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They've been asked if they're Jedis. (Nope. They aren't cosplaying.)

They've been asked if it's really OK for them to drink alcohol. (Yes. They're Catholics.)

They've been asked to say prayers and even receive confession. (They always oblige.)

But as the two 30-something Franciscan friars make their way across the country this summer, stopping at every Major League Baseball stadium to evangelize, there's one question they don't get asked enough:

"Can I buy you a beer?" joked the Rev. Roberto "Tito" Serrano.

The pair are calling themselves “The Bleacher Brothers.”
The pair are calling themselves “The Bleacher Brothers.”

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The friends — who typically wear sunglasses and the long brown habits of their order — have a talent for creating funny TikTok videos. A viral take from early in their epic pilgrimage has been viewed 479,000 times and counting. But they are in earnest about the goal of their journey, a trip they planned for nearly a decade.

They see America's ballfields as a modern-day town square, a place where they can minister in the 13th-century style of St. Francis of Assisi, who found God "among the ordinary" and sought out regular people outside of church. The Rev. Casey Cole likes to say they are inviting people "home" to church.

They'll be in the Twin Cities on June 24-26, catching the Twins as they take on the Rockies at Target Field. They'll also be speaking about their baseball mission at the Cathedral of St. Paul (on Sat. at 7:15 p.m.) and celebrating Mass at Columbia Heights' Immaculate Conception Church (on Sat. at 5 p.m., and Sun. at 10 and 11:30 a.m).

Baseball, with its relatively leisurely pace and place as "America's pastime," is a perfect fit for their mission, Cole said.

"You sit back, you walk around, and talk. And so it's lent itself to engaging [with] a lot of people who are strangers," he said.

In a nod to another sunglasses-wearing duo on a "mission from God," they are calling themselves the Bleacher Brothers. Instead of preaching, they're simply talking with fellow fans and trying to connect. That means asking people what comes to mind when they think about the Catholic Church, or posing the question: "If you could talk to Pope Francis and tell him anything, what would you say?"

Their message: radical hope in a world of division and despair.

"It's a casual conversation, and we take it wherever people want to take it," said Serrano. "We've had some people think we're cosplaying, and find out we're real — and then they want nothing to do with that and they walk away. That's fine, too. We're not there to make people feel uncomfortable or to be intrusive."

But many people — from proud Catholics to doubters to the curious — do engage with them. They've been fielding prayer requests, which are sometimes related to the game in progress, sometimes not. In Boston's Fenway Park, Cole prayed for a man dealing with a recent cancer diagnosis. He took a lapsed churchgoer's confession in Detroit's Comerica Park.

"There's been a lot of moments, little moments where people come up to us and are very excited about what we're doing and intrigued by it," said Serrano. "I think they feel their faith, but also enlivened by the fact that here's the church, in the place where they like to have fun."

The Rev. Casey Cole’s YouTube channel is called “Breaking in the Habit.”
The Rev. Casey Cole’s YouTube channel is called “Breaking in the Habit.”

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Middle Ages to midsummer

So, what's it like to be a friar in 2022?

The vows — of obedience, of chastity and of poverty — remain the same as when the Franciscan order began in the Middle Ages. Cole and Serrano have been bumping up against the last vow during their summerlong trip.

Even as they've been scoring free tickets, ballpark food and parking are far from inexpensive. And after an Atlanta supporter got them all-inclusive seats in Row 6, they shared the experience on TikTok, sparking a lively conversation about "begging" for charity and what it means for them to be vulnerable and dependent on God.

Cole's TikTok handle, @caseyofm, references the Order of Friars Minor, which both men joined after becoming priests. Serrano, on the other hand, goes by @thewhiskeypriest_ofm, revealing his passion for spirits of a different kind. Serrano is an associate campus minister at Siena College in upstate New York, while Cole is a chaplain at a Catholic high school in Macon, Ga.

They aren't required to wear the habit all the time, but often do.

"There are times where we can be just kind of relaxed and we need to get away and not be public figures," said Cole. "But I often go out to a brewery with some of my co-workers, and I go in my habit and I get to talk with people there. So it's kind of on-brand for what we do."

Serrano and Cole have been talking about their mission trip since they were novitiates together in 2013.

They began the trip May 16 in Georgia — renting a pickup truck and driving to Miami, where Serrano threw out the first pitch at Hard Rock Stadium. They're sharing driving duties and staying with fellow friars when they can. The last stop: Denver's Coors Field on July 30. They expect to log more than 17,000 miles.

The Revs. Casey Cole and Roberto “Tito” Serrano are visiting every Major League Baseball stadium this summer.
The Revs. Casey Cole and Roberto “Tito” Serrano are visiting every Major League Baseball stadium this summer.

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In a phone call from the road, the friars talked about stops at Cooperstown's National Baseball Hall of Fame and at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum in Cincinnati, where they saw an exhibit about Latino players throughout the league's history.

Still, game-time conversations with fans are what they value most.

While Cole was already accustomed to a more public role through his popular "Breaking in the Habit" YouTube channel, Serrano has had to get used to being a face of the church.

"As much as I enjoy being around people and engaging with them, there is a certain pressure to being a public individual," he said. "Not just a pressure to represent your organization well, but to also live up to your own expectations of the life you profess to live. I just try to focus on being the person, the man, that God has called me to be."

Midway through their long-planned trip, they've noticed one pattern.

"We have been able to enjoy seeing the home team win significantly more often than not," Cole said. "So that's been a lot of fun. And we joke, but it's kind of turned out to be true, every time we stand up to go walk around, the home team doesn't do as well," he said.

"We sit down to watch them. They play a little bit better."