Franciscan Fathers Casey Cole and Roberto “Tito” Serrano believe they are on a mission from God.
It’s not quite the life of crime espoused by the Blues Brothers, they joked. Instead, the two friars, who have dubbed themselves the “Bleacher Brothers,” are sharing the Good News of Jesus through a tour of 30 Major League Baseball stadiums this summer.
The duo made a stop in St. Louis June 28-29, where they gave a talk at St. Anthony of Padua Church in south St. Louis, and then took in a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game the following day.
In their own small way, they’re continuing the legacy of their order’s founder, St. Francis of Assisi, who more than 800 years ago took to the streets to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others. Father Cole, a chaplain at Mount de Sales High School in Macon, Georgia, and Father Serrano, who is assigned to Siena College in Loudonville, New York, came up with the idea nearly 10 years ago when they studied together.
Both avid baseball fans, the two saw an opportunity to visit the homes of America’s pastime, inviting people “home” to the Church. The two are more than halfway through their tour of 30 cities, covering more than 17,000 miles throughout the summer, which started in May. They will wrap up their tour July 30 in Colorado with the Rockies vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In meeting others during their travels, “it’s really about offering people an opportunity for encounter,” said Father Serrano. “To encounter us, to encounter Christ through us. And then planting a seed that they can take back and hopefully grow.”
At St. Anthony, the two gave several short talks on “What the World Needs.” Noting the Church’s Synod on Synodality, Father Cole said he has been interested in hearing from people along their journey on the beautiful parts of the Church, but also what the Church can improve upon.
The Church is challenged by people who have been catechized, but not evangelized, said Father Cole. For many people, the Good News of Jesus is neither good, nor news. And they haven’t experienced a personal encounter with Him.
Jesus offered us a path to salvation, he said. And what matters is that we understand that salvation is real, and there is hope for the future. But “none of our beliefs make sense until we have had an encounter with Jesus,” he said.
The two also spoke about listening to others with an empathetic ear. (“Our invitation is to go out and encounter others and Christ,” Father Serrano said.) One approach to encountering others is through the corporal works of mercy, particularly through serving the poor, the sick and the imprisoned, among others. Father Cole said that’s an opportunity to see the God-given dignity of every human, who has been created in God’s image and likeness.
Aware of All Things New, the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ strategic pastoral planning initiative, Father Cole said the mission should always be the starting point. “We are a missionary people that has a Church for the structure, and the safety and the security. But they’re always oriented toward the mission. If you do it the other way around, we’re just a country club looking for new members every once in a while, and that’s not who we are.”
Lay people in particular have opportunities to encounter people and share the Good News in ways that Franciscan friars — dressed in brown habits — don’t always have. “In your barbecues and in the places that you go. We are actively going out to the ballparks because we don’t encounter people. We work in the Church. So the lay vocation is really in the world.”
>> Bleacher Brothers
Follow the Bleacher Brothers on their travels to Major League Baseball cities throughout the summer at breakinginthehabit.org.