Saturday, July 30, 2005

got church?

Dan Barry has a column in today's NY Times titled A Prayer for a Church Unsaved. How was I not supposed to read that?

There are conspicuous similarities between old St. Brigid's in Tompkins Square - I think that's East Village - and the hispanic, city church I am presently assigned to. I couldn't help but wonder if our fate is destined to be the same...

St. Brigid's was built in the mid-19th century by Irish immigrants but by the 1970's was serving an almost entirely hispanic community. Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans and others found refuge in the familiarity of a close knit Catholic parish amid the harsh differences that they encountered living in a new and not always friendly country.

But as the hispanics settled in they became less strangers and less attached to the faith and tradition so reminiscent of their homelands. The church fell into disrepair and the archdiocese preferred closure to rescue. The 200 or so that still hoped and prayed at the foot of her candle specked altar are expected to go elsewhere.

The Archdiocese of New York boasts of only closing one parish in 1984, in stark contrast with other diocese, like Boston, for example. But there is little comfort in statistics for the ex-parishoners of St. Brigid's. Especially those who helped raise 100G to fix the building rather than lose the parish.

Our situation is not as dire, but similar in many respects. Built by German immigrants, the parish I'm at became a haven for hispanic Catholics midway through the 1960's. It still is, of sorts. The demographics have changed radically, as has the nature of the immigrant communities in the area. The hispanics of this city, for better or worse, have been quasi assimilated into the urban landscape. Not that they are treated as equals nor given a fair shake - their houses, schools and jobs leave a lot to be desired. But they're here, in large numbers and making their way. They are not strangers in a strange land. Sometimes their kids don't even speak Spanish.

The spiritual and family values of hispanic Catholics have suffered decay analagous to that of the old churches that barely even remind them anymore of what used to be. The American has succeeded in emptying their souls while promising to fill their pockets.

Anyway, yesterday evening I sat on the steps of a school across from the parish, aimlessly enjoying a Montecristo (the perks of having Dominican parishoners...) and tried to imagine where this 135 year old church would be in ten years. There aren't big cracks in the building, from basement to roof, like at St. Brigid's...

But, then again, it's not really the building I'm wondering about.