Too many churches here, not enough there

Too many churches here, not enough there

Yet another diocese has a problem of too many empty churches in the old urban center where fewer people live and go to Mass while the expanding and sprawling suburbs suffer from a lack of churches. In this case, it is the Diocese of Rome.

The magnificent churches of the city center serve more as museums than houses of prayer, while many among the burgeoning throngs of the faithful in the outskirts of town are forced to worship in garages, former grocery stores or prefab buildings.

One reason is a higher concentration of regular churchgoers among the poor Italians and Eastern European immigrants living in the suburbs. In addition, much of the center has been taken over by commercial spaces and government buildings, resulting in lower population density.

Of course, different solutions must be found than the one found in Boston , New York, and other dioceses engaged in parish closings and consolidations. You can’t just close the Gesu or Santa Maria del Popolo. They are not parish churches anymore, but part of the historic and artistic and spiritual patrimony of the whole Church—and of all humanity—in a way that no parish church in an American diocese is, especially since Rome is also a center of pilgrimage.

While 50 of the suburban parishes received new churches during the Jubilee Year 2000, about 19 still need them desperately. It’s hard to imagine when you’re a pilgrim in Rome in awe at stumbling over yet another amazing church at the next street corner, but the city and diocese of Rome is much more than old city that is all that most of us see, unless you catch a glimpse while driving our of town on your way to another destination like Assisi.

On the other hand, it’s a nice problem to have, needing to build new churches because of a burgeoning population. It could be a lot worse, as in maintaining a diocese full of empty churches with no new churches needed.

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  • “They are not parish churches anymore, but part of the historic and artistic and spiritual patrimony of the whole Church—and of all humanity—in a way that no parish church in an American diocese is…”

    A parish church that’s been around for over one hundred years may not be much in Rome, but it’s a long time on this side of the Atlantic, therefore can be considered part of the “artistic and spiritual patrimony” of the Church. Something to consider before you surprise people with security guards and padlocks.

  • Dom!
    I’m here now!! How funny is that?! I’m staying right on the Forum, and you are right-there are churches, no not just churches, but magnificant churches everywhere. Glorious thrilling places of worship.

    In my Catechetics class right now we are studying how music, art and beauty assist in catechesis and how such creation of God can both catechize and lead us to a deeper faith life.

    It is absolutely ironic, then, to be here and have so few people going to Mass. I sat with a guy on the ride over who is our age and was even a teacher, a catichist.  He “left” because all he saw was the same old thing. “To me, Jesus is my friend, not some organized religion with no meaning”.  I actually think he’s more Catholic than he realizes (except now he’s living with his girlfriend, convincd he’s not a “good” Catholic because of his view).  With all this glory around them, to many it seems like they go “eh, nice for the tourists, I suppose” or “same ol, same ol”.

    I wonder too, with the PLETHORA of Masses going on if that doesn’t affect average attendance as well. I mean, we are in the Churches and they literally have a Mass every hour on the hour. Maybe in Italian, sometimes in another language. Some tourist groups do their own Masses in the side chapels, of which there are many.

    It’s odd-Rome is the center of our faith, yet with all the beauty and glory, the churches do seem to becoming things of art rather than places of worship.

    PS I got to receive to Sacraments at the Vatican last Sunday: Mass and Confession!!! Totally rocked.