The parishioners at Holy Innocents were relieved to hear the news. Their parish, the last to offer Latin Mass on a daily basis in New York City, will remain open following concerns that it might be closed in a recent parish consolidation initiative, Making All Things New. After years of assessment, final decisions regarding parish closures, mergers and reorganization were announced Sunday. Overall, 112 parishes will be merged to create 55 new parishes. Some of these new parishes will offer Mass at both church locations every Sunday, while in other cases, some churches will be closed for regular services. Fr. George Rutler, who serves as administrator for Holy Innocents parish as well as pastor of St. Michael’s parish, told CNA the people were grateful their churches would both remain open despite the vast changes in the archdiocese. However, although Holy Innocents will remain as-is, St. Michael’s is located in a developing area, and the church may need to relocate to accommodate the needs of the people. “While there may be nostalgic connections to buildings, nostalgia is not holy tradition, for the latter is the dynamic transmission of unchanging Faith,” Fr. Rutler said. He compared the Church to a military base rather than a family heirloom. “In any battle, sometimes a battalion holds its ground, and sometimes it makes a strategic move,” he said. “We are engaged in a spiritual battle in our culture, greater than any physical struggle, for we are engaged against ‘principalities and powers’ not of this world.” Even before the decisions regarding parish closings and mergers were announced, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan recognized the pain and frustration many will experience during the transition. “Let me be candid: there will soon be a real sense of grief at some of our parishes as we get set to announce publicly what we’ve been preparing for the last five years, namely, the merging of some of our beloved parishes. In a few places, there might even be a feeling that something has died,” he said in a column posted on the archdiocesan website. He then reflected on the weekend’s feasts of All Souls and All Saints day, and said that the process the Church was about to undergo was not unlike Christ’s own death and resurrection. “That’s what this week is about: dying, to be sure, and I apologize that these decisions will cause hurt; but rising to a stronger, more vibrant Church!” he said. Joseph Zwilling, director of the Office of Communications for the archdiocese, said that while the reorganization will no doubt be painful and difficult for the faithful, he is also confident that in the end it will bring about stronger and more vibrant parishes that better serve the Catholics of New York. “Once we can get past the hurt that people are feeling right now, they will come to recognize that this is a not only necessary step for the diocese to take, but a very positive one,” he told CNA. The archdiocese’s budget was one of the driving factors in the need to reorganize, Zwilling said. Now, instead of spending money on the upkeep of buildings that are rarely used, the money can be spent “beefing up” ministries such as adult faith formation, seminarian support, and new evangelization efforts. “Pope Francis is reminding us that we’re not supposed to be about buildings and structures, that we’re supposed to be about the people of God, and for too long in this archdiocese we’ve been concentrating more on maintaining buildings and structures than we have on caring for souls,” he said, “which is what we’re supposed to be doing, and let’s hope that we will get back to that in a stronger way.” Teams will be sent out to parishes to assist them in this time of transition, Zwilling said, to help them with everything from the “nitty gritty” decisions like what to call their new parish, to more nuanced issues like banding together as a new community of faith. There are some new saints that don’t have parishes named after them yet, Zwilling noted, that could be possibilities for some of the recently merged churches. “We don’t have a St. John Paul II parish, we don’t have a St. John XXIII parish yet, we don’t have a St. Padre Pio parish yet, maybe they will pick one of those.” And while some churches were closed or merged, there are also areas of growth and population shift that are reflected in the recent changes. “There was a time, 100 or so years ago when most of the Catholic people in the archdiocese lived in places like Manhattan and the Bronx, or West Chester,” he said. “That’s not the case anymore.” Manhattan, for example, still has about 25 percent of the parishes of the archdiocese, but only about 12 percent of the Catholic population, while counties to the north such as Duchess and Orange have experienced significant population growth in the past 20 years and have been assigned a new auxiliary bishop. “Far too often we’ve been trying to minister to people here in the 21st century based on a model that was established sometime in the late 19th century, rather than looking and saying ‘What are people’s needs today?’” Zwilling said. “Not, ‘What were they in 1903?’, not ‘what were they in 1914?’, but what are they today in 2014? What can we expect them to be in 2024? How do we plan for the changes that are always taking place in the archdiocese and how do we respond to it? And that’s what the Church has to be about.” The archdiocese also announced that it is offering a Master’s degree in Church Management, offered jointly with Villanova University. The goal, Zwilling said, is for lay faithful to complete this program and then assist their already-busy pastors with the administrative aspects of parish life. “Some things only a priest can do of course,” Zwilling said. “So this will help free our priests up to do the pastoral work that they are called to do and be able to spend less time on administrative work.” In a statement released Sunday by the archdiocese, Cardinal Dolan said he had faith in the way the people of New York have always handled difficult situations, such as when the Catholic school system underwent a similar reorganization process a little over a year ago. “One thing that has impressed me about Catholics in this archdiocese is their ability to come together in trying times,” he said. “I am confident that this same spirit will carry us through the next phase of Making All Things New, as the Archdiocese of New York begins a new chapter of serving Jesus and his followers in faithfulness and in love. Jesus is in charge, and He will never let us down.” The full announcement as well as maps of the new parishes can be seen on the archdiocesan website: http://archny.org/news/making-all-things-new-decisions-announced.
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