|At Our Lady of Fatima Church in Bensalem, Pa., where the Latino population increased 102% from 2000 to 2010.|
Last weekend the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced another round of parish closures and mergers, the latest in their cost-cutting efforts that have reduced the total number of parishes in the five-county region to 219. One of the churches affected is Our Lady of Fatima in Bensalem, a church with a large and thriving Latino community. (You can read more about the impact on Latino Catholics in AL DÍA's editorial.)
It is the latest in a number of closures of ministries and structures — or their disposition as parish concerns rather than archdiocesan ones — that were significant to Latino Catholics in the Philadelphia area: La Milagrosa on Spring Garden Street; the Catholic Institute for Evangelization, and the Cardinal Bevilacqua Center, both in the Kensington section of the city. Staffing reduction decisions have also had tangible and symbolic effect on the Latino Catholic community. There once was a vicar for Hispanic Catholics; an archdiocesan office for youth and young adults with a staff member dedicated to Latino youth specifically; a ministry team led by the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima led by the dynamic Sor Alba Bonilla — none of these are in place anymore.
The Archdiocese denies it is reducing outreach and services to Latinos, saying instead that it is shifting from archdiocesan-centric to parish-centric ministries and services.
But if it is effectively shuttering the strongly Latino parishes like La Milagrosa or Our Lady of Fatima, doesn’t it amount to the same thing?
Moreover, members of the Latino Catholic community have been openly critical of the archdiocesan administration, alleging that it has consistently refused to meet with them and that it hasn’t been transparent or open with the Latino community in the matter of the sale of La Milagrosa.
While the Archdiocese would like to believe it is just a small group of vocal and disgruntled Latino Catholics who are disenfranchised by its actions of the last few years, it simply isn’t the case. In fact, they might be surprised to learn that even those who have not openly expressed their opinions about this, nevertheless, have some very strong ones. Take, for example, this assessment — from an active non-Latino Catholic (who prefers not to be named):
“There is a pattern of combining parishes with Spanish-speaking congregations with primarily English-speaking ones. It is (a little) like the Catholic Indian boarding schools of the early 1900s that stripped the American Indians of their ways and got them to assimilate to the white man’s ways. They were not allowed to speak their native language, wear native clothing and would be be punished if they did. It may be a bold comparison but when you think about it, is it so far off? The Church is prohibiting the Latinos from practicing the faith the way they want and are accustomed to. They are forcing them to assimilate to the Anglo way and hoping they will leave their deep-rooted rituals and practices. Pretty soon there will be no Spanish-language Masses in these churches — but only after they recruit all the young Latinos to fill the religious leadership vacancies, because the Church is hurting and realizes it needs young Latinos to fill those. Mixing cultures is a beautiful thing, as long as it does not involve having to give up one's cultural identity.”
|A mariachi plays at a Mass at Our Lady of Fatima.|
“In 2012 I was organizing a panel discussion in Bensalem with Reform Immigration for America. I went to Monsignor Duncan at St. Charles and asked if I could put out flyers about the event in the church. He agreed. So before Mass I went into the church and was placing flyers around and saw an older parishioner, who was there early, pick up the flyer to see what it was. He mumbled under his breath and proceeded to take the whole pile to the trash can to throw them out.”
As noted in the AL DÍA editorial, the closures and mergers affect many communities. There is generalized sense among those Catholics affected that the Archdiocese favors wealthy showcase parishes over those that, however fervent and devoted the congregation, are economically disadvantaged.
“It seems as if they are choosing mergers of parishes that are economically weak with those that are more affluent,” says the non Latino quoted earlier. “It is all about the money.”
Perhaps sensible for an Archdiocese mired in a financial mess of its own making. But if it wasn’t crystal clear before, Pope Francis has made it so: money isn’t supposed to determine who the Church serves or how well or grudgingly those services are rendered. After all, what the Church — any religion — sells us isn’t supposed to be about the price tag, is it?