Archdiocese: Problem Is Not About Money, But Having Too Many Houses Of Worship

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Catholics filled with emotion attended what could be the final Mass at more than two dozen churches around the New York area that are slated to close and merge with other parishes.

Joan Romanelli tearfully hugged her pastor after leaving the final Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary on East 83rd Street Friday morning.

“Heartbreaking,” she told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes. “I’m in denial. When I wake up Sunday morning, I will no longer have this place to come to. I’ve been here 35 years.”

The Upper East Side Catholic church is one of 31 the Archdiocese of New York says is closing and merging with nearby parishes as of Saturday.

WEB EXTRAS: Merged Parishes Using One Church | Merged Parishes Using Two Churches

“It’s a wrenching occasion for parishioners but understandable in the context of economics, if you will,” said parishioner Hugh McKiernan.

The Archdiocese explains this is not, at its core, about finances. It simply has too many churches to meet the needs of its people.

“We’re sorry for whatever pain people might be feeling, but in the long run, I think people will come to see they joined a stronger, more vibrant parish by bringing together two small communities of faith and building a stronger, more vibrant community of faith,” said Archdiocese spokesperson Joseph Zwilling.

At Our Lady of Peace on East 62nd Street, 12-year-old Ian Kurz lit candles on the steps of the church as part of an all-night vigil until its final Mass on Friday afternoon.

“I’m praying for a miracle and that is for the church to somehow stay open,” he said.

Parishioner Shane Dinneen offered to donate $2 million of his own money to save his beloved church, which he describes as a vibrant and financially sound parish, but the Archdiocese turned down the offer.

“I really believe it will be a tragedy to close Our Lady of Peace,” he said. “You can see the outpouring from parishioners here today.”

Many are hoping for some divine intervention. St. Elizabeth and Our Lady of Peace are two of seven parishes that have appealed their closing to the Vatican.

“It just goes against everything that the Catholic church is about, that this pope is about,” one parishioner at Our Lady of Peace told 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria. “And we are really are hoping for a miracle when he comes to New York and we’ve been writing to the Vatican and we’re really hoping he’ll save it.”

A decision from the Vatican is expected after Sept. 1. Until then, the church will remain closed.

Parishioners said Our Lady of Peace is financially very stable, attendance is good and that the church is a vital part of the community.

Zwilling said this plan is not only about merging parishes. In some areas, like Roosevelt Island, they’ll have bigger churches to serve the growing population.

The parishioners of the newly merged churches will decide the church building’s future with the input of the Archdiocese, WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola reported.

The Archdiocese said some of the churches on the merger list will still be used on a regular basis while others will only on special occasions.

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