Posadas in Frankford provide community, support during Christmas season
Capuchin Franciscan brothers and Frankford community members gathered together for the second year to celebrate a centuries-old tradition.
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More than 20 people had gathered in María Isabel Sánchez’s house on Church Street on Dec. 23 to sing, pray, and reflect as part of the posadas celebration which Padre Pio Prayer Center in Frankford coordinated with community members.
For Sánchez, the scene of people singing hymns, clapping, and praying in Spanish in her carpeted living room that night was a stark contrast to where she had been two years ago to the day.
Her husband had passed away on Dec. 21, and Sánchez was alone and grieving that holiday season. Now, she said, she has found some sense of connection and support in the community of Franciscan brothers at the Padre Pio Prayer Center, which stands across the street from her house.
“It was beautiful. I'm so happy,” Sánchez said after the celebration in her home concluded, before crossing the street to the prayer center’s chapel, where a mass was held that night dedicated to the memory of her husband.
Sánchez, who is from Puerto Rico, participated in the posada celebration last year, when Capuchin Franciscan Brother Andrew McCarty and Carmen Hernández of the Padre Pio Prayer Center began organizing with community members. In keeping with the tradition among Catholics in Central America and Mexico, participants go to a different home each night to re-enact the Bible story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus, celebrated on Christmas day, Dec. 25.
Marco Antonio Osuna, from Bogota, Colombia, participated in the Frankford posadas for the second year in a row this year. He said that the sense of connection of the kind described by Sánchez is one of the most significant aspects of the posada celebration.
“For me, the posadas are a way to unite more people, to bring more solidarity to families, to be able to share with those who find themselves alone, and share with them a little bit. It’s very important for us,” he said.
Osuna also noted that the tradition is a powerful one because even though it is not celebrated by Latino Catholics of all backgrounds, organizers have adapted it to incorporate other traditions. He pointed out that although in Colombia they celebrate novenas rather than posadas, among the hymns for the posada celebration that night was a villancico, or a traditional Colombian Christmas hymn with a joyful chorus and cumbia rhythm.
Olga, who did not wish to give her last name, and Maria Tamay, who both live in the neighborhood near Padre Pio Prayer Center, agreed with Osuna that though posadas differ slightly from the novenas they celebrate in their native Ecuador, they feel at home in the celebrations. They both noted that going from home to home in groups to celebrate the posadas had helped them meet more people in their neighborhood.
“For me, it means preparing our hearts, and being at peace with yourself, sharing with friends, and family, and it’s good,” Olga said.
Brother Andrew McCarty said that interest in the posadas grew even more in its second year.
“So many people want a night of the posadas in their house there’s not enough nights to go around,” he said, noting that there are only nine nights according to the tradition, held from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24.
“At the planning meeting somebody said, well let’s do three houses every night!” McCarty recalled with a laugh.
According to McCarty, the initial posada celebration in 2018 also led the Capuchin Franciscan brothers - who have been living in the neighborhood since Aug. 2017 - to deepen their relationship with the Latino community in Frankford in different ways throughout the year.
That has included a weekly Spanish Bible study (led by Marco Antonio Osuna), as well as an increased involvement of Latino youth in their catechism program. Osuna, Sánchez, Tamay, and other Latino community members also participate in the center’s “street ministry,” which consists of bringing meals to some of the people in the area who are currently experiencing homelessness and suffering from opioid addiction.