SAN DIEGO – A family of four hastily took their seats amid the final few open seats at the back of a coach bus before it was time to go. The family added to the small army of white t-shirts, dawning a logo on the front which read “El Centro Catholic.”
The family were four of about 130 people from El Centro who were bussed from their respective Catholic parishes to San Diego on Friday for the second annual “Catholic Night” at Petco Park.
“Catholic Night” is one of many of the special promotions which happen throughout the San Diego Padres baseball season at Petco Park, “but this one has actual ‘padres,’” said organizer Kimberli Halpin of St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach.
Halpin has been organizing the event on the Diocese of San Diego’s side of the planning for the past two years. Halpin said the event was formed to coincide with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ roadmap for evangelization.
“This event is about our parishioners coming together to be social,” Halpin said. “We advertise to the parishes and let them know about this event, but more importantly, but it’s really about our parishioners bringing their spouse, or their children, or their friends who have stopped going to (Catholic) mass.”
Halpin said the point of the Diocese of San Diego’s involvement in Catholic Night is to help people who may have fallen away from the Catholic faith. It’s a way of fostering fellowship.
“Those people are most likely will not go to a faith formation, a conference, or mass, but they’ll go to a baseball game,” she said. “This is an opportunity for them to be with their greater Catholic family in hopes of inspiring them to come back to mass.”
Halpin said Catholics can use this sense of togetherness, of a being part of a “greater Catholic family,” outside of regular Sunday services.
“When we see each other every Sunday we are busy in the reverence of the mass, so sometimes we don’t communicate that much or laugh together or just spend that quality time together,” she said. “(Friday) night I saw people just enjoying themselves,” she said in a follow up interview.
Halpin, and the Rev. Mark Edney of El Centro Catholic – pastor of both St. Mary and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Churches in El Centro – said donors were generous enough to supply ECC with funds to rent busses to bring families from the Imperial Valley. This allowed families who normally may not be able to afford going to a professional baseball game go to a Padres game.
“Well it’s a great event for the Imperial Valley and El Centro Catholic,” said Edney. “It’s a long distance so it’s great to have that transportation.”
“It’s a beautiful night and I hope the Padres win,” Edney added.
Halpin said one of the biggest takeaways from the event was watching the community. “Watching Seann Dailey Richardson from St. Brigid sing the national anthem, seeing our Knights of Columbus color guard present colors, and just seeing all the people sitting together wearing our white shirts with Catholic pride. We really felt the love of our community and people coming together,” Halpin said.
Imperial Valley residents seemed to feel the unity and the fun throughout the night.
“When I finally reached San Diego I was excited and pumped for the game!” said Fabiola Rojas, El Centro resident and member of Catholic young adult choir “Fools for Christ” of the Imperial Valley.
“We rushed into the stadium and met other people from different churches around the area who share the same love for God as we do,” she said.
“The whole night was a ton of fun,” said Ashleigh Benavidez, Imperial resident and member Fools for Christ. “We laughed and ate and sang and just an overall amazing time.”
Halpin says she hopes to continue making the event happen with the gracious office of the Padres ball club.
“Catholic Night is a small piece but it is a piece of bringing people back together,” she said. “It’s our Catholic family coming together and helping each other.”
Roman T. Flores of St. John Paul II Catholic Radio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org