Catholic revival sizzles in Rock Hill

ROCK HILL – It was cold and rainy outside, but in the cozy confines of St. Mary Church things were sizzling. It got so hot, in fact, that the presenter had to remind the people: “Yes, this is a Catholic church.”

The occasion was the parish’s annual Fall Revival Oct. 26-28, and the sparks were provided by the St. Mary’s Gospel Choir and the revivalist, Father George Franklin.

Parishioner Rita Smith called the priest “certainly something different.” That may have been a mild understatement. Besides the singing, dancing and aerobic antics the Virgin Island priest has become famous for, Father Franklin laid down the hard facts of Christian commitment to the crowd.

“You will never know the joy of life unless you make Jesus Christ number one in your life,” he said. “And if you don’t love your enemy, you can’t love God.”

He talked about America, calling it a nation rich in material things, but poor in spirit. And he talked about St. Refrigerator Church.

“There are too many strangers in some churches. And other churches are dead because the people are too comfortable. They don’t want the priest to rock the boat,” Father Franklin said. “God doesn’t reside in your comfort zone.”

He tore into television, especially the language used on some shows. He urged people to turn the set off when the performers are offensive, because, he said, “they are insulting you and they are therefore insulting God. Those curses are seeping into your unconscious.”

Laura Boccanfuso drove to Rock Hill from her home parish of Our Lady of the Lake in Chapin just for the revival.

“A friend told me: ‘You’ve got to come up for this.’ It has been pretty amazing. This man is engaging,” Boccanfuso said.

Father Franklin engaged the Gospel too, telling a renovated version of the Good Samaritan story, with the Samaritan becoming a woman driving on the Interstate to Columbia and forgetting her insurance card when she took the beaten man to the hospital. The crowd responded with ‘Amens’ throughout his energetic homilies. They also responded to the choir by clapping, singing and moving to the beat.

“It’s been wild like this for all three days of the revival, “said Brother David Boone, parish life facilitator of St. Mary. “We saw Father Franklin at a diocesan workshop about 18 months ago and asked him to come for this revival.”

It turned out to be an auspicious request. Lifelong parishioner Danise Simpson, who brought her preteen daughter Janaye and friend Cynthia Maree to the closing night of the revival, called it “wonderful.” She could have spoken for any of the smiling faces when the service ended with everyone swaying and singing, “Let there be love on Earth and let it begin with me.”