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Hundreds of Catholic residents of Baltimore packed the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Tuesday evening to give their often-impassioned reactions to a process that could lead to the closure of nearly two-thirds of the city’s parishes.

Several parishes from the state’s largest city organized large contingents to attend the April 30 meeting, which was the final of three listening sessions for the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s “Seek the City” parish restructuring proposal. They made their presence known with custom-made T-shirts or ethnic attire, with some even carrying large banners that begged Archbishop William Lori to spare their churches.

Parishioners from the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in the Mount Washington neighborhood of the city printed a banner that proclaimed: “SOS! Save Our Shrine.” The group from the largely-Filipino parish also participated vocally in the session, including an emotional plea from John Tagle, a high school student. Tagle worried that his parish would be gone when he returned home from college.

A non-Filipino member of the shrine, David Bender, bluntly stated: “The proposal does not make spiritual sense.” 

Many of those wearing custom T-shirts came from Holy Rosary, a parish in the Fells Point neighborhood that has connections to two Polish canonized saints. Some of their group wore ethnic attire and waved the white and red flag of their Eastern European homeland. 

A young woman from Holy Rosary wondered why the archdiocese would shutter a place that was visited by St. John Paul II (when he was Cardinal Karol Wojytla in 1976). The parish is also directly tied to the canonization process of St. Faustina Kowalska, as it was the site of a documented miraculous healing attributed to the Polish sister.

Auxiliary Bishop Bruce Lewandowski gave a grim assessment as he spoke to local media before presiding over the listening session. “This is difficult. It’s heart-wrenching,” he emphasized. “But we’re at a pivotal moment in the city Church. We need to do this.”

Lewandowski led the attendees in prayer before starting the main presentation about the parish closure/consolidation proposal under “Seek the City.” He, along with two lay consultants, began a slideshow that first gave an overview of the two-year process leading up to the current juncture.

The trio then unveiled several slides that outlined the proposal to shrink the city’s parishes from 61 parishes to 26 parishes. The City of Baltimore, along with some immediate surrounding parts of neighboring Baltimore County, was divided into five regions (center, east, west, north, and south). While the first four regions would have three to five consolidated parishes, the south region would be reduced to only two. 

An additional two parishes have been designated “personal parishes”: St. Ignatius, which is administered by the Jesuits, and St. Alphonsus, the home of the Traditional Latin Mass in Baltimore. During the listening session, the archdiocese disclosed that a final decision on the “Seek the City” proposal would be made by mid-June.

The slideshow spotlighted that four of the merged parishes would specifically minister to Hispanic communities. It also noted that the Filipino community — currently centered at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart — would move to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

Other parishoners with deep roots in Baltimore City also bewailed the spiritual devastation the proposed restructuring would cause. A representative from St. Rita’s in Dundalk (a community that was directly impacted by the recent collapse of the Key Bridge at the mouth of Baltimore Harbor) begged: “Don’t let the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ leave Old Dundalk!”

Sue Jones, who has lived her entire life in the region, reflected on entering her eighth decade as a Catholic in the primatial see of the United States. Jones, who attends St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in the Hampden neighborhood, underlined that “killing [the parishes], or turning them into unrecognizable hubs, … is the final nail in the coffin for the Church in Baltimore City.” Her parish would be closed under the current proposal.

The lifelong Baltimore resident added that she remained hopeful.

“I’m so proud, because the remaining Catholics are here in spite of the archdiocese’s leadership,” she said after the listening session.

By Matthew Balan

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