Older residents remember colorful parades, department stores and small shops filled with customers, and the jobs that supported a thriving local economy. But those fading memories meant little to their children and grandchildren living with the reality of broken spirits, empty storefronts, and the lack of a foundation on which to build a future.
Most of the coal mines had closed, leaving nothing but a hill of refuse and unemployed workers. Textile factories had either closed or moved, dealing a second blow to the economy.

The population shrank as people left to find opportunities elsewhere. Government assistance became one of the main sources of income. As despair set in, the use of opioids and other drugs began to grow among people of all ages.

Something had to happen to move Shamokin forward and prevent talented young people from moving away. There were a number of people within the community who shared a common desire for revitalization.
A symbol of the change in Shamokin is a nearby hill created by coal refuse, that now blends into the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Trees and foliage are beginning to take over, creating a nascent habitat for birds and animals. As in the town itself, new growth fosters hope.
While Shamokin cannot bring back what was lost when the economy changed, new opportunities can be created through fresh initiatives. In this video, we can hear in the voices of the people, young and old, the desire to recreate their community.
In 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Sí, encouraging a greater commitment to care for our common home and the poor. The Pope stated:

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

Franciscans have served in Shamokin for 120 years. During those decades, the people had supported the friars and their ministries all over the world. Now, with the Pope’s appeal in mind, the friars heard a call to step beyond the friary and parish model and consider creating collaborative partnerships in the city.

Scattered conversations were initiated, but there was no plan. Potential leaders started to step forward, but if there was any hope of success, a clear path forward had to be found.

The next step came became clear to the friars. They would do one of the things they do best: invite everyone to dinner.
We must 'undertake new initiatives of life and mission, moved by the desire to live the Gospel in the courageous practice of the Rule and the Constitutions of the Order…' to open ourselves up, to go forth, to 'get our hands dirty' doing active pastoral ministry, paying special attention to the People of God, to the poor, the suffering, and the marginalized. We must rely on our creativity in order to combine our life of prayer and fraternity with active evangelization in the community.

Friar Carlos Trovarelli OFM Conv.
Minister General, 120th Successor of St. Francis
Friar Carlos is referring to a motion from the 2019 General Ordinary Chapter, New Wineskins for New Wine. It calls for bold evangelization and interpreting the Franciscan charism “in light of the signs of the times.” It encourages “new initiatives of life and mission, moved by the desire to live the Gospel in the courageous practice of the Rule and Constitutions…”

The work of the friars in helping create Shamokin’s Faith Alliance for Revitalization is an embodiment of these hopes. The friars were already doing what the General Chapter was urging other jurisdictions around the world to consider.

All of us are called to bold, new JPIC initiatives like the community-transforming work in Shamokin. As the motion went on to declare, they “can become a leaven for new vocations, encouragement for those who already realize their vocation, and an answer with which the Order can address the challenges of the New Evangelization.”
A meal...a conversation...and the ideas begin to flow.

Dreaming of possibilities, then clarifying the vision.

Working to turn vision into reality.

Please watch for the next installments of A Spark of Hope in Shamokin.
Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation