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St. Frances In Business Of Giving Back
Deacon Richard Williamsen of St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church issued an invitation to the community to share in the joy of the upcoming Easter celebration. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

St. Frances of Rome in Riverbank has a pantry that helps feed people in need in collaboration with the St. Vincent de Paul organization that also provides other services as long as funding is available.

Rome approved the building of the St. Frances of Rome church and the Parish was dedicated in 1950 which was welcomed by the vibrant Catholic presence in the community. In 2000, an extension of the parish was built which allowed room for another 60 people as well as a new social hall and classrooms.

“Our community now is predominantly Hispanics and a lot of them are from Michoacán, Mexico” stated Deacon Richard Williamsen. “We have eight masses and four of them are in Spanish and typically for the Spanish mass people are standing along the walls and in back.”

Williamsen explained that St. Frances of Rome was born into a wealthy Italian family and she originally wanted to be a nun. Her father would not allow this and had planned an arranged marriage for her. Throughout her life she helped feed the poor which makes it fitting to have a pantry at the current location with her name attached to it.

“We use saints to help us emulate how we are supposed to be,” explained Williamsen. “Was she perfect no, are any of the saints perfect, no.

“The only perfect person is Jesus.”

The Catholic Church is universal and everyone is accepted as well as invited to become a member, according to Williamsen.

The Pope is the leader of the Catholic Church and Williamsen expressed that he feels the current Pope is wonderful. However, he said, there are a few misconceptions that people have regarding the Pope and the Catholic Church.

“We believe that the Pope can speak with infallibility of matters about faith only,” added Williamsen. “Everything else is open for discussion.

“He is trying to turn our faces back towards what Christ asked us to do which is to love our neighbors as ourselves and to help others and to accept others.”

The Catholic religion has many rituals and the upcoming Easter celebration is no exception. Lent is a religious observance by many Christian denominations that begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent and, contrary to some beliefs, if you do not get your ashes it is okay and the idea that people think they will go to hell if they don’t is nonsense, according to Williamsen. He added that ashes have no power in and of themselves; they are simply a mark to indicate you are a believer of the gospel and want to become a better person.

“Lent is a time to remember two things: one, that we are supposed to repent and turn back to God through the Gospel, and two, to remember we came from dust and we will return to dust,” stated Williamsen. “It is meant to humble us a little bit, to prepare to give thanks to God.”

The Holy Week will start on Palm Sunday, which is the Sunday before Easter. Lent ends on Holy Thursday; this was the night that Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples. This is known as the last supper. Palm Sunday is the reminder of when Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem. The last supper celebration on the Thursday night before Easter at St. Frances will be a bilingual service.

Saturday night will be the Easter vigil and Easter Sunday there will be four services in the morning.

Meanwhile, as part of the church’s role in the community, St. Vincent de Paul is a non-profit organization with 10 volunteer members who are all Board Directors. They began their collaboration with St. Frances in 1995. The group assists approximately 125 families a week within the Riverbank community.

“Our primary concern is feeding the needy, but we also help somewhat with utilities, prescriptions, bus fare to doctor’s appointments and other needs depending on funding,” stated director Scott McRitchie. “Two of the volunteers also buy the food from local markets, the Second Harvest Food Bank and Salvation Army. Two do the interviewing, two hand out the food bags and the rest prepare the food bags for distribution.”

All the volunteers are members of St. Frances of Rome Parish and the initial funding for the St. Vincent service organization came from the church.