Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Stand Tall, Be One: Fr. Michael Bafaro

Periodically, as an antidote to all the bad news, we like to bring you information about priests who are doing it right, who are walking with their people. So we want to share with you the following article about Fr. Michael Bafaro, a priest and community activist from Worcester, MA who has been widely honored for his work.

First, we can glean some basic insight into this man from Rep. James McGovern's remarks honoring Fr. Bafaro in 2003 on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives:

...Father Bafaro was ordained on June 28, 1953. He worked for 11 years at Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Worcester, Massachusetts before volunteering to travel to Sicuani, Peru to work with the often neglected Andean community.

His experience in Peru was a critical step towards his role as an international community leader and activist. He returned to Worcester to work with the Latino community. In Worcester, he founded the only Latino community-based organization in the city. His role as founder and executive director of
Centro Las Americas, in addition to his longtime participation in the community thereafter, caused the organization to grant Father Bafaro the first Annual Lifetime Achievement Award.

Father Bafaro earned the position of Pastor/Administrator of
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel-St. Ann in Worcester in 1986. This position had a special spiritual meaning for the Father Bafaro due to his close relationship with the Carmelites of Peru. Once again Father Bafaro excelled as a leader and defender of human rights and equality. He has proven to be a loyal advocate for children's education, cultural awareness, low-income housing, and employment opportunities for those in need. He built the Mt. Carmel Apartments for low-income and handicapped people in 1991 and the Italian-American Cultural Center...

...He is the president of
Worcester Community Cable Access television station where important community issues are presented and discussed. These examples show his devotion to raising the consciousness of others and the extent to which he stands for peace and justice...

Fr. Bafaro has a self-published autobiography out called Stand Tall, Be One: My life as a Radical Priest written in collaboration with Sam Costello, and best of all: he is a good friend of the Catholic Worker community in Worcester...who are friends of Rebel Girl (but I digress)...

A life of service

By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
June 10, 2010

“I never planned to be a priest,” begins the introduction in a new autobiography of one of Worcester’s best-known.

In the afterward he says, “The greatest thing about being a priest is that I’ve had the opportunity to make a difference in the world wherever I’ve gone.” The back cover recounts one way this priest made a difference: “Few people have stood between armed groups and prevented them from rioting. Fewer still have done it more than once.”

Such must-read-on foreshadowing appears throughout the self-published autobiography: “Stand Tall, Be One: My life as a Radical Priest” by Father Michael P. Bafaro, as told to Sam Costello.

Mr. Costello, a writer from Rhode Island, said he met Father Bafaro through Michelle Currie, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Ann Parish in Worcester, where Father Bafaro grew up and served for years. He had helped with the story of her father, Conrad Boilard.

Mr. Costello said he and Father Bafaro started their work in 2006 and finished last year. The first books came in a few weeks ago and to date about 250 copies have been printed, he said.

May 20 the Gene J. DeFeudis Italian-American Cultural Center, which Father Bafaro founded in 1992 at Mount Carmel’s parish center, sponsored a booksigning at Pepe’s Trattoria in Worcester, said Joan D’Argenis, Cultural Center president.

“The fact that over 300 people showed up that evening – that is a testimony to the man,” she said. They sold 125 of the $10 books, and she’s still taking orders, she said.

“He’s been an inspiration to me all my life,” said Mauro DePasquale, Mount Carmel parishioner and executive director of WCCA-TV 13. Father Bafaro is president of the station, which airs his program, “Stand Tall, Be One.”

“I read the draft,” Mr. DePasquale said of the book. “It’s fantastic. … It’s like an adventure story.”

“My connection with Father Mike goes back to when I was a teenager” at Mount Carmel, said Gloria A. D’Elia, now at St. George Parish. She said she visited him in Peru and returned to volunteer.

Perhaps Father Bafaro’s most exciting years were his 12 as a missionary there. Among other things, he worked with the poor who occupied rich people’s land. Government and landowner “instigators” tried to start fights, so they could break up the community, he says.

“We were high-profile because our tactics in agitating for our community worked,” he writes. Their involvement in liberation theology made them even more conspicuous.

He describes a time police surrounded armed groups facing each other. He persuaded the groups to leave and the police to leave them alone.

“This kind of thing happened more than once,” Father Bafaro writes. “And that wasn’t even the most dangerous situation I found myself in.” That time, he persuaded people to dismantle their bombs and later rescued the instigator’s family and had him jailed to protect him.

“When there was danger, I just prayed and dove in,” he writes. “I truly believe that prayer and the Holy Spirit saved not only me, but many others, too, during dangerous situations.”

A friend told him if he had stayed when civil war broke out, he would have been assassinated, like other priests and religious, he says. But he returned to Worcester and continued “agitating” – for Hispanics’ rights here. Again, he experienced opposition, victories and danger, and did typical priestly ministry.

“I think that I, as a Christian, have been called…to bring Christ into the world through my work, whether that’s at the altar, on TV, or in community organizations,” Father Bafaro writes.

“I would hope that people will realize the necessity of priests,” he told The Catholic Free Press. “If their sons want to become priests, don’t say ‘No.’ Because I became a priest - I was 16 going on 17 and a lady says to me, ‘Hey, why don’t you become a priest?’ I say, ‘Hey, maybe that’s what I’m going to be.’ I took that as a call.”

The 83-year-old decides maybe he should write a second book.

What about?

“What it means to become a priest.”

What would he say about that?

He says he would tell young men to “ask the Almighty to guide them, and they’ll never regret it, because I think that nowadays there’s a great need for people to be aware in their life that there is a God.…If they’re coming out of Africa (to be priests in the United States) why are they not coming out of here? I’ve never regretted even for a moment that I became a priest.”

VIDEO: Fr. Bafaro Addressing a Peace Gathering in Worcester on March 24, 2007

Photos: Fr. Michael Bafaro speaking, and standing with the late peace activist Tom Lewis.

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