Joseph NANGLE, OFM, Birth of a Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004. pp 165. $16.00pb ISBN1-5705-560-4.
Reviewed by Francis BERNA, OFM, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141

"As the parish neared the end of its first 10 years and the number of parishioners reached 2000-plus families, Most Holy Name stood as a clear example of what the bishops and theologians at Medellín had called for: the institutional church standing at the side of the poor" (130). The Franciscan missionary, returned Stateside, shares the stories that yielded this rich harvest. Having served fifteen years in South America, Fr. Nangle started telling these stories upon his return in 1975. With the urging of those captivated by the struggle that brought Most Holy Name Parish to birth and conversion, the often told tales hold together well in this very readable text.

Why have the stories captivated so many? What do tales of building a parish in a mission country offer the North American reader when they are almost thirty years old? The purpose seems twofold. As Nangle would prefer the stories offer a type of "reverse mission." Having witnessed the devastating power of poverty generated by first world economics the book challenges the North American reader to Christianity with a "preferential option for the poor." Of probably less significance to Nangle, the text makes clear the struggle to build and to be a parish. Founding pastors, lifelong parishoners, and the typical average Catholic will always need to work at building community.

Closing chapters highlight this latter reality with "lessons learned" as well as the ongoing tensions of criticism from the left and the right—a serious burden for the church in all parts of today's world. For those who would dream of some "perfect parish" Nangle drives home that the reality of being parish means living the tension. He also drives home that the church today, in every part of the world, must have the poor and their liberation as a central concern.

Begun as a parish in a wealthy "middle-class" environment, Most Holy Name came to birth with American money, courtesy of Most Holy Name Province, and American style—a school, parish house with appropriate amenities, and a comfortable location for rest and renewal by other missionaries. Landed by an exceptional wealthy family and funded for four years by its American sponsor the parish grew like a typical suburban parish in the United States. However, one glaring difference called the parish in a new direction. The poor lived in the midst of the parish as workers for the middle and upper classes. Seeing the poor came to change everything.

The sight of the poor found encouragement with the Latin American Bishops statement from Medellín. The young pastor knew that things would have to change. The text tells the story. The Second Vatican Council speaks of "the church ever in need of reform." In every age, in every corner of the world the church will ever need to seek again, and again, a more faithful gospel witness. Whether it be a renewal of the liturgy, a better sense of community, religious education, attention to the home-bound and elderly, or any of the other things we try to be as parish, Nangle makes clear the reform will be a struggle. He also makes clear the most successful reform will be the one attentive to the needs of the poor.

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