“The Mendicant” – Interview with Father Paul Lostritto, O.F.M.

“The Mendicant”

William O’Shaughnessy

interview with

Father Paul Lostritto, O.F.M.

Re:

The Saint Francis of Assisi Breadline

“Franciscans Deliver”

December, 2012
WVOX and WVIP Worldwide

Three months after we broadcast this interview with Father Paul Lostrito, a Franciscan street priest from Manhattan, an Argentinean prelate – a Jesuit no less – born of Italian parents, stepped out on a cold, windy balcony overlooking Saint Peter’s Square in the Eternal City on the 13th of March, 2013 and proclaimed into the night air that he, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. having just been chosen by his brother cardinals and the Holy Spirit to be Bishop of Rome, would now like to be known for all time to come as Francis, a name taken from an Italian saint who loved the poor, the hurting and the forgotten. 

Standing on that balcony with stunning simplicity and stark humility, Bergoglio thus took the name of a spoiled young aristocrat of wealth and means who renounced the standing and stature and high estate of his prominent family to become Francis of Assisi, perhaps the greatest saint of an ancient religion founded by a carpenter’s son over 2,000 years ago.  The Pope from the Argentine had once said, “Saint Francis brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride and vanity of the ecclesiastical powers of the time.”

And so now this new Pope Francis, the Jesuit, would stand midst the ornate pomp, ritual and ceremonia of a damaged, fading Church by reaching beyond the gilt and trappings for the example of the first Franciscan who spoke to animals and the birds of the air while ministering to the poor, the wretched.

I have long admired the work of today’s Franciscan priests at Saint Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street in Manhattan.  It is where suburban Catholics, sinners like me, often repair for Confession loaded with guilt.  Mario Cuomo once said:  “They forgive us gently and generously.”

It seems no one is ever turned away or denied the love and healing of the Franciscans.  They have many names these marvelous friars:  Carnevale, McGrath, Cavoto, Carrozzo,, Jordan, Judge, Mackin … urban street priests who all hear the same music of service to the least fortunate, the lost and the hopeless. 

The Saint Francis Breadline which feeds hungry New Yorkers has been around for a hundred years.  And sometimes even Cardinal Timothy Dolan helps out in the early morning hours.

We invited one of the Friars – Father Paul Lostritto – to tell us about a new program to take the Breadline right into the homes of shut-ins.  But in a far-ranging broadcast we covered much more than temporal “bread and butter”(no pun intended) issues.

Surely the gritty, lovely music of the Franciscans on 31st Street would commend them to the favorable judgment of Francis.  The one now in Rome.  And the one from the hill town of Assisi … a mendicant who spoke to the animals and the birds while ministering to the poor. 

Interview:

 

William O’Shaughnessy

I’m a poor, struggling, faltering, weak, uncertain Christian.  But there’s something very special about the individual we’ll visit with for the next hour while we’re in your care and keeping. His name is Father Paul Lostritto.  He’s a Friar, a Franciscan.  The Order of Friars Minor is what they call them.  And he’s based in Manhattan where there’s a church called the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi named for the founder of the whole damn thing, the Order.  It’s down on 31st Street.  Today’s guest is a very special friar.  Some colleagues, some brothers of his, Joe Cavoto and others, tell me he is one of the craziest of the “monks” as they are sometimes lovingly called.  Saint Francis, himself, as you may have heard, was a real nut job – and today’s studio guest may be one of the craziest of his inheritors.  His name is Father Paul.  He’s a Franciscan.  And he wants to tell us today about Franciscans Deliver.

 

Father Paul Lostritto

It’s a new project.  At our church we started a breadline in 1930 and it is the oldest running breadline in the United States.  Every morning  – every day – we hand out between 250 to 350 sandwiches, juices and coffee to people who line up out in front.  Every morning.  365 days a year.  Since 1930. The only day we ever closed was for Hurricane Sandy

WO

Father Paul, are you a regular priest?  I know you’re a Friar …

 

FPL

I guess I’m regular … I don’t know.  Yes … I am a Franciscan Friar.  What that means is I’m a Roman Catholic priest.  But – it’s an Order – a Religious Order – so we follow Francis of Assisi‘s philosophy and teaching which basically is working with the poor. 

 

WO:

Saint Francis was – I hope I don’t get struck by lightning for saying he was crazy.

 

FPL:

He was …

WO:

He used to talk to birds and animals?

 

FPL

Yes … and they supposedly talked back!

 

WO:

Tell me about Francis.

 

FPL

He lived in the Middle Ages in Italy.  His father was what you would call in those days wealthy … a clothing merchant and did a lot of traveling.  Francis was this young rich kid.  A little spoiled.  His mother spoiled him. He was kind of a “mama’s boy.”  He had a good time in life.  In those days, the thing that made you really cool was if you became a knight.  And so that was one of the big things he wanted to do.  He became a knight.  And he fought the war with this town nearby – Perugia.  He was taken prisoner.  I believe in prison he began to have second thoughts about what the hell life was all about.   But eventually he had a major conversion in which he believes Jesus spoke to him and said … “Francis, rebuild my Church.”  And at the time the Catholic Church was pretty much in even more disarray than it is now. 

And so he thought the message from the Cross – this message to “rebuild my Church” – was to physically get stones and mortar and rebuild this chapel that was falling apart.  Until he realized that by rebuilding the Church – what Jesus was asking him to do was rebuild the spiritual life of the Church.  So here’s this little guy – he wanted to live with the poor like Jesus did.  He takes the Gospel very literally in terms of having no clothes – no anything other than what’s on his back.  He went around as a mendicant begging for his food and people were very attracted to his way of life because he was so filled with joy.  He was always singing. He was always happy …

 

WO:

But they thought he was nuts.

FPL

They did … they really thought he was crazy! 

 

WO:

Francis of Assisi.   Have you ever been there?  Assisi?

 

FPL

Oh yes … a couple of times.  It’s a beautiful place … it’s a pilgrimage destination.  Many people love Saint Francis even if they’re not really into Catholicism.  Everybody knows him because he’s the patron saint of animals and ecology.  People love him.

 

WO:

Father Paul … why do they call him the greatest saint of the Church?  Do you know how many saints would love to be called the greatest?

 

FPL

He really … revived the Church.  Many people say he was like a second Christ, really.   He even had the wounds of Christ.

 

WO:

Now that’s almost blasphemy. 

 

FPL

He had the “stigmata,” the actual wounds of Christ.  A very holy man.

 

WO:

Do you believe that?

 

FPL

Yes … yes I do.  I used to be a skeptic about a lot of things.  I’m not anymore.  I’ve come to believe that a lot of the stuff we thought was sort of mythological … there’s some factual basis to a lot of these things.  So, yes.  I do believe it. 

 

WO:

Father Paul Lostritto … was recommended to our ear by Father Joe Cavoto and some of his friars down on 31st Street.  Again, what’s the difference between a friar and a priest? 

 

FPL

Well, we’re all friars.  The word friar – it’s like brother.  We’re brothers.  We’re a fraternity … brothers.  Some of us – like my self and Joe Cavoto – went on for Ordination.  Other brothers do not.  They can go on for other things.  Many different things.  Some are social workers, or even nurses.  We even have some lawyers,  artists … things like that.  We’re all the same too.  We don’t make any kind of distinction between he’s a “brother” … and he’s a “priest.”  Brother.  We’re all brothers.  It’s a brotherhood.

 

WO

I’m reminded … Alan Rosenberg, the great financial wizard, who was just on the previous show.  He’s also a friar … like a Frank Sinatra friar.  And Jerry Lewis.  That’s a different thing?

FPL:

Yes … that’s the Friars Club.  I don’t know where that comes from and how they got that name. 

WO:

Sinatra was the head Friar.  They called him Abbot.  He was like Saint Francis.  At lease he could sing damn good!  Father Paul … you came down from Boston recently and your fellow friars are very excited about Franciscans Deliver.  Do you also hear confessions?  You know a lot of suburban Catholics loaded with guilt, change their voice and go to confession at Saint Francis.

FPL:

Yes, I do know that.  I often hear confessions down there.  A lot of times.  In fact I have two hours this evening.  Notice the word have to.  It’s non-stop.

 

WO:

You seem like a nice guy.  Do you get very stern in the confessional?

 

FPL:

No … the whole purpose is for people to be freed up and to know they’re forgiven.  We all make mistakes and we try to learn from it as best as you can. But you’ve got to move forward.  If you’re feeling guilty and stuck in the past, you can’t move forward.  So the whole Sacrament is to help you feel  “freed up.”  You know you’re forgiven.  You’re human.  And so now go forward.  Free.  And do better with your life.

 

WO:

That’s a great power.  The power to forgive sins. 

 

FPL:

Yes … it is not mine.  I speak in the confessional as the Priest.  I am the voice of the Church.  And – not to get too theological – the Church is Christ.  And by that – People.  You know who we are, we are the Church.  And so I represent the People.  For example, if you were in the confessional and you harmed someone, I am the person who forgives you in their name, so to speak.  Does that make sense?

 

WO:

It does.  Mario Cuomo is a great admirer of the work of the Franciscans down on 31st Street.  He says you guys are great for Confession. He says you’re “three Hail Mary’s for a homicide” guys. 

 

FPL:

We’re kind of easy.  That’s what people tell us.  A lot of priests from all over the city – and from Westchester and the Bronx – come to us for Confession.

 

WO:

Priests come to you for Confession?

 

FPL:

Yes … sometimes we’ll get five or six priests in a row.

WO:

Do they have to say I’m a priest?

 

FPL:

I can tell immediately.  But they usually do say – I’m a priest. 

WO:

Do they sin?

FPL:

They do … yes, definitely.  I sin.  I won’t speak for them … I’ll speak for me.  I’m a sinner.  You know, we all are.  We’re all struggling together to make sense of this crazy world. 

 

WO:

The great Mario Cuomo says we all sin seven times, seven times a day.  Where did that come from?

 

FPL:

That comes from the Scriptures.  Somebody said something to me the other day that people who are very aware of wanting to do good with their lives – people who are on the right track with life – are very aware of their sinfulness.  They’re very aware of their faults.  Great saints were very aware.  Saint Francis would speak about what a great sinner he was.  So I think when you’re on right track, you’re very aware of what needs to change in your life.  You’re not always successful.  We always make the same freakin’ mistakes every day a lot of times.  But we’re aware … we sort of have a goal. We’re on the right road, so to speak.  Moving in the right direction, even if we fall off the road or get lost.

 

WO:

I can’t seem to reconcile … you’re kind of a street priest.  You come in with clogs … you’re a little scruffy.  I don’t put you in with the …  pomp and the “ceremonia,” as Governor Cuomo call it … the miter and the gold and the gilt and the hierarchy. 

 

FPL:

Well, Mr. O’Shaughnessy … maybe you’re going to get me in trouble, but let me tell you I don’t relate to it at all either.  Not just because I’m a Franciscan … we take a vow of poverty and we live it differently.  We vow to a different way of life than perhaps the pomp of the other Church.  But I do feel sometimes disheartened with what seems to be a chasm or a divide between the reality of the world in terms of what’s going on and the needs of the poor for example.  Even some of the stances the Church takes in terms of people of God … seems to be out of touch very often with what’s going on.  So, that can be a little disheartening, but I also believe that most of the Church – when I think of the Church – are very vibrant men and women, even in religious orders, who really make a difference.  They are making a difference and are out working with the poor.   And are out doing things to help people and take their life and their commitment to the Gospel very seriously.  But you don’t hear about them that often.  You don’t see them that often.  I had a couple of sisters – nuns – at the Breadline this morning and they bought a bunch of students to work the breadline with me this morning.  You don’t hear about people like that.  You wouldn’t even know they are sisters.  But … you’ll hear about the guys in the pomp and circumstance and all that stuff.  And when they say stupid things which often happens, it kind of reverberates down because they are the hierarchy, so people think they are the only voice of the Church. 

WO:

Your new endeavor called Franciscans Deliver has gone beyond the breadline to deliver food to people at home who can’t come to the breadline. 

FPL:

Correct.  When I got back to New York a year ago I was looking around and talked with people.  I had friends in buildings in the neighborhood and it was clear to me there are a lot of elderly people who are really being overlooked by our society.  You can just tell … the way they were living.  I started talking to people in the neighborhood.  They’re really struggling.  And it breaks my heart when I think they are my parents age.  They worked their whole lives and are struggling between food and medicine and what they can eat that’s good.  I talked to one lady who was eating cat food.   This is crazy for the United States.

 

WO:

Would you take some calls from our listeners?  I don’t know if they want to go to Confession.  Can you give a General Absolution to all our listeners?

FPL:

I could … I don’t know if it will work …

Caller:

Father, earlier you mentioned you used to be more of a skeptic in life.  Did that come about when you became a friar?  Was it before that?  What exactly did you mean by that? 

 

FPL:

I grew up in a Catholic family.  A pretty secular family.  We went to church on Sundays.  I don’t come from this “Joe Religious” family.  I had some personal experiences in which I really encountered stuff that made me stop and think what life was all about.  For example, I was in a coma.   I actually died … a number of times … when I was young.  I had a blood clot that went to my lung.  The experiences abound – what that did to the people around me.  I don’t know if I’m making sense.  But it was a profound experience that made me re-think what life was all about … the importance of life.  But also I have had experiences in which it does seem as if God is really there.  I’ve had experiences where I know Christ has been right there to guide me, to help me.  Personal stuff like that.  I don’t know if that makes sense. 

 

Caller:

How would you explain the presence of God in a way skeptics can identify with.  I know it’s very subjective and personal and spiritual.  But as far as leading other people toward that same light, how would you suggest one can pick up on that and be open to it?

 

FPL:

Well, one of the things I did with my life is work in hospice.  I’ve been at the bedside and with the families of people who are dying.  I really believe we find God most profoundly and experience God through other people.    The whole message of Catholicism is the optimism of the human spirit that we’re created in the image of God.  We’re good.  Therefore in and through us one can experience the presence of God … when we’re about really helping other people.  I run bereavement programs.  I always tell my folks you really know you’re on your way to moving on when you’re able to then reach out and help somebody else with their issue of loss.  And that really is where we often experience God when we’re out there reaching out to help somebody else.  So it’s definitely about – not navel gazing – I don’t think anybody finds God by navel gazing.  It’s really about – and I know people don’t like this word – but it’s about sacrifice and it’s about giving to other people what you experience about God.

 

WO:

Father … the problem with all that is that God speaks in whispers.  Why isn’t God a little clearer?  Or a little louder?

FPL:

You’re asking me hard questions.  I think – I won’t say I think – I believe that if you look at the world and the way it is, I’m not so sure God is speaking in whispers.  I think there are some profound things we’re either addressing or not addressing that are part of our human condition.  God gives us free will.  And so we have to make our choices.  If you ever really loved somebody you don’t tell them what to do.  So … we’re kind of in this to experience God and to be moved and motivated by God.  But ultimately we have the choice.  I believe that.  Look at this recent hurricane.    

 

WO:

Was that the product of a vengeful God.

 

FPL:

No … that’s a product of us human beings not paying attention to our environment. 

WO:

Do you really think so?

 

FPL:

I do … I think these giant storms are a result of global warming. 

 

WO:

What are you, an Al Gore?

 

FPL:

Not really … but there’s something going on if you look at pieces of glaciers over the last 20 or 30 years.  Something is definitely happening.  Like these storms.  This was a pretty big storm.  Yes … I do think we contribute to these things and we’re not listening.  I think God is kind of shaking us and saying, look, you’ve got to get your act together and pull it together.  And, of course, as human nature is, we don’t usually pay attention.  That’s just the way we are.  We give it a little nod and a little shake and then move on and hope it won’t happen again – which is already happening.

 

WO:

Father Paul, you sound like you’ve got it figured out.  I mentioned Mario Cuomo.  Our listeners know how much I admire him.  And he once said he prays for sureness.  Sureness … which he says is you’re on the road to Damascus, you get a lightning bolt, the Lord appears in all His or Her refinements and says get back on that horse.  Incidentally, your name is not Saul any more.  And one other thing … you’re a saint.  That’s sureness … a lightning bolt in the tush.  Do you  ever have doubts about this …?

FPL:

Yes … yes. 

 

WO:

What do you do, when you have the doubt?

 

FPL:

Well, when you have doubts often times you don’t want to pray or you don’t pray.  So you can’t even say you turned to prayer. 

WO:

Are you talking about Our Fathers and Hail Marys?

 

FPL:

Yes … or just even talking to God.  I think there are times in our life and my life when I’ve kind of said Enough!  You know, I’m not really interested in listening or talking right now. 

 

WO:

You said that to God?

 

FPL:

Yes … I know … but I’m being honest.  And I think most of us do feel like that at some point in our lives.  I find my way back, Bill.  I find my way on the road to Damascus very often through the words and things going on around me through other people.   That’s often where I will get back on track … or something will happen that will jar a memory and remind me … Oh, yes … this is what it’s all about.  It gets me kind of back on track!

 

WO:

You think God speaks to us through other people?

 

FPL:

Yes, absolutely. 

 

WO:

But don’t you encounter somebody who is a real pain in the ass?

 

FPL:

Yes …

 

WO:

That’s God still talking?

 

FPL:

No.  God can be a pain in the sense God never gives up on us.  God is constantly pushing.  But generally there is a lot of noise out there.  I think if we’re discerning enough we can sift out where God is speaking to us through other people.  It kind of hits you somewhere inside in your heart … and you say OK.

 

WO:

His name is Father Paul Lostritto, a Friar of the Roman Church.  A Franciscan monk.  They also call you “monks” as well as Friars.

 

FPL:

Yes … that’s kind of a word everybody uses, but we’re really not monks.  We’re mendicants.  Monks live in private.  They live quiet lives in solitude away from the world.  And the mendicant, the Franciscan movement, is all about being in the world.  It’s all about being amongst the poor.  That’s what Saint Francis’ early followers started and what we continue. 

 

WO:

We’re in the Golden Apple (Westchester) right now … let’s go again to the phones   You’re on the air with Father Paul …

 

Caller:

Father … we hear less and less about men joining the priesthood these days.  Why do you think that is?

FPL:

Well, there are a lot of reasons.  People are disillusioned with some of what we were talking about earlier.  I think the Church is a little out of sync with the reality of the world.  I’m not saying the Church has to change to meet the world.  But it seems as if a lot of the Church has lost its flavor.  And it’s kind of gone flat.  So that’s one of the things.  I think also, quite frankly, one of the things which was amazing for me was when I went to school at Washington Theological Union.  I learned theology down there.  And when you understand our theology, it’s mind-blowing.  It is so wonderful and so freeing and so exciting.  But what you hear from the pulpit very often in a lot of churches is this sort of very boring, dogmatic, unrealistic kind of preaching that doesn’t register.  And our young people especially can’t relate to it.  So that’s one of the big things.  The other is, quite frankly, that a lot of younger people, if they’re going to join religious life, they really want something with a real bite to it.  I know the religious orders that seem to be attracting people do a lot of real hands-on work with the poor in Latin America and places like that.  There are people joining.  Believe it or not, religious life is very much alive and vocations are very much alive and well in other countries.  But I think here, mainly, the Church, unfortunately – I’m probably going to be thrown out of New York City by the Cardinal – I think it’s out of touch and its lost its flavor. 

WO:

Everybody loves the Cardinal.  He’s a jolly, charismatic and articulate  guy.  He’s very attentive to his correspondence.  Every time I shoot my mouth off, I get a note.  The guy may even be the next pope …

 

FPL:

I wish we would also be a little more in dialogue with people who perhaps don’t fit into the mainstream.  For example, Gay people.  I mean, they often feel as if they want to belong to church.  There are good men and women who love God.  But they feel like when they go to church somehow they don’t fit into the group.  And so they feel ostracized.   And that’s wrong.  No matter how you look at it.  And I know Jesus would feel that way.  Everybody is welcome.  Everybody has a place at His table.  And I think we need to sit down and talk about these things rather than pass judgments or decrees about these things.  And that’s another thing that drives people nuts.

 

Caller:

Another quick question.  Do you think if priests were allowed to marry … would that get them to join?

 

FPL:

I think that would be a wonderful thing.  I think that would attract a lot more men to the priesthood.  Absolutely.  Let’s face it.  Marriage and sex are all very normal parts of life.  You know … priests in the Roman Church were married for the first thousand years.  It’s something that would definitely be a boost to the priesthood.

 

WO:

Father Paul, you mentioned the Gays.   Your particular branch of the Franciscans has done a lot of work in that area. At Saint Francis you have meetings … and didn’t you have a famous Friar who died at 9/11?  Father …

 

FPL:

Mychal Judge. 

 

WO:

Mychal Judge.  A legendary friar.  Did you know him?

FPL:

I used to go to him for Confession actually.  He was a great priest.  He was wonderful to confess to just because he was so normal and he was a sinner.  He didn’t judge.  Like all of us.  That’s the thing. I think he was very compassionate.  Very kind.  A very kind man.

 

WO:

Do you Friars still remember him?  He lived with you.  You still think about him?

 

FPL:

Yes …

 

WO:

Do you pray to him?

 

FPL:

I don’t.  I know people who do.  But he certainly was one of the greats …

 

WO:

M-Y-C-H-A-L … like the Irish!  Did he speak with a brogue?  He was chaplain of the Fire Department …

 

FPL:

No … not with a brogue.  But he was a chaplain.  His room, on 31st Street, at the Friary, is directly across from the firehouse.  His room is right on the second floor overlooking it and he was constantly involved with the firehouse and he used to bring me over there when I was younger and a student.  He was a hoot!  He really was.

 

Caller:

Father … I want to hear more about the work you’re doing.  The last caller sparked a question about fewer men coming into the priesthood.  On that same note, are you finding less and less people coming to church …  and going to Confession than years ago?

FPL:

You know, it’s interesting … but in some ways, yes.  And in some ways, no.  It depends where you are.  I was in Florida recently and, of course, you’re shocked to see the churches there.  These big, giant churches and they’re filled.  But, of course, they’re filled with elderly people.  You don’t see a lot of young people, so that’s doesn’t really tell us about where the Church is going in the future.  Where I am … we have Confession from 7:30 in the morning and we go until 6:00 at night … sometimes with two priests on.  I can tell you, and I hear Confession every day.  I never have a pause.  I never have a break … constantly have people coming in listening to their confessions.  We have 13 – 14 daily Masses.  We have Masses all day and they’re really very well attended.  But, again, not to say how great we are, but the Franciscans do offer a kind of a charism that attracts, for example, young people.  We have a Mass on Sunday night at 5:00.  Lots of young people.  We even have a sign outside our door:  “All Are Welcome.”  So everybody feels welcome.

 

WO:

What do you mean a charism that attracts …

 

FPL:

A way of living … a philosophy … of life and how we approach it and the people that come to church.  Like I’m doing the ribbon cutting next weekend  for this Franciscans Deliver.  I do yoga.  So a lot of my yogi friends are coming.  A lot of them are fallen-away Catholics.  A lot of them are Jewish.  A lot of them are Hindus.  So they’re all excited.  It will be great to see them in church.  And I know when they come, they’ll all feel welcome.  The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi is right near Madison Square Garden.  

 

WO:

This is the Church of WVOX.  His name if Paul Lostritto.  Father Cavoto, one of your colleagues, tells me you’re going to go beyond the breadline and get “rickshaws” … is this what you call pedi-cabs? 

 

FPL:

Yes, pedi-cabs are what you see people pedaling around in the city.  Now they make them with a place to put food or groceries.  So that’s one of the ways we’re going to be bringing food around … using a pedi-cab.  I like to use the word rickshaw because it sounds more exotic.  But it’s the same as a pedi-cab.

WO:

So where do you get the food you give out?

FPL:

That’s a good question.  Right now I have each of the groups that come to Saints Francis – the young adults, the LGBT groups, the secular Franciscans – they’re all bringing different food items and they’re all responsible for different things.  I also have some donors who donate food.  People have been very generous and  I’m going to have to rely on that generosity to continue to do this work.  It’s not coming from anywhere else but  our own ingenuity to find people and raise the money.  This will help us reach out to people who can’t get to the Breadline in the neighborhood.  Elderly people or shut-ins.  The idea is to bring them groceries once a week. 

 

WO:

We have another call for Father Paul …

 

Caller:

Mr. O’Shaughnessy … thanks for doing this program. Father, you mentioned that God speaks to us through  other people.  That happened to me.  This New York lady writer said … Jesus become transubstantiation at the Mass.  A really tough lady – she said if it’s not real, the hell with it. And in a shrewd, strategic and indirect way – that actually draws me in.  She was talking about the Body of Christ.  It’s when you least expect it.  That changed my life emphatically.

 

FPL:

That was one of the earlier questions … somebody asked me what made me less of a skeptic as I’ve gotten older.  It definitely is the Eucharist.   What we celebrate at Mass with the Eucharist … with that bread being changed … is absolutely … real.  I’m 100% convinced.

 

Caller:

Next time somebody comes up to me and says you’re praying all these Hail Marys … I’m going to hit them over the head with a Bible because I think you know what I’m saying.

 

WO:

You know … you talk about Saint Francis being the greatest Saint.  What about Mary Magdalene.  She was pretty cool.  All the sinners like me … they like her!

 

FPL:

Oh yes … she was pretty cool!  I went to her church.  There is a church dedicated to her in France in Vezelay where supposedly she ended up and her bones are in the church.  Very cool place.  And, of course, the Franciscans are there.  It’s their church.  We love Mary Magdalene.

WO:

Don’t you also have a church, Father Paul, in Venice?   There is a cool priest there …

 

FPL:

Yes … I stayed there.   I studied art and art history. 

 

WO:

Who is your favorite artist?

 

FPL:

I would have to say probably Michelangelo … perhaps Bellini.  In the chapel was this little Madonna painting and it was by Bellini.  I said Oh My God!  Just kind of sitting there!  That’s so typical Italian because there’s so much art in Italy that you do find these  little gems kind of squirreled away in these places.  Unbelievable!  Maybe I shouldn’t say this.  I hope nobody robs it now.

 

WO:

His name is Paul Lostritto … a Friar … a monk … he’s founder of Franciscans Deliver.  Aren’t you having a big “do” this weekend?

 

FPL:

Well … we open.  People can come in.  Next to the church.  It’s in our old school.  The pantry.  We used to have a book store. It’s in the old bookstore.  Right next door to the church.

 

WO:

And you also had a guy who used to make sandals!  Is he still around?

 

FPL:

He is kind of “retired.”  He lives in Washington.  He’s a hoot as well, a riot.

WO:

So who makes your sandals now?

FPL:

Well, mine are Crocs. 

WO:

I’m not worthy to loose the strap on your Crocs!  So go ahead, Father …

 

FPL:

There will be an open house, refreshments.  People come in to, look around.  And then I’m going to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Mass.  And once that’s done, we’ll start bringing the food to people.

 

WO:

Do you also preach … give sermons, homelies?

 

FPL:

Oh yes!

 

WO:

Do you get nervous when you get up there in front of people? 

 

FPL:

I do … but I love it.  I love getting up and preaching.  I never thought I would ever enjoy it as much as I do.  I like preaching a lot.

 

WO:

What do you have … notes?

 

FPL:

No .. I don’t use notes.  I don’t even prepare that much.  And I think if you asked people they would tell you I’m pretty good because I really try to let the Spirit move me and guide me and I get kind of fiery and I’m a little bit like a Protestant preacher when I get up there. 

 

WO:

How can you tell when you’re getting across?

FPL:

Oh … you can tell.  You know how that is Mr. O’Shaughnessy.  You’re there … you can hear a pin drop and they’re all looking at you.  And there’s something about the energy in the room. 

WO:

Well, we’ve all had moments, but I’ve got to ask you, do you ever get up there and say, I’m not getting across like happens to me?  You look out there and they’re blank!  Bored!  I get that a lot.

 

FPL:

Yes … that happens sometimes at weddings and funerals.  But weddings even more.  Let’s face it, people aren’t at weddings a lot of times because they want to be at church.  They’re at weddings because they want to have drinks and have fun.  So they’re not really paying attention.  They’re more interested in what they look like and which girl they are going to dance with or sleep with or whatever.  That’s what they’re thinking about!

 

WO:

Father Paul Lostritto … if someone wants to help your ministry … initiative.. scam?  What is it?

 

FPL:

Ministry … it’s a ministry.  An outreach ministry!

 

WO:

It’s called Franciscans Deliver.  If someone wanted to send you a check … what would they do? 

 

FPL:

Yes … Franciscans Deliver and then just write underneath it, “The Saint Francis Breadline” because it’s part of the Saint Francis Breadline.  You can send it 135 West 31st Street, New York, New York  10001

WO:

You say you’re mendicants.  If somebody gives you say five dollars, do you have to turn it over to the other friars?

FPL:

We do … but not five dollars.  You know … I wouldn’t think that even makes much of a difference today.

WO:

If someone gives you $5000.00?

 

FPL:

That’s totally different.  Even $50 dollars.  You turn it in.  We get a stipend every month.  And it’s adequate.  We have our health insurance.  We have a few cars if we need them.  We have a lot so it’s not hard to turn the money in to contribute to the life we have. 

 

WO:

You do yoga.  You preach.  You hear confessions.  You’re an artist.  You run Franciscans Deliver to the shut-ins in Chelsea.  Do they – the elders of your Order –  sort of let you do what you want?

 

FPL:

Not really.  I’ve always been sort of fortunate in that I put together a real good proposal as to why I want to do what I wanted to do with this Franciscans Deliver and they went with it.  I’ve been doing Yoga for a long time.  I’ve always kind of done my own thing.  They have to take the whole ball of wax, you know? 

 

WO:

You’re a Lostritto.  A lot of vowels there.  And there’s a Cavoto, our friend.  There’s another one, Carrozzo.  What does he do?

 

FPL:

Carrozzo was our provincial which is our “head guy.”   We elect our head person for a period of time and he is …

 

WO:

Do you think you’ll ever get to be provincial?

 

FPL:

Oh … I hope not.  I hope not. 

 

WO:

Let this cup pass …?

 

FPL:

Yes … exactly. 

 

WO:

It sounds like you’re having too much fun! 

FPL:

I have a lot of fun.  I also have a studio.  I’m a painter.  So I paint a lot.  I do a lot of portrait painting.  I have a good life.  I have a great life.  I really do.   Some of my paintings are going to be on prayer cards and they are going to be out and printed soon.  That’s kind of exciting.

 

WO:

But then you’ll go down and hear confessions today?

 

FPL:

Yes … 4:00 – 6:00.

 

WO:

What do you give out to real  bad guys like me?

 

FPL:

You know … I don’t usually do the Penance thing that much.  I would say things to people more practical … if somebody is fighting with their wife a lot I would say: for your Penance go buy her some flowers or tell her you love her.

 

WO:

Father … we’ve admired your Franciscan colleagues for many years.  A lot of friends of this station – Mario Cuomo and others, Peter Johnson, Jr., the famous lawyer and FOX News host, among them -  have great regard for what you do.  I was educated by the Jesuits.  What’s the difference between the Jesuits and the Franciscans?

 

FPL:

Oh there’s a lot.  We’ don’t have enough time, Mr. O’Shaughnessy.  The Jesuits are wonderful.  I love the Jesuits too!  Let’s just say they’re “brainy.” 

WO:

I was just going to use that word. They teach the kings and princes.

 

FPL:

Exactly.

 

WO:

Look what became of me thanks to a Jesuit high school!  Were you insulted when I said the Franciscans were a little crazy?

FPL:

We’re kind of known for being crazy!  No … that’s true.  And for having fun.  The Franciscans are kind of gettin’ down with the people and having fun.

 

WO:

Like Francis, I guess.   You even have your own prayer, don’t you?

 

FPL:

Yes, we do. 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled,

 as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

It is kind of in that idea that we find God … not so much in seeking for ourselves, but doing for others … which is basically the hope and prayer and counsel of Saint Francis.

# # #

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.

 

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Father Paul.

 

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher
Whitney Media
914-235-3279
cindy@wvox.com