Years from now, when Arkansas has a stable, deep-rooted population of born-and-raised Latinos, and the issue of who is "legally" or "illegally" in this state has largely been settled by time, one thing is for sure: People will still speak the name of Msgr. Scott Friend in the reverent tones usually reserved for a saint.
Ordained as a priest 25 years ago last month, Friend is that kind of guy, and has led that kind of life. Stricken with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago (his doctor told him he should have retired seven years back, but he keeps plugging away in near-constant fatigue and pain), Friend still hums with charisma and enthusiasm. It shows in the good works he has done all over the state, especially in the Hispanic community.
Call the Catholic parish in DeQueen, or in Rogers, or in Springdale, or Camden, or at the predominately-Hispanic St. Edward Church in Little Rock, and ask about him. Within just a few phone calls, you'll more than likely hear at least one story that's apt to get your eyes a little misty: Hispanic parishioners speaking in spotty English about marriages and children saved from ruin; Father Scott making midnight trips to fix broken air conditioners and broken people; Father Scott knocking on the doors of ramshackle trailers in the hot Arkansas sun and telling the scruffy Latino laborers who appeared in the doorway that they were welcome at the church; Father Scott coming in the dark to sit with the sick, and the troubled, and the dying.
He really listens, they'll tell you. He cares.
In short, when Arkansas's Hispanics come into their own as a force in this state, there are going to be a few things with Scott Friend's name on them. For now, as the vocations director for the Little Rock diocese — the office that recruits and shepherds new seminary students toward the priesthood — he's helping shape what the future of Catholicism (and maybe the cause of social justice in general) will look like in Arkansas. As for the rest of you, Catholic or not, he's got a message: If you consider yourself a Christian and refuse to feel love and compassion for your Hispanic neighbors just because they don't look like you or come from the same place as you do, you're doing nothing less than turning your back on God Almighty.
Not only does the Lord work in mysterious ways, He tends to have a pretty good sense of humor. It's not surprising then that Scott Friend was raised in Southwest Little Rock, which is now home to the majority of the city's Hispanic population.
The child of dentist Dr. Max Friend and his wife, Betty, Friend said he learned a lot about hope from his mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia just before Friend's older brother was born. Though doctors warned the Friends not to have any more children after Betty's diagnosis, Betty eventually became pregnant with Scott, who was born in June 1961 and grew up in the Cloverdale neighborhood.
"I remember she would pray everyday for about an hour," Friend said. "She was a great symbol of hope to me, because for an hour a day, she went to a place inside her where she didn't have a disease. In that place, she was free, and she knew that she was more than that disease."
Friend took his first communion at St. Theresa Catholic Church on Baseline. By the time he was a teen-ager, however, he'd started to drift away from the church. He went to the University of Arkansas, but after three years of living the life of your average college student, he felt an emptiness inside him. Two and a half years after his last confession, he went to the local Catholic church. As penance, the priest told him to read the Bible every day for a month. It was during that month that Friend says God spoke to him, and asked him if he was ready. You already know how that particular conversation went. Friend started seminary school in the autumn of 1982.
Yep, those are seven good reasons. I must admit that I actually voted for Rutledge…