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Diverse church reaches out to all

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The whitewashed bricks and stones that make up the walls of Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington aren't exactly uniform. Some are big, some are small; some jut out; some are bumpy.

Together, according to Spiritan Father Tim Hickey, pastor, they make up a perfect metaphor for the parishioners of the cozy church that sits at the top of South 19th Street.

"I've often thought that that's us," Father Hickey said recently. "None of them are equal and some stick out further than others. (But) somehow it all forms the church and it works."

What Father Hickey is getting to is that the community at Queen of Peace is a diverse one with a sense of welcome for all, which stems from its origin in 1945 as a black Catholic community.

"A lot of our sense of hospitality is born out of the experience of the black Catholics who helped to found this parish because they welcomed white families in at a time when that was not something that was considered all that acceptable," Father Hickey said.

According to church history, after the parish was founded, Richmond Bishop Peter L. Ireton invited the Pennsylvania-based Congregation of the Holy Spirit to serve at Queen of Peace, partly because members of this order had experience in black Catholic ministry. For the first 18 years of the parish's existence, according to a history of the diocese, Queen of Peace was without boundaries and open to all.

This same spirit of welcome continues today, with Queen of Peace welcoming all - including those with mental health issues, the physically disabled, people who struggle with alcoholism, homosexuals and their families.

"They want someplace where they themselves can feel welcomed, be able to talk about it," Father Hickey said. "It's just amazing."

Many of those groups use Queen of Peace's facilities for meetings, will stay to attend an event or a Mass and will get hooked.

"It's because they walk in here and … (it) felt like home because they looked around and saw people like themselves and nobody stared at them," Father Hickey said.

Working hand-in-hand with its welcoming spirit, Queen of Peace is known for its "commitment to living out the Gospel," Father Hickey said.

"Living out the Gospel is what inspires us as a community of faith to understand how important it is to welcome people into our community," he said. "As we do that, we also challenge (the parishioners) to pick up the Gospel and to bring it into their everyday life."

The Gospel passage from Matthew 25:35 is key for Queen of Peace: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me."

See story on Christmas care packages for the homeless.)

A strong social justice program and outreach program, led by Greg Staff, helps live out this mission. The Haiti Committee works diligently to provide basic needs and educational opportunities to the remote village of Medor, Haiti, where Queen of Peace has a "twin" parish. (See story about NBC Dateline's coverage of efforts in Haiti.) Parishioners glean (harvest vegetables) for the Arlington Food Assistance Center. They run "Matthew 25," a thrift store for the needy located in the parish Ministry Center. The pastoral staff encourages involvement in every project, giving suggestions for involvement in homilies or at the end of Mass, Father Hickey said.

"The connection (between spiritual life and action) is very clear," said Christina Kozyn, parish office administrator. "Priests give announcements and challenge people with a list of things that are needed."

Queen of Peace is known as a destination parish, attracting people from Washington, D.C., Maryland and other parts of the Arlington Diocese by the unique way it works to carry out its mission.

"We really challenge them," said Katie Remedios, religious education director. "Once they get involved, they're here for everything - making pies, working in food pantry, making scarves for homeless. They travel a long distance, but it changes their life."

"People aren't looking for a 45-minute experience of church," Father Hickey said. "They come here and they expect to participate in the Eucharist, and they expect to do that with a strong sense of community."

Participating in the Eucharist is an intimate event at Queen of Peace. The small church is filled for most of the six weekend liturgies, with the 9:30 and 11:15 a.m. Masses most crowded.

"We're packed in like sardines, but we're all on the same page," Father Hickey said.

Their Masses feature mostly contemporary music, including a lively choir and ensemble at the 11:15 a.m. Mass and a more meditative group of singers at the 6 p.m. Sunday young adult Mass.

A sense of participation and joy during the Masses struck Father Hickey from the moment he arrived at Queen of Peace. Spiritan Father Tom Tunney, parochial vicar, agreed.

"People are hugging and kissing and hand-shaking all over the place," he said.

Queen of Peace operates a unique religious education program, one that is home-based or "family circle"-based, meaning the majority of education is being done inside the child's family unit.

"Jesus should be at the dinner table every day," Remedios said. "Our programs are designed for the parents to be the first teachers of the Faith. The families are totally involved."

Once a month the youths get together to go over what they have learned independently.

"There's nothing more amazing than standing out front on Sunday and watching these … little kids trying to drag these reusable bags of groceries," Father Hickey said. "Parents are teaching children - making a connection between helping the poor and their faith life."

Father Hickey said there's a hunger among parishioners for learning and for prayer, so it's a continual challenge to meet needs for adult education and spiritual opportunities.

"We're seeing people from the social justice committee coming to the meditation group and vice versa," Father Hickey said. "As they're deepening their prayer life, they're hearing the call to step out and pay attention to the needs of others."

With all these projects ongoing, there never seems to be enough time to do everything that needs to get done, Father Hickey said. Limited staff and space are also difficulties.

"As we grow, we just don't have room," Remedios said. "We're bursting at the seams."

But that's also a good thing.

"The people are wonderful," Father Hickey said. "It's a real strong sense of a family of faith. They want us here and we want them here, and we want to do this together."

Quick facts

Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church

2700 S. 19th St.

Arlington, Va 22204


Pastor: Spiritan Fr. Tim J. Hickey

Parochial vicar: Spiritan Fr. Tom P. Tunney

In residence: Fr. Robert J. Richter

DRE: Katie Remedios

Mass Schedule:

Sat.: 6 p.m. vigil

Sun.: 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 1 p.m. (Spanish)

Weekdays: noon

Parishioners: 2,331

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011