Saturday, September 06, 2008

How to save the old city church--put up or shut up

A lot of Catholic blogs post pictures of magnificent old churches and then mention that the church in danger of being closed. They usually blame the bishop. I sigh and comment on occasion, but usually I just move on.

The reason why those big city churches are in danger is pretty obvious but nobody wants to talk about it. It's the Catholic elephant in the living room. In 1964 , the Civil Rights Act was passed and a few years later came the Fair Housing Act. Black people were then legally free to live where they pleased and many began moving into neighborhoods that had been closed to them before. Many white people left the city. Some left because they were racists. Others left becuase they had to. To their innocent surprise their new neighbors frequently were hostile and had some cultural habits that were undesirable to live next to.

Okay, I'm not blaming anyone for leaving who belonged to the latter group. I don't blame anyone who just doesn't want to live in a city. My mom still lives in DC and I'd like to get her out of there. For whatever reason the old German, Polish, Italian, Lithuanian, or Irish Catholics left and only come back to the old parish on Sundays for the Tridentine Mass or they don't come back at all becuase they have their own parishes in the burbs.

Many city churches are open for commuters to attend a morning, noon or after work Mass and then promptly close becuase of the city crime. No pastor wants a situation where a visitor was raped or killed in the church while praying after rush hour. I once had to flee St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill in DC becuase of agressive vagrants. It was a weekday afternoon. The Shrine of the Sacred Heart in DC is not only locked in off hours but has a tall iron fence around the entire church because that neighborhood is rough. I wouldn't even walk there alone.

So, a bishop looks at his old church that may be in such a horrid neighborhood that it doesn't even draw commuters and he realizes that he's spending an awful amount of money on a mostly dead parish. And he decides to close it. Suddenly people who never gave a damn or a dime before come out to protest and Holy Mother Church is made to look bad in the news.

Do you want to save the old church in the old neighborhood? Get in the car and go there to Mass every Sunday and get yourself registered as a parishioner. Better yet, get in the moving van and move to the city and get deeply involved in renewing the parish. Can't do that? You'd never do that? Okay, you have your reasons as do I, but unless you are willing to put your life and your family's lives where your complaints are; you ought to give the bishop a respite in the criticism. Put up or shut shut, dudes.

Oh and to the parishioners of those endangered parishes: God bless you for toughing it out in the city but please, please remember, Jesus is the reason you go to Mass, not becuase your grandfather worshiped in the same pew you are sitting in.