Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Saint Edward the Confessor

It was a sad Mass. So sad even the priest cried. We were not burying a person but rather a building…the church of Saint Edward the Confessor still standing amidst the urban prairie of the north Philadelphia badlands. Over a century old it had watched its community built, beautified, abandoned and finally destroyed. All that was left were occasional defiant row homes without rows that gasped on acres of broken bricks and dead trees. The aftermath of another great urban battlefield, one of many that chanted the sorrow of American cities at the end of the twentieth century. And now the little congregation of ten gathered in a church which had once greeted a thousand for spectacular Christmas Masses. We came to bury this glorious monument of English Gothic architecture. Towering stained glass windows from France reflected for one last time the story of our faith. Altar bells echoed in the great void. The Virgin Queen gave her final loving gaze. “Ita Missa Est” whispered the broken priest. He had tried so valiantly to save this lighthouse of love in a violent sea of drugs and cruelty. It was over. He had lost.

They entered before the incense had even drifted up to the interior heaven. Protected by security guards they began to take as much of the art that they could move this day. The twenty foot crucifix was lowered carefully onto a padded vehicle for transport to the archdiocesan warehouse. Each man carried a massive candlestick from the home they had known for a century. In one corner a group wrestled the Virgin from her pedestal with the help of a small crane. Yes it was really over. Outside nervous young guards stood by as the loot was taken. Across the street a Black man was yelling, “Thieves! This is God’s house. His glory belongs to His people who have nothing!” Some dismissed him as a drunk, a street person from the rubble. The guards would briefly give him quick stares, always avoiding prolonged eye contact. “Thieves! God’s vengeance on you!” He was a prophet of the street. He had nothing but the truth.