Collections may help imperiled churches instead of pope's visit

June 22, 1994|By Frank P.L. Somerville | Frank P.L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Although extra collections at Roman Catholic Masses in the Baltimore archdiocese this weekend are intended to help pay for Pope John Paul II's October visit to the city, several parishes plan to divert at least some money to another cause -- endangered city churches.

As the archdiocese considers shutting or consolidating 16 churches, three Northeast Baltimore pastors have given their congregations the option of directing the donations to needy urban parishes.

Some members of churches that the archdiocese has targeted for possible closing say it is more important to keep them open than to finance the pope's trip, said the Rev. Joseph L. Muth of St. Matthew's Church.

He and pastors of St. Mary of the Assumption and Most Precious Blood have offered parishioners a form to divert money from the second collection at Masses Saturday and Sunday to the urban churches.

The slips, which can be placed by church members in the papal-visit-collection envelopes say, "In light of the possible closing or restructuring of 16 Catholic urban churches due in part to lack of funds . . . I prefer to donate my money to support the urban churches of the archdiocese of Baltimore."

Archbishop William H. Keeler is counting on an enthusiastic response to his appeals for money to cover the cost of John Paul's 10-hour visit to Baltimore Oct. 23.

A budget for activities connected to the papal visit, which is to include an outdoor Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, has not been disclosed.

In a June 6 letter to pastors in the archdiocese, Archbishop Keeler called the pope's visit "a once-in-a-lifetime event for us and for our people." He added, "I shall be most grateful to you for all that you can do to encourage them to help us show our hospitality and welcome."

Posters promoting the collections also have been distributed.

The archdiocese announced in May that 16 underused city parishes will be affected by a restructuring plan to be established by November and to take effect six months later. The plan could include mergers of parishes, reassignment of priests and the closing of some landmark church buildings, pastors were told.

The Baltimore archdiocese includes about 160 parishes or missions in an area that extends from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the mountains of Western Maryland.

"Letters and telephone calls which we receive here each day, as well as personal reports from a number of you, tell us that our people look forward to October 23 and the Holy Father's visit with enormous enthusiasm," Archbishop Keeler said in his letter to the priests.

Father Muth, of St. Matthew's at Loch Raven Boulevard and Woodbourne Avenue, was not the only priest who said he sensed a lack of such enthusiasm among some members of his congregation.

The Rev. Richard T. Lawrence, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church at Lexington and Fayette streets, said women in his parish are particularly unhappy about the pope's insistence that there be no further discussions of the possibility of female priests. However, he said he would pass along the archbishop's request for funds without comment.

At St. Matthew's and at least two other churches last weekend, forms were distributed to allow parishioners to divert their donations from the pope's visit.

The churches were St. Mary of the Assumption on York Road in Govans, whose pastor is the Rev. P. Edward Kenney, and Most Precious Blood on Bowleys Lane, whose pastor is the Rev. Joseph B. Hughes.

Most Precious Blood is one of the parishes that the archdiocese says may have to be closed.

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