Parishioners launch prayer vigil at closed Camden church

It’s happened in Boston and New Orleans.  And now it’s beginning in Camden, New Jersey.

Catholic News Service has the latest:

A small group of parishioners at a village in southern New Jersey opened 2011 by vowing to maintain a prayerful vigil in their closed church around the clock indefinitely even though they face possible legal action by local authorities.

Leah Vassallo, a parishioner at the closed church, St. Mary Parish in Malaga, in the Camden Diocese, said the vigil began spontaneously over the New Year’s Day weekend after a church door was discovered open.

“It wasn’t planned,” said Vassallo, who is involved in an organization called Save St. Mary’s Malaga. “But when the opportunity was there, we figured it was time to do it.”

The discovery led a handful of parishioners to begin a vigil in the church, which was closed Nov. 9. The closing was discovered when parishioners arrived at the church and found a letter signed by Father Edward Namiotka, recently assigned as pastor, saying the building had been closed.

The letter cited the need to replace a boiler and said that because the church was subject of a merger with two other neighboring parishes, there was no need to keep the building open.

A spokesman for the diocese in Camden, about 30 miles north of Malaga, said local law enforcement and health department authorities would be notified that people were in the building by the end of the day Jan. 3.

“We don’t have any plans at the moment to do anything else,” said Peter Feuerherd, diocesan director of communications.

He maintained that St. Mary continues to exist as a parish and that only the building was closed.

Feuerherd said the appearance of parishioners in the church came as a surprise. But he disputed the claim that the church was open.

“The response of the diocese is that the group entered a locked building,” Feuerherd told CNS. “We don’t know how.”

Continue at the link for the rest.

Comments

  1. Never mind that Jesus isn’t there anymore (in Real Presence)!

    It’s an enigma to me as to how much bitterness and resentment can come to people of a closed (consolidated), parish.

    Last year I attened Christmas Mass at a recently “consolidated” parish. After mass I went up to pray at the Nativity, only to have a parishoner tell me that “Theirs” was SO much prettier (as in one of the closed, now consolidated parishes). Being somewhat shocked, I asked, “Do you think that Jesus cares about the “prettiest” nativity?

    I can understand that many have fond memories of early sacarments and lives within a certain church. And yes, it’s a beautiful thing to know we can go back and sit in the pews at the same church we first rec’d Christ.

    To not be able to see it as one more opportunity in “detachment” is a tellilng sign that in all of those years, they never got the true message of Jesus.

    This coincides with my strong belief that many Catholics, especially the ones who leave or need sedatives to get through a church closing, sadly never appear to have developed that personal relationship with Jesus; the one that isn’t validated by what “church” but by His love, the one we take with us everywhere we go.

  2. I agree with Klaire. The attachment to the local building is a mystery to me, as much as the throngs at Ash Wednesday every year. It seems to be a facet of “cultural” catholicism.

  3. wineinthewater says:

    My thoughts when I read these stories always are: “Where were you and your passion when your parish was dying?”

    Healthy parishes do not close. Parishes where there are enough generous people to support the financial needs of the parish do not close. Parishes alive with children do not close. Parishes that produce vocations do not close.

    Protests, sit-ins, and disobedience are not the way to prevent parish closures .. a parish alive with the faith is.

  4. Deacon Norb says:

    Let me agree with “Wineinthewater” and tell the story of St. Stan’s (not its real name).

    The parish was already in trouble in the mid 1990′s: only 125 named family units; no real hope for growth (no RCIA candidate in years and the infant baptisms they did have were for migrant families in transit). The past several pastors appointed had been semi-retired and/or in marginal health. In fact, their final priest pastor (I’ll call him Fr. John) had already been told by the Chancery that he would be the last one ever assigned because at whatever time he retired, died or became incapacitated, the parish would close.

    Finally, in 2004 or so, the diocese pulled the plug. Fr. John’s health had deteriorated enough for him to go into a health care facility. It wasn’t a month after that announcement, than a lady at that closing parish asked for an appointment with me and — just as I expected — she tried to talk me into supporting her formal protest to the bishop.

    My reply: “Mary, I feel like a chaplain in a hospice unit. You all at St Stan’s were told when Fr. John was appointed that he would be the last priest/pastor you would ever see. That was over eight years ago that you learned that your parish was going to die. The day is now upon you. Now, you are just like any hospice patient — I can pray over you, sing with you, dance with you, take you out for a big steak dinner and movie, but I cannot stop you from dying! No hospice chaplain can!”

    Her face slumped because she understood what I was saying.

    The neighboring parishes tracked the St. Stan’s families for three years. During that time, some died and others moved out of the area. Most, however, joined those neighboring local parishes where their freshness and enthusiasm made them welcomed by all.

  5. I am a member of one of the parishes with which the church above is to be merged. Words cannot suffice to express the disturbing lengths to which some core parishoners at St. Mary’s have gone to harass, slander and denounce their Bishop and the kind and extremely patient pastor who was appointed to shepherd them and oversee the merger two years ago. A sickness has taken hold in their souls.

  6. Deacon Greg

    I live in the Diocese of Camden and have been sadly observing the antics of some ( not all but far more then a handful) of the various protests to the church mergers in our diocese. This particular parish and the referenced web site ( as well as a former protest web site that was merged into the “Save St Marys” site) have led the protest and in many cases published half truths and disparaging statements about the bishop, his staff and many of the priests and parishes in the diocese.

    While I fully understand that people are upset with the thought of a lifelong parish closing, many of the mean spirited statements I have read have gone way over the line of respectful dissent. Some essentially accuse the bishop and other priests of apostasy. (the irony when someone says they will not recognize the authority of the Bishop to merge their parishes in one sentence and then accuse others of not being ” true to the catholic church” in another sentence is lost on them)

    Still, I pray that they find some peace and church community that can help them on their faith journey. Hopefully without continuing to disparage others in the process.

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