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A CALLING TO HEAL INJUSTICE

alking past church as a boy growing up in Buffalo, "Butch" Mazur never dreamed he would one day be a pastor.

On his childhood journeys though, he received some lessons on intolerance that would serve him well in his diverse parish. In his early years, the youngster would pass a white-haired woman "who sat on her porch with broom in hand," recalls the now Rev. Francis X. Mazur.

"When we kids walked by, she used to come down and swing her broom at us and say: 'Why don't you polacks go back to where you belong?' "

"I didn't know what this meant but knew she didn't like me. I walked on the other side of the street," recounts the pastor of St. Gerard's church.

The sting of that hostile childhood epithet would help to finely hone his sense of injustice.

"Two Mexican sisters lived in the neighborhood. Other kids would pick on them. Somehow this didn't seem right to me, and I often stood up for them," he remembers.

Standing up for those whom the gospels note "are heavy laden" and "cast out" became a lifelong avocation for Mazur, who also serves as chaplain at Erie County Medical Center, the Ecumenical/Interreligious Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and the co-executive director at the Network of Religious Communities.

His church -- one of the city's most beautiful -- is also one of the most challenging.

At St. Gerard's, he's also brought the kindness he found in his Old First Ward childhood neighborhood.

"Coming out of Mass on Sunday mornings, I would always see the baker in front of his closed Mazurek's Bakery. He would call over large families and give them some baked goods," he recalled. "My father always said that this was 'leftovers' from Saturday. We kids knew better. The baker specially baked things for families in the parish who were under hard times."

"I guess we have lost some of this sense of community," Mazur said. "The parish was the center of people's lives. Everyone knew everyone, and people reached out to those in need. This is what we try to do in the neighborhood of Bailey and East Delavan."

They have a food pantry that serves up to 165 families each week. Then there is Gerard Place, formerly an elementary school that now houses a program for homeless single-parent families.

"We give people a chance for a new life," Mazur says. "People are willing to help when they see a need. I try to project a positive image in the neighborhood. I believe positive energy is contagious."

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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