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Catholics Hold Mass Protest in Boston

Members of 82 parishes targeted for closure take part in a rare outdoor service to urge a change in archdiocese's policy.

August 16, 2004|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Undeterred by bad weather caused by Hurricane Charley, about 1,000 Catholics from 82 parishes scheduled for closing gathered Sunday on Boston Common for a rare outdoor Mass.

Heavy rain and fierce winds let up before the beginning of the service, organized by the lay group Voice of the Faithful.

"This is a sign that God is with us," said Mary Giorgio, 91. "We've been praying hard to make sure that the weather cooperated."

Giorgio traveled to Boston from suburban Dedham, Mass., in a caravan of three buses filled with worshipers from St. Susanna's, one of the parishes the Archdiocese of Boston plans to close before the end of the year. About 150 members of the church sat in lawn chairs on the soggy grass wearing "Save Our St. Susanna's" bumper stickers pasted on their backs.

In the last 30 years, just two similar outdoor Masses have been held on the Common. One featured Pope John Paul II as the officiant. Cardinal Bernard Law -- formerly the archbishop of Boston -- presided at the other.

In announcing the closing or merging of scores of parishes around Boston, Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley said the decision had nothing to do with financial troubles caused by the clerical sex-abuse scandal that surfaced here 2 1/2 years ago.

The church has agreed to pay more than $100 million in settlements to victims of pedophile priests. But O'Malley said the "reconfiguration" was necessary because of falling church attendance, declining parish revenue and buildings in need of repair.

Like little tombstones, signs bearing the names of the targeted parishes lined the walkway near the service. Many parishioners brought banners honoring churches that dated back a century. Others held posters denouncing church leaders.

Even the homily, by Father Bob Bowers of St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, was tinged with outrage. "The leadership of the Archdiocese of Boston has confused the mission of the church with the money of the church," said Bowers, whose parish will soon be shut down.

Surrounded by fellow parishioners from St. Susanna, Rita Diette said the Mass was a hopeful sign, "a way of showing the world that we are all coming together to fight the closings."

But behind the exuberance of the moment, Diette added, there was despair. "We all just feel so lost. We don't know where we are going to go from here."

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