Praying for souls, and runs: The parish serving Washington's baseball fans
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In a rapidly-gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood, a historic parish is putting the New Evangelization into practice by reaching out to a specific crowd - baseball fans.
Washington D.C., (CNA) - In a rapidly-gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood, a historic parish is putting the New Evangelization into practice by reaching out to a specific crowd - baseball fans.
The parish of St. Vincent de Paul features a "Nats Mass," a noon Sunday Mass for fans of the local baseball team, the Washington Nationals, who are traveling to the nearby stadium for a Sunday afternoon game.
"Let's go to where they are," said Fr. Andrew Gonzalo, pastor of St. Vincent in Southeast Washington, D.C., when explaining the concept of a "Nats Mass" and evangelization.
St. Vincent de Paul parish, canonically established in 1903, sits on a busy street corner with a view of the U.S. Capitol Building to the north, just one block away from the baseball stadium. For Nationals fans traveling to a baseball game along South Capitol Street, they will likely walk or drive past the over-100 year-old parish.
St. Vincent's is situated in between D.C.'s Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront neighborhoods, a rapidly gentrifying area that now features new high-rise apartment buildings and townhouses, restaurants and bars, a waterfront park, and a new soccer stadium. The demographics of the parish have changed, and with it, the plan for evangelization.
"It's a unique pastoral challenge, in the parish," Fr. Gonzalo told CNA. The demographics of the neighborhood were once mostly African-American, but the area is now more racially and economically diversified, he said.
Nearby Nationals Park, finished in time for the 2008 baseball season, hosted a papal Mass of Pope Benedict XVI on April 17, 2008, during his apostolic visit to the U.S. and the UN headquarters.
With the parish adjacent to the stadium, then-pastor Fr. Andrew Royals added a noon Mass to the St. Vincent Sunday schedule in 2014, whenever the Nationals had a scheduled Sunday afternoon game. Attendance at the "Nats Mass" shot up from five people to more than 120 by the following season, he told EWTN News Nightly in 2015.
"For me it was kind of a no-brainer," Fr. Royals told EWTN News Nightly in 2015. "We've been serving the community for over 100 years, and now our community includes a baseball stadium."
Five years in, the "Nats Mass" is advertised with a large white banner hanging from the side of the church announcing the Mass time. The Mass draws fans from all over the D.C. metropolitan area - and has helped transform some Catholics into regular Sunday mass-goers.
Fr. Gonzalo said some have told him that they had not been to Mass for some time, but saw the banner and decided to attend.
"They came, and they are now regulars," he said, and some have frequented the noon Mass even when no game is scheduled; the noon Mass time is now a part of the year-round Sunday schedule.
The local O'Boyle Knights of Columbus council cooks hot dogs in the parking lot for attendees to socialize between Mass and the first pitch.
It's an "opportunity also for evangelization," Fr. Gonzalo said. "I embraced it right away," he said of the Mass, because "baseball is a kind of national pastime for us here."
"Baseball gathers people together," he said, "and the Church should also do something like that."
Fr. Gonzalo spoke to CNA on Wednesday, ahead of a pivotal win-or-go-home playoff game for the Nationals in Los Angeles
"I am praying that they will win," he said.
Perhaps in part because of the prayers, the Nationals rallied from being three runs down for a stunning 7-3 victory on the road to advance to the National League Championship Series.
Although no home playoff game is scheduled for this Sunday at Nationals Park, a noon Mass will be celebrated at St. Vincent's with confessions scheduled for half an hour beforehand.
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