States.
And by that time in the trip, I have to be honest, I was completely exhausted. I really don’t remember a thing about the Emmaus visit, the Ein Karem trip seven miles from Jerusalem. I do know, I do remember getting off the bus and walking around and saying, “I think we’re going to get back on the bus.” Because you’re just so wiped out and exhausted after a week of this beautiful, powerful experiences. You get to the point where you go, “I just can’t do this much more.”
And ironically, I think our two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus may have been feeling something similar. They may have been drained and exhausted and anxious and fearful and sad about what was going on in Jerusalem. What they had witnessed, what they had seen, what had taken place on that Friday. All of a sudden, the man they’d come to trust and love, and who walked with them and who they decided to follow, was no longer there. He was suddenly gone.
We could hear in their voice, in their words, this feeling of dejection, of emptiness, the thought they just can’t do it anymore. We don’t even know why they were going to Emmaus. Maybe just to get out of town, get out of Jerusalem. Maybe they were scared for their own lives. And yet in the midst of that, it is Jesus himself who begins to walk with them. He walks with them, he walks right into their grief and their anxiousness and their sense that they can’t do this anymore.
That is where he decides to reveal himself, to show himself risen from the dead. To speak the word of God to them, a word of comfort, and a word challenging them to understand who he is and what he has done, not just for them, but for all of humanity. And how it follows right along with what the Old Testament said would take place. And so they begin to understand and they make this beautiful act … It turns out to be an act of faith, “Stay with us.” They know that this man is attractive in some way, they like what he’s saying. They say, “Stay with us.”
The linguistic history of the word “parish” is very interesting. Back there the Greek word behind that word really refers to a way station, an oasis in a desert, a place where pilgrims could stop and rest and be refreshed. And we think, isn’t that what a parish is? A parish church is a place for all of us through our grief and anxiety and through the ups and downs of life. And yes, there are a sense of exhaustion and the days and weeks and months where you think we can’t do this anymore. It is there that the Lord wants to meet us. He wants to walk along with us. He wants to speak his word to us anew and to be made truly present for us in the Eucharist.
And so it’s when we go to our parish church, that we are saying what the disciples said, “Stay with us, stay with us.” And so, it doesn’t matter in a time of a pandemic that we’re all experiencing, or in individual moments of our lives of sickness or death or the loss of a job. These little disasters, these little problems that we deal with, that we all deal with, is the Lord inviting us to encounter his word and to experience him truly present in the Eucharist. That’s what happens at every Mass. Every time we gather around the Lord’s altar, it’s there. That just as Jesus broke the bread that day at Emmaus, he breaks the bread for us.
And so we pray. Lord Jesus Christ. You gave us the Eucharist as the memorial of your suffering and death. May our worship of this sacrament of your Body and Blood help us to experience the salvation you want for us. And the peace of the Kingdom, where you live with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us.
Gina Christian: You’ve been listening to the Arise podcast with Capuchin Father Richard Owens and Father Eric Banecker. I’m Gina Christian, and for more resources and information on the Arise Project, visit archphila.org/arise. Thanks for listening.
This podcast has been a production of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Our engineers are Jhoselyn Martinez and Gina Christian. Music by Johnny Markin, taken from the “Instrumental Acoustic Hymns Project,” owned by Essential Christian under the imprint Elevation, with an arrangement copyrighted by Music Services. For more information on the Arise Project, visit archphila.org/arise.
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