How can a group of Franciscan Friars support the poor and turn round a disused inner-city church, while also living a simple life of prayer and devotion? What is it like to live the life of a friar, and how hard is it to follow the example of a 13th century saint in the modern world?
In the run-up to Easter the BBC has been granted unique access to a Franciscan Friary in Bradford. Bronx To Bradford: Friars On A Mission, airing on Thursday 13 April on BBC One follows five friars on their mission to support the poor, both spiritually and materially. Can the brothers succeed? How challenging is it for friars to help those in need while they themselves must live a humble life with few material comforts?
The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal originates from the Bronx in New York and now operates friaries in the US, Central America, the UK and Ireland. They believe the life and example of St Francis shows them the way to follow the teachings of Jesus. In Bradford they run regular soup kitchens for people in need, the poor and the homeless. They are also hoping to restore an old, run–down Catholic Church to attract new followers. The brothers want to achieve all this while devoting time to prayer and worship.
St Patrick’s Church was once a hive of activity with roots in the city’s old Irish community. Times have changed. The church and the friary sit close to the city’s mosques. The Muslim population in Bradford has been expanding and thriving, while the number of people describing themselves as Christian has been in decline.
Heenan Bhatti’s film is an intimate portrayal of the brothers as they work and pray, day and night. Dressed in grey habits, and sporting beards, they adopt the image of traditional friars. They also follow strict rules – avoiding possessions and sometimes begging for their own food – yet they also share a warm sense of humour and a love of music. How testing is this life, and what exactly are the rules for modern friars? How do they operate in a busy, materialistic, digital world? And what can be achieved with the people they serve, who often live complicated, challenging lives?
Bronx To Bradford: Friars On A Mission Episode 1 (of 1) airs on Thursday 13 April 2017 on BBC One.