Franciscan

Spirit-Filled Friar

A passion for peace, a heart for the poor

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Accepting a prestigious award, Br. Al Mascia did something very predictable: He turned the attention elsewhere.

He thanked those who came to the awards dinner, including eight friars, his mother Mary and his cousin, Toni Ann Petersen. He praised those being honored in other categories. He mentioned by name each group that donates supplies for his outreach efforts.

Dozens of the 400 attendees at the Oct. 14 Awards Dinner of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit were there because they know Al. "This is the most people who ever came to support an honoree in the history of the dinner," said Lucinda Keils, a colleague in ministry.

No one seemed surprised that Al was receiving a Community Service Award. "He is loving, hospitable, caring, compassionate," said Brendan Shaffer, OEF, an Episcopal deacon. "He’s a spirit-filled man who lives out his Christian faith, who puts his faith into action."

In the audience at Shriners Silver Garden in Southfield, Mich., were members of a religious and cultural coalition that promotes change through understanding. It included Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Catholics and Buddhists, all aspiring to the ambitious objective expressed by Al. "At the end of the day," he said, "we are a family of religions working together to help bring assistance and healing to those no matter their creed, and daring by our example to move beyond mere tolerance of one another to friendship and, God willing, abiding love."

Even if you consider them cockeyed optimists, you have to admire their resolve. The world is a troubled place, always has been, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. That theory inspired Al to co-found the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace with Jewish troubador Steve Klaper and his wife, Mary Gilhuly, a Catholic artist. They figured that preaching is more palatable if it’s set to music or committed to canvas, and that outreach means just that: You go out and find the people in need.

Introducing Al at the dinner, Mary described his ministerial journey in Detroit, from the Canticle Café warming center at St. Aloysius to his bicycle cart ministry, from his tuneful collaboration with Steve to their decision almost five years ago to create an interfaith institute promoting peace and service. A donated Dodge Sprinter van made their outreach mobile. "With it," Mary said, "Br. Al could travel as far as a tank of gas would take him, serving ice cream at church festivals in Detroit, hot soup to shelters in the tri-county area, warm clothing on the streets and healthy SnackPax to young children experiencing food insecurity at home."

Acknowledging his gratitude in an acceptance speech, Al shifted the focus to "we", as in, "We depend upon the kindness of both friends and strangers in order to perform our compassionate acts of community service." While those who help "really get the part about feeding hungry children and serving the desperately poor, what isn’t so easy for some to understand is why we place such an emphasis on our work and services being ecumenical and interreligious to the core. Tell me, how else are our human virtues and ethics to grow? How else will we be freed from the terror, fright and fear of those we do not understand without attempting to understand them?"

Mary put Al’s ministry into perspective.

"It’s not enough to do good things for others," she said. "Hopefully, we all do that. What sets a ‘do-gooder’ apart is when he/she inspires others to serve as well. That’s the stuff that creates a legacy.

"That’s Brother Al."

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