Parishioners Hold Service AnywayBy Jose B. Rivera
East Harlem, February 18, 2007. Parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church held a service Sunday morning without the assistance of any parish priests. The parishioners, led by 5 of the 6 women arrested on February 12, 2007, wanted to send the message to all who would listen that their church is still alive, even if the doors are closed. Carmen Villegas led the parishioners through the service, which the group were careful not to call a mass. Ms. Villegas spoke of having faith and about the group’s belief that with faith the doors of the church would open again. She also mentioned her belief that they were being persecuted by a very uncaring bishop of the church. And they exalted in their persecution.
The assembled members of Our Lady Queen of Angels parish, braved the cold, outside of their usual place of worship and thank God for all He has done in the past, present and future. Included were some of the older Italian parishioner going back 60 years, Puerto Rican, Dominican and the new Mexican parishioners.
Various church and community leaders spoke before and after the “service”. Ms. Villegas touched upon the notion that dealing with parishioners with hired security and using what they called “gestapo” tactics were not in keeping with being a Christian. She also mentioned her awareness in reading about the Cardinals past that he is vindictive toward all who would challenge him. More in keeping with a man of power, of the world, than with a Christian.
Ms. Villegas referred to a recent Catholic New York article which portrayed those who were arrested as “INDIVIDUALS”. As if the parish just laid down and died, and individual troublemakers came in to disrupt the church. She was very angry at the churches blatant covering up (lying) of the parishes reaction to the closing and of being called “individuals” as oppose to “the parishioners”.
Ms. Carmen Villegas also explained that the mornings’ service would not be lead by a priest. “All priest have been scared away by the threat of retribution from a Cardinal who makes good on such promises”, explained Ms. Villegas.
East Harlem’s City Council Member, Mellisa Mark-Viverito, told the group that she had written to the Cardinal about her disappoint with the way the Cardinal handled the church closing. She asked that the Cardinal meet with the parishioners in an effort to mediate the situation and in hopes of keeping the church open.
After the end of the “service”, Ms. Carmen Villegas, introduced the other four ladies who had been arrested on February 12, 2007. She also introduced a lawyer who will help the group with their fight to keep the church open. The group plans to form a 501(C)3 in an effort to take over management of the church.
It was both a glorious and sad thing to see parishioners without a church building. Glorious in that the church (the people) continue as a parish. As all good Catholics are taught, “the church consist of the people, and not the buildings”. So it was that parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish came together to celebrate a service. It was weird being in a Catholic Service without a priest and sad that not one priest dared go against the Cardinal to offer the parishioners mass and solace. Seems almost everyone has abandoned this parish.
Yet the parishioners were happy. They praise God for their persecution and for his future help in this matter. Most were still talking about approaching the Cardinal with offers of taking over the church buildings. Although most were deeply angered and hurt, they choose not to make this a time to bash the Cardinal, but to reach out to him. To ask to meet with him, for him to come to them. They were very hurt about the sign which read that the church would be closed due to the “emotional climate”. Yes, they were emotional in staying in the church, because love of their parish drove them to action. The church of “Social Justice” should have some compassion for it’s parishioners.
No matter how hard we look, we will never see Jesus in the way this was handled. This writer and fellow Christian beseeches the Cardinal to reach out to this hurting parish. Even if the church is to remain closed, reach out to this your hurting people. Comfort them.
Again, this could have been handled in a much better and different way. But we are all human. And being Christian, we must at some point forgive. The Gospel encourages us to pray for our enemies. So this writer asked that we all pray for Cardinal Egan, that he may have the grace to learn from this experience and handle future closings with heart and with love. God Bless Cardinal Egan, Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish and our community of East Harlem.
Parishioner Prays for Assistance
City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito Letter