On Saturday, May 16, approximately 500 joyful Catholics of every age and ethnic group came together in San Francisco’s Sue Bierman Park to show support for the city’s fighting archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone. The faithful were there to back the archbishop’s ongoing efforts to ensure that the high schools under his jurisdiction affirm and proclaim the truth of the Catholic Church.
The day began at 9:30 a.m. with High Mass in the Extraordinary Form celebrated by Canon Olivier Menes of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. At least 100 of the faithful were in the Church as Mass began, and one attendee later told us that by the time Mass ended practically every seat in the church was filled.
At Sue Bierman Park, the faithful began to arrive even before the 11:30 a.m. scheduled start time. The event was called the “Archbishop Family Support Picnic” and that is exactly what it turned out to be: a big joyful family picnic. The grass of Sue Bierman Park was a checkerboard of blankets and picnic hampers, through which scores of children happily chased one another, holding helium filled blue balloons emblazoned with the motto “Thank You ABC!” Blue was the color of the day.
The faithful were of all ages: from infants in arms to grandmas & grandpas. The picnic was unusual for San Francisco: normal, multi-generational families, gathered together to honor God, the Church, and the leader who is promoting those truths in the face of virulent opposition. A number of the children were even seen running up to and hugging some of the police officers on duty. In a telling juxtaposition, the Archbishop Family Support Picnic was followed the next day by the City’s annual “Bay to Breakers” — ostensibly a race, but in reality an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people to engage in drunkenness, drug use, and debauchery.
Although the event had the intimacy of a parish picnic — at one point a small group started singing Happy Birthday to one of their fellow-parishioners and all the surrounding Catholics joined in — it was a parish picnic with many parishes. Religious and lay Catholics were from churches all over the Bay Area and beyond: Old St. Mary’s, St. Francis, Star of the Sea, Saints Peter and Paul and Epiphany in San Francisco; Good Shepherd and St. Peter’s in Pacifica; San Francisco de Asis in East Palo Alto; Our Lady of Mercy in Daly City; St. Edwards in Newark; Nativity in Menlo Park; Corpus Christi in Piedmont; St. Isidore in Danville, St. Mark’s in Belmont and many others. Male Religious in attendance included San Francisco’s beloved Bishop Emeritus Ignatius Wang; a number of Franciscans, including Fr. John De La Riva, Rector of the Shrine of St. Francis; Benedictine Chant Master Fr. Richard Weber from St. Patrick’s Seminary; Fr. Patrick Lee of Presentation Parish and retired Fr. Patrick O’Rafferty, both from Sacramento; Jesuits Fr. Joseph Fessio, editor of Ignatius Press and Fr. John Piderit of the Archdiocese of San Francisco; Fr. Patrick Driscoll of Star of the Sea; a number of priests from the Institute of Christ the King, and a number of seminarians. Female religious included members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, who recently made news for walking out of Marin Catholic High School when students distributed pro-sodomy propaganda; the Missionaries of the Mother of God the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa; and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.
Although the dominant ambiance of the day was joy, Catholics were there for a reason, and pulled no punches. Attendee Joni Durling explained to KGO News that those who claim to have a problem with Cordileone over his new high school initiative really have a problem with the Catholic Church: “The term ‘gravely evil’ is found in our Catechism, so really if the people are going to the school and they have a problem with it, the archbishop using gravely evil, then they really have a problem with the Catholic Church.” KGO also interviewed a man named Alfredo Martinez, who, with a group of friends, got up at 2 a.m. Saturday to make the drive from Southern California. Martinez, echoing the words of Pope Francis’s January speech in Manila, said, “The family is under attack. Children in the womb are under attack and so we have to show our support in whatever way we can.”
At about 1 p.m. the chant of “ABC! ABC! ABC!” was suddenly heard. Archbishop Cordileone had arrived. He was quickly surrounded by a mass of Catholics, eager to show their support. The San Francisco Chronicle described the scene: “’He’s like a rock star,’ said Eva Muntean of San Francisco as she watched Cordileone try to inch his way through the throng of well-wishers.”
He certainly did. The archbishop was beaming as he spent an hour speaking with well-wishers (he did not speak with the press) including old friends and allies such pro-life hero the Rev. Walter Hoye. Many of the faithful asked for and received his blessing and many, especially children, posed for pictures. Even after the archbishop left, the faithful remained in the park for some time, enjoying the day and the company of their fellow Catholics.
Fewer than a dozen protestors sat on benches on the fringes of the park, clutching rainbow flags. They included Billy Bradford, an LGBT activist from the East Bay who works with “Get Equal” and “Marriage Equality USA” in the East Bay. Although neither a Catholic school student or a parent of a Catholic School student, Bradford has been prominent in the movement opposing the teaching of Catholicism in Catholic Schools.