The Ballpark Day of Faith founder takes the words from one of Pope Francis’ 2013 homilies seriously: “You have to party with others, with family, with friends, with those who’ve been invited, as I was invited. Being Christian means belonging; belonging to this body, to the people who have been invited to the feast: this is Christian belonging.”
Inclusiveness is the spirit of Ballpark Day of Faith on June 24 at Miller Park. The day will start with 11 a.m. Mass in the Uecker Lot of Miller Park, followed by a tailgate lunch and the 1 p.m. game, when the Milwaukee Brewers will take on the St. Louis Cardinals.
All are welcome to come to the celebration of Mass, the tailgate and the game, said founder Bob Simi, a parishioner at Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa and executive director of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center. While the hosts of the event are Catholic, non-Catholics or members of other faiths are welcome to attend, as well as those who may not regularly come to Mass or haven’t been to Mass in some time.
But Simi doesn’t just talk the talk. As part of Christ King’s Men’s Ministry Group, he cooks breakfast for men at the Guest House of Milwaukee once a month. About five years ago, he invited a handful of them to Ballpark Day of Faith. Every year around 30 men, including the staff of the Guest House, attend the festivities.
“They are our brothers and our guests,” he said. “As Pope Francis once said, being Christian means being invited to the party, the ‘wedding feast,’ which we celebrate at every Mass. Through this annual tradition, we want to make that true, that everyone is invited to the party.”
The Guest House of Milwaukee started out as an emergency shelter in 1982 and now has more than 300 permanent housing units for men who were previously struggling with homelessness. In addition to providing shelter, the Guest House also provides a number of services to help the people they serve, including health care, alcohol, drug addiction and mental health counseling, job coaching and employment classes. The organization also provides community outreach programs to help those who have been homeless for a short period to transition into permanent housing and to help those who are at risk of becoming homeless.
The practice of inviting those in need to the festivities of Ballpark Day of Faith has spread to other communities, according to Simi.
“Last year, we found out that there was a busload of men coming over from Janesville,” he said. “It turns out that they had a number of extra tickets and didn’t know what to do with them. I told them about our experience hosting men from the Guest House. They then invited men from a shelter in their town to join them for the trip to Miller Park. It’s beautiful.”
In 2007, Simi and a friend invited a seminarian, who then invited his father, to a Brewers game. They engaged in the typical tailgate experience: beer, brats and good conversation.
“On occasion, the conversation dipped deeper and we talked about stuff like faith and religion,” Simi said. “Old friends and new, we shared in our questions about the journey of life. There was a special vibe around that fire. We didn’t know it then, but Ballpark Day of Faith was born.”
The next year, the friends invited a priest friend who celebrated Mass out of the back of a truck. The celebration kept growing. It may have started with four men, but this year, organizers are expecting around 1,000 people to participate. The event isn’t supposed to be too heavy, but a little more meaningful than an average tailgate and game, said Simi.
What the men realized was any type of celebration, like cheering for the home team, is better when faith and fellowship come together.
“Sports are a beautiful thing,” said Simi. “But in my experience, when we allow them to take over our families, say during the week or on Sundays, it can put our lives out of order. This is why I love Ballpark Day of Faith. It helps put things in the right order. When you put God and family first, it makes room for all the other good things in life. Then life gets better. We experience more peace, more joy and more beauty.”
Tickets are going fast, so register as soon as possible. Tickets can be purchased on the event’s website, www.dayoffaith.com. Tickets, which cover the game, tailgate lunch, beverages and beer, range anywhere from $30 to $60, depending on the Brewers game seat selection. Tailgate-only tickets are available, as well. They are $15 for adults, $10 for children 12 and younger and free for children 2 and younger.
“It can be very expensive for an entire family to make it to a Brewers game,” said Simi. “Through our sponsors, we work to make it very affordable. It’s a great deal. And you begin the day with Sunday Mass and a tailgater so all your bases are covered. What’s not to love?”