Sacred Places Winter 2021 - Page 7

GG : Rome wants to keep churches open , but what challenges does that pose at this particular moment , especially here in the United States ?
BM : Many parishes , because of small numbers of parishioners and old facilities in poor areas , are struggling ; there are not enough resources to pay for maintenance . However , the buildings are often very beautiful works of art and contain stained glass windows , statuary , etc . that are quite valuable , sometimes even irreplaceable .
There may be misalignment between the size of some churches and the size of their congregations . In some places , churches were built to hold hundreds of parishioners and today have only very few in regular attendance . The demographics have changed but the buildings that were built for growing populations can ’ t adapt to shrinking populations . We need to think about the best way for our mission as disciples of Christ , and how to live the Gospel life in today ’ s context — which is very different from that of previous eras when some of these churches were built .
There is a feeling of pride that goes along with the heritage expressed in the building ; it speaks to the lives of the faithful who helped build and pay for the churches and passed along the faith to future generations . Many of our churches were built by the poor or working classes , and when a church is not able to maintain its buildings , there is a sense of loss in the parish and in the area that it occupies .
GG : What impact has the pandemic had on the poorest parishes of the Archdiocese ? And what kind of support are you offering ? Has the Archdiocese worked closely with city agencies and nonprofit organizations in this time ?
BM : The impact has reduced the already small numbers in some parishes ; this has had an effect on community and ministry ( and financial support for ministry ). In the Black community , there is great fear because of the higher risk they may face , so people are reluctant to come back in person . They prefer to attend Mass via live-streaming from the parish church .
Liturgy in the Hispanic and Black communities ( especially with choirs and physical touching at the sign of peace , which are so important to the worship experience ) is very different now . Many parishes in the city are destination parishes ( people come back to the churches where they grew up ); these folks tend to be older and therefore at higher risk so there has been a direct impact on city parish Mass attendance . On the positive side , smaller parishes that have larger buildings have not had to worry about capacity / social distancing requirements .
There also has been a notedly strong commitment , even in poor parishes , to feeding the hungry and providing additional support for people who are struggling ( e . g ., stocking parish food pantries and other assistance , as well as partnering with Maryland Food Bank and other non-profits ). Some parishes have become COVID testing sites or have provided mobile testing resources ( especially in heavily Hispanic and Black parishes ). This work is being done in collaboration with the City Health Department , University of Maryland Hospital , and Johns Hopkins Hospital , and is organized by our pastors — especially Bishop Bruce Lesandowski who also serves as pastor of one of our Latino parishes .
Parishes have partnered with Catholic Charities to stock food pantries and provide hot meals where possible or pick up meals . The Archdiocese has provided major support to parishes by completing all the paperwork for the Payroll Protection Program ; greater flexibility in financial matters and some temporary financial support is being offered on a case-by-case basis . The Archdiocese has also helped parishes in reporting the use of funds from the Payroll Protection Program .
GG : Can you tell us about your expectations and hopes for the collaboration between Partners and the Archdiocese ?
BM : Our collaboration with Partners will be giving parishes a great sense of their own identity and who they really are — they are much more than a poor struggling parish . Hopefully this work will help the parishes discern the best way to be present and evangelize their communities in a sustainable way ; our working together with you blends planning and evangelization . All in all , the Archdiocese is expanding the scope of its professional capacity through its work with Partners ’ staff .
St . Peter Claver Catholic Church , one of ten parish churches participating in the Archdiocesan project with Partners . Photo : A . Robert Jaeger