Pope Francis and the Camden Children's Garden

Unprovoked, the new Pope has been tied to the Save the Camden Children’s Garden fight.

When I went to the Camden Diocese headquarters this afternoon to interview Camden Bishop Dennis Sullivan on what a Latin American pope will mean to Camden parishioners, Sullivan discussed the meaning of Francis as a pope name.

Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Bergoglio, is the first ever from the Americas, a man described as an austere Jesuit intellectual who modernized Argentina's conservative church.

“That’s the first Francis [as Pope],” Sullivan said. “It must have been in his heart and soul.”

Francis of Assisi is the Italian patron saint of animals and the environment who is often portrayed with a bird in his hand.

"One of the most popular names [for] confirmation is Francis," Sullivan said, adding that six Camden children recently were confirmed with that name.

The children, when choosing Francis, “talk about his love of nature and animals,” Sullivan said, who also added that Francis represents peace and the environment.

Camden hardly has any nature, though, I said. It is dense with brick and cement and not so many trees and parks (though Mayor Dana L. Redd and others have been trying to make Camden more green and were recently recognized by the state for their efforts.)

That’s when Msgr. Roger McGrath, who was sitting next to Sullivan during the interview, said: “That’s why they need to save the Camden Children’s Garden.”

Last month, the Treasury Department ordered the Children’s Garden to vacate most of its waterfront site next to the Adventure Aquarium. Children’s Garden was told to remove attractions from three of its four acres by March 31, including the amusement rides, gazebo, giant dinosaur, and butterfly house that have entertained children since 1999.

The news resulted in an outpouring of community and political support. Sen. Donald Norcross (D- Camden) arranged for a meeting between both sides last month. However, the eviction date still stands.

On March 1, Associated Deputy State Treasurer David Ridolfino sent letters to some state residents who wrote to the state expressing support for the garden to remain as is on site.

“Despite what has been claimed, the State is not seeking to stop the Children's Garden mission of community garden operations— just the opposite. However, the Children’s Garden has been occupying a parcel of State property for years while refusing to acknowledge the State’s ownership interest in that property,” Ridolfino wrote.

“... the State has put forth a proposal that will allow the Children’s Garden to continue to occupy its current greenhouse and office space, while finally acknowledging and protecting the State’s ownership interest.”

Norcross has not yet returned my call to his cell phone from earlier this week seeking an update on the Children’s Garden talks.