How one priest is bringing Jesus to the most dangerous city in the US

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Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Credit: Jim, The Photographer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

With the highest per-capita homicide rate in the nation, Baltimore has been called the most dangerous city in America - which is why it needs Jesus, says Father James Boric.

But Baltimore can’t get Jesus if the doors to his house are closed.

It’s why Boric, who serves as rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, is hoping to radically increase the basilica’s hours, increase the availability of adoration and confession, and add new urban missionaries.

He wants Jesus to be available to the people on their way home from work downtown, to the people affected by the murders in the city (347 just last year), to the homeless who sleep near the basilica.

“Baltimore City is hurting. It is bleeding. It is in need of hope and healing. It needs Jesus Christ in the Eucharist - the source of all hope,” Boric said on the website for his campaign, entitled ‘The Source of All Hope.’

“In my prayer, I know God is calling me to open the Basilica,” he said, to provide a place of peace and prayer for the lost, the homeless and the hopeless. 

“I must provide that refuge here in the City. I honestly know that God is demanding this of me.”
Currently, the basilica closes at 4 p.m. because it cannot afford the security measures it would need to stay open in the evening.

But Boric plans to extend adoration hours until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, with more evening confession times as well. Confessions are currently available at the basilica for a half-hour before noon on weekdays, and for about 30 minutes in the late afternoons on weekends.

Funds raised in the campaign will go toward security measures and the utility costs for the keeping the basilica open several additional hours a day. The campaign will also help fund the housing and salaries of the new urban missionaries. At the end of July, the campaign had already surpassed its $106,000 goal by more than $44,000.

The urban missionary program will base its model on the Christ in the City program in Denver, a homeless outreach ministry that opened in 2010 which sends young adult missionaries out to the streets to befriend and bring Christ to the homeless.

Boric said he plans to visit Denver to learn more about how the program works. He told the Baltimore Catholic Review that he plans to hire two college-age students with street ministry experience to help him form the program’s structure before hiring more missionaries, and that he will also collaborate with Catholic Charities and other social programs that provide resources to the poor and homeless.

While the program won’t be able to solve all the problems of the homeless, Boric told the Catholic Review, “we can love them. We can get to know their names and their stories. We can give them the word of Christ and invite them to feel the peace of adoration. We can be an evangelizing presence.”

The new campaign will only add to the good things already taking place at the basilica, Boric said on the website, such as the speaker series, last year’s successful Rosary Congress, and a 7-week “Discovering Christ” catechism course.

“But now we need to hit the streets of Baltimore and be a real agent for change,” Boric wrote. 

According to the Catholic Review, there has been strong support for the ‘Source of Hope’ campaign among parishioners, who applauded the initiative when it was announced.
“It’s about having the basilica be a place of spiritual refuge for the city and a beacon for the archdiocese for people looking for a deeper connection to Christ,” Laura Johnston, who sits on the basilica’s pastoral council, told the Catholic Review.

“That’s exactly what we are trying to establish for the people in Baltimore,” she said, “to give them a beautiful place to seek refuge from all the difficulties of life.”

“I love being a priest. I love being the Rector of the Basilica of the Assumption. And all I desire is to bring souls to Christ. I do not want to be rich. I do not want to be famous. All I want is to provide Jesus to our City. But I am also well aware that I need your help,” Boric said in his campaign appeal to donors.

“Thank you for saying yes to Jesus! Thanks for your generosity. And thanks for making a difference in Baltimore.”

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