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She's a rebel with a cause
By Kevin Cullen, Globe Columnist | March 3, 2008
SCITUATE - A thin white carpet of new-fallen snow surrounded St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church. Through the bare trees, the Atlantic was blue and still. Barbara Nappa's car was the only one in the parking lot.
Nappa is a 73-year-old rebel with kind eyes and a thick sweater. She is one of the people in this Scituate parish who have taken turns occupying a church, their church, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for more than three years.
Last week, some big cheeses at the Vatican, in Rome, ruled against the people who have been trying to keep open St. Jeanne d'Arc, a church in Lowell that, like St. Frances, was ordered closed by the Roman Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.
Nappa wasn't surprised.
"I never thought we'd find justi ce at the Vatican," she said. St. Frances should not be one of the five churches in the Archdiocese of Boston occupied by defiant Catholics. After O'Malley ordered St. Frances shuttered, someone from the archdiocese forgot to lock a side door, and so people like Barbara Nappa got inside. Some people at St. Frances say that side door was locked, that Jesus opened it for them. Who, they ask, was a bigger rebel than Jesus? Who defied the powers that be and stuck up for the little guy more than Jesus?
"This is not the cardinal's church," Nappa was saying. "We own this church. It's not the cardinal's to sell."
Don't get her going about the cardinal.
"Three years ago, the cardinal was up at St. Anthony's in Cohasset so I went up there and I held his hand and I begged him to meet with us. 'I'd love to, dear,' he said to me.
"But he never came to see us."
Nappa read in the paper a while back that the cardinal w ent to a pub in Quincy to talk with the people there.
"I wrote him a letter, asking him how he had time to go to a bar in Quincy but he can't come to a church in Scituate," she said. "He didn't write back."
Nappa likes the solitude of the vigil. She prays. She says the Rosary. She thinks about her husband, dead these 13 years. She looks long and hard at the stained glass window at the back of the church, the one that depicts St. Frances standing beside a little girl.
"That little girl lived around here," Nappa said. "She watched them build this church. Then she got leukemia and she died. I like to think that Mother Cabrini is with that little girl right now."
In the background, the voice of the tenor Ronan Tynan wafted from a CD player through the air, like incense. He was singing "Jerusalem," and it was gorgeous.
Nappa sat at a long table at the back of the church. There is a basket where parishioners drop off things for the local food pantry. "People come by with food every day," she said. "The economy's bad. There's a lot of people hurting."
There is a separate basket filled with toothbrushes and other sundries the faithful at St. Frances send down to a Baptist minister in Tennessee who takes care of the homeless. His name is Rev. Bobby Lord and he's Barbara Nappa's cousin.
"We grew up together, in Danvers," she said. "He's a very good man." When she sits vigil, Nappa scans the Bible, looking for a story to read to the kids in the church on Sundays.
On this occasion, she settled on the Gospel according to St. John, Chapter 9, in which Jesus comes across a blind man on the road. Jesus spits on the ground, using his saliva to form a paste from the clay, which he rubs on the blind man's eyes.
Suddenly, the blind man can see, a miracle.
"I love that story," she said.
She wishes someone would make a paste of clay and rub it on her archbishop's eyes.
"Maybe then," said Barbara Nappa, the rebel grandmother, "he could see."
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com