Faithful will meet in front of church every evening to pressure the Archdiocese
Parishioners from the Church of St. Roch are still waiting for the Vatican’s final decision on whether the church will be merged. In the meantime the congregation keeps praying.
On the sidewalk of Wales Avenue in Mott Haven last Sunday, about 50 parishioners from St. Roch’s tried to make their prayers heard over the noise of flights heading for LaGuardia Airport. They had been meeting in front of the church to say their rosary every Sunday since August 1, when the Archdiocese of New York decided to shut down their church as a part of a larger reorganization of Catholic parishes in the city.
The congregation will keep gathering until the Vatican reverses the decision, parishioner Jeanette Guzman said. “Summer or winter, nothing is going to stop us,” said Guzman, 40, who was born and raised in the parish. “This is like my second home and it hurts that it was closed unjustly. So now we just have to fight.”
The closing of St. Roch’s was a part of the “Making All Things New” plan launched by the Archdiocese of New York. Starting early in August, 112 parishes were merged into 55 new parishes around the city for reasons such as low attendance and proximity to other churches.
With Guzman in front, the congregation of St. Roch’s decided to appeal the decision. Now it is up to the Vatican to say whether St. Roch’s should be merged or not, and it has told the parishioners to expect the decision in November.
Until then the parishioners may go to mass in St. Anselm Church on Tinton Avenue, six blocks away. But many did not care for that idea. Rosa Alvarez, 69, has lived in the neighborhood for 45 years. The thought of going to another church made her cry.
“St. Anselm is a good church, but it’s too small,” she said, wiping tears from her cheeks. “If we go there it’s going to be too crowded. And here it’s like a family. Everybody knows everybody. It’s very hard for us if they shut down the church.”
Nonetheless, Alvarez said she would go to St. Anselm if the appeal is denied. Parishioner Virginia Gonzales, 66, said she had not decided yet.
“In St. Anselm you are a part of a big group,” Gonzales said. “Here you are an individual where people know you. When you don’t come, people miss you and they ask you, ‘What was wrong with you? Do you need anything?’ You are not going to get the same somewhere else.”
Gonzales added that the walk to St. Anselm is going to be difficult for elderly people and those with disabilities.
“The people who are going to mass at night won’t be able to do that anymore, because it’s really unsafe to walk on the streets at night,” she said.
The pastor of St. Anselm, Antonio Palacios, welcomed the congregation of St. Roch’s.
“Here they can feel at home. Our house is their house,” he said. The pastor is not sure how many parishioners from St. Roch’s attend mass at St. Anselm at the moment. He admitted that if all 450 parishioners from St. Roch’s show up at his church, it would be short on space.
As it is, about 700 people attend the 11 a.m. mass on Sundays. “It is almost full already. But we can add two more masses. There are many possibilities of how to do things,” Palacios said.
For now Jeanette Guzman, Rosa Alvarez, Virginia Gonzales and many of the other parishioners will continue to meet in front of St. Roch’s every day at 6 p.m. and on Sundays at 11 a.m. The coming fall weather does not worry them.
“We’ll find our way. I’m not telling you we know what we are going to do, but we will be here,” said Gonzales.