01: While it may be a temporary solution to the decline of urban parishes, the phenomenon of Mass mobs is at least calling attention to the plight of “Rust Belt Catholicism” and other cases of parish decline and closure.
Mass mobs are modeled after “smart mobs,” where spontaneous gatherings started by social media to make a social statement or to engage in protest. The Mass mobs, which are part heritage tours and part mixers, are generated to fill ailing urban churches, bringing thousands of suburban Catholics to visit struggling and, in some cases, closed urban churches of their parents and grandparents. Donations are often made to these churches during these visits.
The Mass mobs are most prevalent in the region around Lake Erie. In Detroit, nearly 2,000 people have shown up to visit churches that usually attract a fraction of that number. Other Mass mobs have taken place in New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and even in suburbs. Several dioceses are helping to promote the Mass mobs through their newspapers and social media. (Source: New York Times, Oct. 11)
02: In reactions against the closure and merging of parishes, some activist groups are shifting these discussions about such decisions to a debate about the role of the laity in the Catholic Church.
As a reaction to the decision of the Roman Catholic diocese of Syracuse, NY to close and merge nearly 40 parishes, a group of laity organized a group called Preserve Our Parishes (POP) in 2009. The lay movement questioned the reconfiguration and shifted the debate “from concerns about the priest shortage and financially challenged parishes to a conversation about legitimate Catholic authority and the nature of parishes,” with an emphasis on the role of laity in the line of Vatican II. POP members criticized what they saw as a “One Priest, One Roof” policy, the absence of laity in the decision-making, and the diminishing Catholic presence in urban centers (in contrast with suburbs).
Based on diocesan appeals for increased lay participation, POP members felt that there could be other models that are less dependent upon resident priests. Activists understood closing parishes “as a threat to sacred space that could remain available without a permanent priest.” In the reconfiguration process, the authors observe that priests offered valuable support to lay activists and were not afraid to disagree with the diocese.
This helped forge the way for a new, merged parish that ensured the involvement of the laity and remained open to public dissent from Catholic leaders. Thus, POP efforts motivated continued activism and led to institutionalizing the lay orientation in the new parish with the launch of a new group called Conscientious Catholics. (Source: Review of Religious Research, September.)