By Seth Daniel
When it comes to matters concerning God and prayer, hoping against hope is a pretty safe bet.
That’s the case this week as the “underground” Our Lady of Lourdes (OLOL) church community in Beachmont received the first piece of good news they’ve had in years concerning their shuttered church.
“For the first time we’re encouraged,” said John Verrengia, who has led the fight to re-open the Beachmont church. “We’ve been discouraged the last seven years, but the latest news is very encouraging.”
That latest news includes the Vatican-ordered re-opening of suppressed, or closed, parishes in various parts of the United States. Recently, eight Parishes were re-opened in Allentown, PA, and others were opened in Buffalo and – closer to home – in the western Massachusetts city of Adams.
Many of those parishes were in the same situation as Our Lady of Lourdes, and had been closed for years.
The Archdiocese of Boston closed OLOL in 2004 when numerous parishes across Greater Boston were shuttered. While many of those parishes tried to fight with a vigil or direct action, OLOL accepted the closure. However, they took a legal fight to Rome, joining six other parishes in Boston.
In Rome, they presented a Canon Law argument to several hierarchies of the Church – arguments that they and their Canon Law attorney felt were solid.
Nevertheless, the past seven years have presented several defeats in Rome.
This time, though, things are looking up.
“The Congregation of the Clergy – where our argument had been defeated before – upheld the Bishop’s right to suppress a parish, but at the same time they’re ordering the closed churches to re-open,” said Verrengia, citing the re-openings in Allentown. “What we’ve been saying all along is the church is sacred. It’s God’s home eternal. You can’t just close a church. We are very encouraged because the same parishes finding success right now with these arguments are using the same arguments that we’ve presented…We expect more decisions to follow these. Canon Law seems to back up what we’ve been saying.”
Verrengia and those leading fights at the six other closed Boston parishes (known together as the Council of Parishes) believe that the openings will make their way to the Boston area next. If that were the case, OLOL would be primed for re-opening.
Last Friday afternoon, Verrengia and several long-time parishioners gathered on the steps of the old church. Despite being seven years out from their closure, most of those gathered were as concerned as they were the first day.
“Everyone here has 30 years or more at this church, so what’s seven years to us?” asked Giuseppe Amari.
That has been the attitude throughout the closure from everyone in the tight-knit parish family.
Verrengia and a group of organizers have held several unsanctioned Masses throughout the years, mostly during the holidays, in order to keep the group together and updated.
Turnout is always very high, and that has translated into a rather well funded effort – as it does cost significant dollars to employ a Canon Law attorney in Rome.
In fact, during the last Mass on December 5, more than 200 people showed up to worship with their former parishioners and to learn about the closure appeal in Rome.
“At more than six years out, that kind of turnout says something,” said Verrengia.
Added Carmella Mercier, “We never stopped going to church. We’ve never lost our faith. We just want them to open our church again.”
That has also been another common thread in the OLOL fight.
Verrengia said it was important to note that they did not engage in any disobedience, such as a vigil, nor did they get angry and give up on the Catholic Church. Those who have fought closures with the appeal process have often gotten a cold shoulder or a slight during fellowship from local church leaders. Some leaders in the diocese have even suggested that they are undermining the authority of God and the Church.
“We’re good Catholics,” said Verrengia. “We didn’t go into vigil. We left our church. We did not disobey the Archbishop. It was our right to appeal. We are exercising our rights under Canon Law. All we’re asking is for them to re-open one of God’s houses.”
Anyone who would like to donate to the effort to continue the appeal in Rome, send checks to Save Our Lady of Lourdes; 385 Broadway; Revere, MA 02151, or ask for Audrey at the Citizens Bank on Broadway.