Saturday, April 11, 2009

“Scenes from a Parish” – An Easter Story of Death and Resurrection in Lawrence, MA

Such is the state of communication in the 21st century that I learned about the existence of the film, Scenes from a Parish, by way of my son in Romania. He e-mailed me yesterday from Craiova, Romania to ask me if I had read Ty Burr’s review of the documentary film that had been made about St. Patrick’s Parish in Lawrence, Massachusetts. I had not yet gone on-line to see what Ty and his Boston Globe colleague, Wesley Morris, had to say about the latest batch of film releases. So, at my son's prompting, I read Ty’s review, and then looked to see when the film was next playing.

Boston Globe Review of "Scenes from a Parish"

I just returned from excursion to Boston’s Museum of Fine Art to see the morning showing of Scenes from a Parish. It was a moving experience. I know Lawrence reasonably well, having grown up a few miles downstream at the mouth of the Merrimac River in Newburyport. It may be the same river, but the two communities are worlds apart. Lawrence over the past 25 years has seen a flood of Hispanic immigration, and St. Patrick’s Parish in South Lawrence is a microcosm of that sea change from Irish immigrant families to Spanish speaking immigrants.

The film chronicles four years of snapshots and vignettes from the daily lives of individuals within the parish. Some of those captured on film hail from each side of the cultural divide, and some, like Father Paul O’Brien, try to bridge the chasm - much like the rusting bridge that spans the Merrimac near St. Patrick’s. The old iron bridge serves as a cinematic focal point and touchstone in this well-executed documentary.

I was particularly moved by the Easter pageant in the film that showed the community celebrating the Passion of Christ in a realistic enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus. It was poignant to see this community, struggling to come back from the dead, uniting around a recreation and retelling of the world’s best known story of death and resurrection.

Father O’Brien, a product of privileged Chestnut Hill and Harvard University, has traveled as a missionary to this foreign land. He has made himself both a beloved member of the community and a lighting rod for resentment on the part of those who fear change and would like to hold back the tide of new arrivals and all that their coming means to the parish. TV talk show host, Conan O’Brien, Father O’Brien’s college roommate, appears in a cameo role to lend support to the ambitious plans that the rector has nurtured for creating a warm and welcoming place to feed the hungry. The opening of the Cora Unum Center is a highlight of the film. Father O’Brien’s comments on that occasion about the Harvard Club prompted spontaneous laughter among the Boston theatergoers at today’s screening.

The film provides no easy answers to the dilemmas that face the city, the parish and its parishioners. The film makers lovingly and unblinkingly train their lens on people living their lives and sharing their thoughts. Watching this film and vicariously visiting this parish is both heart-warming and heart-rending.

There are two more opportunities to see Scenes from a Parish at the MFA – tomorrow, Easter Sunday, at 3:15 and next Friday, April 17 at 2:00 PM.



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