Parish Sit-Ins Continue Throughout Massachusetts

( [email protected] ) Nov 06, 2004 03:37 PM EST

Despite the deaf-ear of the Catholic archdiocese of Boston, parishioners at churches marked for closure have continued their overnight prayer vigils and lock-ins throughout November. With the support of the newly-formed “Council of Parishes,” parishioners in a dozen churches are doing all they can to try to block the closing of their beloved sanctuaries.

The newest addition to the group of rebellious churches is St. Therese Roman Catholic Church. St. Therese, like 82 of the 357 parishes in the Boston archdiocese, has been chosen for closure by the end of the year. And although the church ceased to be an official parish last month, devotees are still sitting at the front pew, praying the rosary and sleeping at the altar.

Doris Giardiello, 75, has been sleeping in the church for the past 10 days since the church celebrated its last service on Oct. 26.

"At first we felt completely hopeless,'' said Giardiello, a parishioner for 60 years. "We found that other parishes were having vigils and that we could try it.''

The first parish to stage a vigil, where a parishioner occupies the church at any given time, was St. Albert the Great in Weymouth; St. Albert has been occupied since August 29. Currently, eight closed parishes are occupied, and two more congregations are planning not to leave their church when it is closed by the diocese next month; three other churches said they have “serious plans” to stage sit ins.

"A lot of us are convinced that vigils are the best, most peaceful way of capturing attention of the archdiocese," said Colin Riley, a member of St. Albert's.

The closings were first announced by the Boston Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley in May. Since then, forty-nine parishes have been closed.

According to Ann Carter, an archdiocesan spokeswoman, the archbishop was committed to helping ‘ease the pain.’

"The archdiocese plans to continue to work with these parishes to help them understand the reason not only for their own parish situation, but the need for reconfiguration throughout the archdiocese," Carter said.

O’Malley, who remained largely unmoved by the decision to the closures until the slew of vigils began taking plan, was now employing “creating solutions” to the process, according to Carter. Such “solutions” includes allowing church in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston to remain open for two more years, and allowing a pastor to oversee three parishes in the Charlestown area for two more years. He even allowed the St. Bernard parish in Newton to offer weekend mass.

However, parishioners are not satisfied with such compromises.

"We feel as if we're Catholics Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday," said Jean Acerra, 71, a parishioner at St. Bernard's. "We feel as if the church was unjustly closed."

Giardiello agreed, saying that the parishioners will hold their positions.

"Our attitude is, no, we won't give up. We're told the archdiocese is hanging tough and won't back down," Giardiello said. "They're tough, but we're tougher."