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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