Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Miami archdiocese targets 13 South Florida churches for closing

Miami Herald
Monday, June 01, 2009
Thirteen Catholic churches - most in some of South Florida's poorest urban areas - will be closed and members sent elsewhere, the Archdiocese of Miami said Sunday.
But stunned parishioners, some close to tears, said they will not go down without a fight.
"This is a travesty,'' said Reginald Munnings, who attends St. Francis Xavier, Miami's first black Catholic church. Munnings and 60 other families will be asked to attend Gesu, Miami's oldest Catholic church located in downtown Miami. "I'm not going to go,'' said Munnings, 52, who, like other parishioners, knew cuts were coming, but was shocked to hear that his was on the list.
Five other Miami-Dade closures include St. Vincent de Paul in West Little River, St. Cecilia in Hialeah, St. Robert Bellarmine in Allapattah, St. Philip Neri in Bunche Park and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Opa-locka.
Seven Broward churches will be closed, including Church of the Resurrection in Dania Beach, St. Joseph Haitian Mission in Pompano Beach, St. Luke in Coconut Creek, Our Lady Aparecida in Hollywood, St. Charles Borromeo in Hallandale Beach; Divine Mercy Haitian Mission, and St. George, both in Fort Lauderdale.
Citing the "financial difficulties being experienced by all in our country'' and that the archdiocese can no longer subsidize operations at the churches, Archbishop John C. Favalora said in a letter that "the archdiocese in the future should plan for fewer but larger parishes.''
Favalora said he will make his final decision the first week of August, indicating that some churches could be saved.
"We're looking at finances and a shift in the Catholic population,'' said archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta. Church officials have crunched numbers on Mass attendance, baptisms, confirmations and funerals at churches to determine which to cut, she said.
But to Willa Mary Willis, a member of Bunche Park's St. Philip Neri for 50 years, the numbers do not add up.
"We had a full house today, maybe 350 or 400 people,'' said Willis, 70. "I know the economy is bad, but I just hope and pray we can keep the door open.''
The archdiocese wants her members to go to St. Monica in Miami Gardens.
Munnings does not see the math, either. "They tell us the parish owes $47,000 to the archdiocese,'' he said, "but we're going to bring in (money) by leasing our school property.''
St. Francis Xavier recently closed its school - one of six the archdiocese closed last month to save an estimated $1.8 million - but it will reopen in the fall as a secular charter.
Money from the charter rental was supposed to help support the struggling parish, churchgoers say.
"Everybody's upset,'' said the Rev. J. Thomas Pohto, pastor at Church of the Resurrection. He is not giving up hope.
"This is very preliminary; we're going to consult our financial and pastoral councils. It's too soon to say what will happen.''
Julia Winters, a longtime member of St. Charles Borromeo in Hallandale Beach, was taken aback by the announcement, but said she's hoping her church will survive.
"We're not sure if plans will materialize,'' she said.
The archdiocese serves 800,000 members in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, with 128 parishes, missions and apostolates. Three of the churches to close are missions or apostolates, which serve specific cultural groups. Many of the churches designated to close serve minorities.
Maria Jerkins, director for the Office of Black Catholic Affairs in Miami, got calls from several concerned parishioners before she even saw the list.
But she was not surprised by the closings. "We have known this is a problem for a while,'' she said.
Sunday's announcement followed a May 24 letter from Favalora hinting at a broad reorganization in the archdiocese, including other unspecified cutbacks.
Many Catholic dioceses around the country have closed churches in recent years. The Diocese of Cleveland, for instance, announced in March that it would close 52 of its 224 churches next year.
The Catholic population in South Florida has increased by 8,000 since 2001, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Still, like many parts of the country, Catholics have moved to the suburbs, draining historical urban churches of membership and money.
From: - News