Op-Ed: Closing More Than Just Churches
Although Mayor de Blasio reportedly was enthralled with his in-person exposure to Pope Francis and his all-out environmental crusade, no mention was made at the Vatican meeting of the pope and city mayors of the drastic merger of New York City parishes, which so profoundly distresses thousands of Catholics. And it’s not only New York Catholics, or Catholics, but those who benefit from the churches’ many community services offered throughout the week – like A.A. and Alanon, for major examples. And it’s where one can drop in and hope to find help or some respite.
And surely worried are all who believe that an ever more secular, “selfie-obsessed” city and society can’t afford to lose any more faith groups with their core beliefs of “love one another” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.” And we mortals do need reminding and support -- and surely from faith groups –- to act on those beliefs. And yes, also do better by the planet, the foremost concern of the pope and the mayor.
As for church closures, I know that among the electeds, only Councilman Ben Kallos has publicly protested the most drastic consolidation of Catholic parishes in the city’s history. But only this column reported on his impassioned talk at St. Stephen of Hungary Church when parishioners were first organizing respectful protest letters to be sent to the Vatican to save their church from merging with St. Monica’s. (The latter is not handicap accessible, nor does it have public meeting rooms except an auditorium reached by a steep flight of stairs.) These parishioners’ letters poignantly told how much the church means to their individual lives -- and especially to longtime elder members for whom their church may be their only “support system.”
And I didn’t push hard enough for these moving personal stories to also be sent to newspapers and other media. And although the Times did several sympathetic stories, there was no follow-up, and to my knowledge, no editorials or columns to really raise consciousness as to just how damaging these many mergers and closures are. not only to devoted parishioners, but to the neighborhoods and the city at large. And surely It’s an antidote to the ever more self-serving, profit-driven social climate Pope Francis deplores.
Incidentally, the other evening at the simply wonderful annual Big Band Swingtime concert at Carl Schurz Park (and how we need that music!), the park association placed “what to do in an emergency” packets on every chair. And that reminded me that as high-rise private dwelling places rapidly replace public buildings, there are also fewer emergency shelters. A few recent examples are the Hunter School of Social Work replaced by a high rise condo and the City University building on East End was razed for similar private-use purpose. Also at risk on East End is a distinguished low-rise rental building which has housed a Gristedes market and a restaurant for decades. Such public places are so needed in general, and also as safe havens which can provide food and water in an emergency. And of course, churches and synagogues all have large sanctuaries and auditoriums.
Ah, but it’s not an impossible dream if we keep praying and pushing for Pope Francis to finally see the big picture and reopen all the churches closed on August 1. It’s 20/20 vision Mayor de Blasio and every mayor must also obtain. Until then, there’s one visual thing we concerned can (must!) do - leave flowers outside every shuttered church – and keep leaving them and keep sending their pictures and related messages to media. Yes, until those churches are back in the “love one and other and our neighbor as ourselves” kind of business we can’t afford to lose. And, doggone it, it can be done if enough of us try!
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