By Dianne Towalski
Catholic News Service
CLOUD, Minn. (CNS) – Fathers Casey Cole and Roberto "Tito" Serrano, both Franciscan friars, met in their second year of formation and bonded over their love of baseball and their Franciscan vocations.
As kids, they both dreamed of visiting Major League Baseball stadiums around the country. Now the dream becomes a reality as the "Bleacher Brothers" hit the road.
After eight years of planning, they set out May 19 on an 11-week pilgrimage to visit all 30 Major League Baseball ballparks, traveling more than 17,000 miles to meet people where they are and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
The first stop on their itinerary was Miami to see the Marlins play the Atlanta Braves May 20. The tour wraps up July 30 in Colorado with the Rockies hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"In formation, we learned about the history and tradition of the Franciscans," Father Cole told “The Central Minnesota Catholic,” St. Cloud's diocesan magazine. “We heard stories about St. Francis preaching and evangelizing, and how he didn't necessarily go to churches. He went to the city streets to preach where people were, and he preached a language they could understand."
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, knew they wanted to do something similar, but not actually go out into the streets. They wanted to go where people gather.
"So being baseball fans, Tito and I thought, ‘let's go to the other cathedral,’" Father Cole said. "We've got the cathedral, the church; but the secular cathedrals really are stadiums. The idea was planted that once we became priests, once we had the ability to travel a little bit, we'd do it."
They will be in the stands for games in each city, connecting with others who share their love of baseball. They also will celebrate Masses and visit Catholic schools, parishes and dioceses for talks along the way.
"St. Francis didn't just preach in churches," Father Cole said. "He had a gift of finding God in even the ordinary. For 800 years the Franciscans have continued this legacy. This trip is our way of carrying on what St. Francis started.
"We'll go to the stadiums, but then invite them home," Father Cole said. "So, we'll have Masses and we'll have talks. I think we have about 30 talks planned and then a handful of Masses. We don't want to just have all the fun, but offer some fruit as well."
They will do a traditional talk or a town-hall format. It's up to the hosts to choose, but the priests prefer the town hall, Father Serrano said.
"We're at our best when we're just talking and when we're able to banter and argue and debate and just engage in normal conversation the way everyone else does," he said. "I think that's what allows us to kind of lessen the distance between us."
Father Cole hopes that being out in public in their habits will encourage people to ask questions, he said.
"I really just want people to know that if they see us, come up and talk to us," Father Serrano said. "That's why we're there. We're going to be in our habits the whole time so that we can be visible. Let's chat and let's have an encounter with one another."
Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic, the magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud.