On Friday, the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics – including thousands in York County – awoke to a church with no pope. National and international newscasters spoke over the past two days with dizzying breathlessness about a church in supposed turmoil.
But Rock Hill’s Catholic-run soup kitchen opened as it has six days a week for 27 years.
No chaos. Just hunger, need and help.
Catholics want to know who will be selected pope by the College of Cardinals in a few weeks. The pope is the leader; he sets the course.
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But what Catholics do – the service to the poor, the daily work for families and the teaching of hundreds of kids at Catholic schools – went on without a hiccup.
At the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen on Rock Hill’s Crawford Road, a ministry of St. Mary Catholic Church, volunteers served the broke and the broken a hot meal.
More than 20 community groups and churches serve there six days a week – most of them not Catholic. The spirit of giving is the same for all.
Right in the thick of Friday’s volunteers was Brother David Boone, from the Catholic Oratory, as he has been in the thick of helping people for six decades.
“The work that must be done, the help remains, no matter what happens with the pope,” Boone said. “The hungry need food. The poor need help. The sick need care.
“That does not change, no matter what goes on with the selection of a new pope – or even if we don’t have a pope. And today, we don’t.”
Boone helped his group of volunteers that handle each Friday at the soup kitchen. There at the counter stood Stephanie Knox, 40 years helping the poor.
“I heard that the pope was changing,” Knox said.
Then she had to stop talking; there were hungry people to feed.
Beside her stood two teens who volunteer each Friday, Justin Reid and Sam Johnson.
“We just want to help people,” said Reid.
“People need us, and this place helps them,” said Johnson.
The dozens of hungry ate fried chicken and corn and cake, all of the food and labor donated, without any conversation about who might be the head of the church across the world.
In another room, Catholics talked about the food pantry at St. Mary that continued to help needy families. The pope did not collect or hand out the food to more than 50 families. The people of the parish did it.
The church’s Social Concerns ministry, which helps the poor with job skills and searches and so much more, readied for the next wave of people to walk in seeking a helping hand to the future.
Across town at St. Anne Catholic School – the first school in South Carolina to integrate white and black students in 1954 – opened Friday without a hitch.
Catholics in York County have spent the past 79 years helping people and unifying the races since the Oratory was established in 1934.
The church ran hospitals in Rock Hill and York for decades. It stood against segregation, and its members stood with Rock Hill’s blacks through the turbulent 1950s and 1960s. St. Mary and St. Anne remain the two most integrated churches in York County.
The church helped the families of more than 500 Southeast Asian immigrants relocate to Rock Hill during and after the Vietnam War. Many of those families remain and thrive here.
And in the recent quarter-century, the Catholic church has run the soup kitchen and food pantry and become a social and cultural resource for thousands of Hispanics moving to York County.
“We remain here doing the work of the Lord,” said Boone.
Masses were said Friday at Catholic churches in Lake Wylie and Fort Mill, and at the headquarters for area Catholics, The Oratory on Charlotte Avenue. Pope or no pope, hundreds went to services. The area is home to about 10,000 Catholic families.
Plans were laid for Sunday services at those churches, plus another parish in Indian Land in Lancaster County – where Catholics have come by the hundreds to live in retirement communities – and one in York.
“All the charitable works, the families, what the church does each day, continues,” said the Oratory’s Father Joseph Wahl.
Wahl, 83, came to Rock Hill in 1947 and never left. His two late brothers, also priests at the Oratory, spent all of their adult lives here, too.
“Everything we do must, and will, carry on no matter what is going on with the selection of a new pope,” Wahl said Friday. “The role of the pope is overseeing the church. People wonder who the next pope will be – we all talk about it. But the role of Catholics and churches in our communities is the same today as it was yesterday.
“The best way to explain it is government is local, the work to be done is local, and it will be done.”
The sole difference, Wahl said, came at Friday mass services. Masses regularly ask those in attendance to pray for the pope and the bishop of the Charleston Diocese – the leader of Catholics in South Carolina.
“Today there was no prayer for the pope, because we do not have a pope,” Wahl said.
Still, said Wahl and Boone, the Catholic people remain.
And because the poor and needy were out there and children needed schooling, Catholics who have reached out through many popes over eight decades reached out again.