Franciscan Friars from the Bronx to Bradford

Beards, robes and guitars for Easter

Religious broadcasting has always been a tricky affair here in the UK, with the BBC's Songs of Praise being the solitary vehicle that exists to nourish the nation’s christian soul on terrestrial TV.

Given the global outrage at muslim extremism any religious debate is, unsurprisingly, treated with kid gloves to avoid anything inflammatory. However, with the Easter weekend approaching, the BBC is duty bound in its role as the country’s public service broadcaster to represent the christian community during its most poignant festival.

Usually, there are a few Holy Land documentaries secreted among the cartoons and family-friendly viewing but rarely anything to encourage the more secular to tune in to the lives of the more pious.

However, this year BBC researchers have unearthed a story that may just make the religious seem more intriguing.  

Bronx to Bradford: Friars on a Mission, is a one-off fly-on-the-wall documentary following the lives of a Franciscan community as they try and bring the word of God back to socially deprived areas of the north of England.

The bearded brethren who have taken oaths of poverty, chastity and obedience and wear robes reminiscent of any Friar Tuck, are an unlikely gang of converts whose joie de vivre and guitar playing skills are a magnetic combination.

Unravelling the lives of characters like Brother Benedict who was a petty criminal by the age of 13 and a member of the Manchester acid house scene is fascinating. We learn how the young man found God two years ago after a snooker room assault and now happily tucks himself into bed by 10pm and dedicates his life to serving Jesus through prayer and charity.

However, the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal is a Catholic order which originated in the infamous hood of the Bronx in New York, so perhaps Benedict is an understandable convert. We also meet Father Christopher who was an accountant, ex gamekeeper Brother Joshua, and Canadian Father Gabriel who all share a love of a beard and a good tune as well as their faith.

While unveiling the individual personalities in the Friary, the programme also documents their mission to re-open St Patrick’s Church in a city where christianity has been losing advocates for decades.

This is a brave and innovative bit of Easter scheduling by the BBC and is sure to draw more viewers than would be anticipated in this increasingly secular land of ours.

Franciscan Friars Bronx to Bradford: Friars on a Mission, BBC1, Thursday, 10.45pm.

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