Parishioners at the Church of St. Roch hold a Sunday vigil.

Congregation prays to keep its church

Elderly churchgoers at a Mott Haven church slated for closure say its disappearance would hurt the community.

If St. Roch closes, many say they’ll stay home Sundays

Many elder parishioners at the Church of St. Roch on Wales Avenue say that if the Archdiocese of New York follows through on its plan to close their church in August, they will stay home Sundays to watch Mass on TV rather than attending services.

The Archdiocese’s ‘Making All Things New’ plan would merge 112 parishes around the city for a variety of reasons that include low attendance and proximity to other churches. Sunday services would be discontinued at 31 churches, including St. Roch, whose congregation would be urged to attend the Church of St. Anselm on Tinton Avenue, six blocks away. But many at St. Roch say that is an insurmountable distance for them.

“When you go to church, you’re supposed to be at peace,” said Angela Centeno, 75, after a Sunday sermon at St. Roch in February “I’m at peace in St. Roch. Going to St. Anselm would be very difficult.”

The parishioners learned of the planned closure in early November, when Pastor Jose Martinez read them a letter from Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

“There is nobody who has been involved in ‘Making All Things New’ who doesn’t understand the impact that this will have on the Catholic faithful,” the letter read.

Some parishioners say the Archdiocese has been keeping them in the dark about its plans.

“We never saw any surveys, no one from the Archdiocese visiting and asking questions,” said Lindsay Guzman, 30, a longtime parishioner and volunteer at St. Roch’s. She added that the decree the Archdiocese released to justify the closures had been difficult to obtain. When the Archdiocese finally made the decree available online, she said, it was available only in English.

“Most of our parishioners speak (only) Spanish,” Guzman said. “What’s the point of making copies in English?”

But a spokesman for the Archdioecese said parishioners’ complaints that church officials didn’t inform them of their plans are unfounded.

“It’s been on our website. This has been extensively discussed and reported on,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese.

Antonio Centeno, 37, a former member of Community Board 2 who teaches as a catechist at the church, said he had no idea the closing was planned until he heard it on the news several months ago. Most parishioners lack the Internet access they would need to read the documents, he added. In addition, he insisted, attendance has been going up at St. Roch’s in recent years, not down.

Expecting the inevitable, Father Antonio Palacios at St. Anselm said he expects the anticipated merger between the two congregations will go smoothly.

“Those who choose to come here will be very welcome,” he said.

But parishioner Lydia Colon, 68, disagreed, saying Sunday services will be a thing of the past for her if the Archdiocese follows through. Colon, who has attended St. Roch for 55 years, now walks with the assistance of a cane due to knee replacement surgery.

“I have always been in this church, and my children did their sacraments and everything here,” she said. “I’m very sad about it, because this church is like my life.”

Her fellow parishioner Aida Berrios said she has heard other elderly churchgoers say they, too, would stop coming.

“Most of them say they’re going to listen to Mass at home,” she said. “But they won’t be receiving the body of Christ.”

For now, said Guzman, the faithful will continue with prayers and vigils on the last Sunday of each month along with a letter-writing campaign to persuade the Vatican to reverse Cardinal Dolan’s decision.

Religious services are only part of what will be lost if St. Roch’s closes its doors, said Colon. She worries about how the closure would affect residents for whom the church serves as a gathering place for the community.

“We compose the Church. The people,” she said, sitting in a pew beneath the pendant lights hanging from St. Roch’s ceiling. “If they close it, it’s just going to be an empty building.”

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