Georgetown's Holy Trinity Church, the oldest Roman Catholic church in the city, has a reputation in most Catholic circles for being one of the most progressive and socally involved in the area.
"Holy Trinity is the most generous of the Washington churches in their work for the poor at St. Vincent De-Paul" center in the North Capitol Street area, said the Rev. Horace B. McKenna. The 80-year-old priest has spent the greater part of his more than 50 years in the priesthood working with the poorest of the poor.
"Of all the parishes I have connections with, Holy Trinity is one on the most exemplary," said the Very Rev. Joseph Panuska of Baltimore. As head of the Baltimore Province of Jesuits in this country, Panuska is well acquainted with the Jesuit-staffed Holy Trinity.
Holy Trinity parishioners have been stunned by the six-month campaign of demonstrations, sit-ins and, ultimately, an announced fast-to-the-death by radical Christian Mitch Snyder over what he and his group, the Community for Creative Non-Violence, charge are callousness and indifference to the poor.
For nearly a decade, Holy Trinity has been a center for progressiveminded Catholics from all over the area who are dissatisfied with their own local parish's slow acceptance or outright resistance to many of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
In some areas the church has gone beyond officially approved practices. For years, for example, girls in the parish have been given equal consideration with boys to assist the priests at the altar during mass.
The church's formal ministry to the poor beyond its own doorstep is carried on through its Social Concerns Committee. Some of its activities include:
A commitment of $500 a month for McKenna's work at St. Aloysius Church, 19 I St. NW.
$100 a month for the House of Ruth shelter for homeless women.
$500 to the Higher Achievement Program, a tutoring and counseling program connected with Gonzaga High School.
A collection taken at a monthly home mass at a parishioner's home yields from $200 to $250 for a North Capitol Street area soup kitchen, So Others May Eat. The committee guarantees an additional $100 a month to the kitchen.
Parishioners prepare and serve the meal once a month at SOME: another group performs the same service for the House of Ruth.
"There are a lot of things done which are not organized by the parish," said Paul McElligott, chairman of the Social Concerns Committee. He said that parishioners volunteer their time, and in some cases, professional services.
Some parishioners who talk about the church's efforts on behalf of the poor say they could do more. "Of course we're not doing enough," said Pat Franklin. "But who is?"
At the same time, she paid tribute to the efforts of her follow parishioners. "There are people at Holy Trinity who are devoting a lot of time and money of this work. How can someone come in and say: 'You're not doing anything'?"
The confrontation at Holy Trinity erupted over the church's plans to renovate its 120-year-old building. The CCNV attacked those plans in a particularly bitter communique handed orshipers by CCNV demonstrators one Sunday late last year.
By refusing to cut back on the plans and give the money to the poor, the activist group said, parishioners elected "to reaffirm your commitment to main, torture, and murder your neighbors in the name of personal freedom... You have chosen to use your material resources... in your own narrow self-serving interests. You have chosen to use your resources as weapons against anyone or anything that challenges your position of power and privilege."
The renovation plans for the 127 year-odl building are budgeted at $350,000, with an additional $50,000 to repair the organ.
Involved are construction of fire exits in the front of the church to comply with safety laws; installation of ramps and facilities for persons in wheelchairs; replacement of the airconditioniing and heating equipment that experts say will halve energy costs; insulation; strengthening of the balcony; roof repairs -- all necessary improvements, according to John Caine, parish council president.