It’s not the building

It’s not the building

Here in Salem, we have seven Catholic churches, and most people acknowledge that it simply doesn’t make sense to have seven of them open any more. Only three are territorial parishes, while the other four were set up as ethnic parishes, of which only the Polish parish and the was-French/now-Spanish parish serve that purpose any more.

So it was decided a few years ago that St. Mary’s Italian Church, with its tiny congregation, should be the first to close. We all know how traumatic that must be for families that have lived in that parish for generations, but sometimes people go a little too far in their attachment to a building.

For example, yesterday I had to drive by the church, which has been closed for months now, and outside stood one older woman holding a sign, as she does on most days, that reads “Jesus Christ loves St. Mary’s Church.”

First, the theological point. I don’t think Jesus cares one whit about the building. I think he loves the people who were parishioners there, but to say that somehow he’s upset that the building they worshipped in is closed might be too much.

And now the practical point. In a city like Salem, where you can see one Catholic church from another and there is a declining population of churchgoing Catholics, we have to close churches. It makes no sense to have a fractured Catholic community of tiny congregations, when we could have a solid community of large congregations. And just the sight of large congregations could bolster the faith of some who think the Catholic Church is fading away.

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