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Crown Heights Parish on the Move

by Antonina Zielinska

Parishioners and diocesan leaders walked in procession from St. Ignatius Church to St. Francis-St. Blaise Church, Crown Heights, after the final regularly scheduled Mass was celebrated at St. Ignatius on Sunday, Sept. 9.

On Sunday, Sept. 9 at 10 a.m., Auxiliary Bishop Frank Caggiano, vicar general, presided over the final regularly scheduled Mass at St. Ignatius church, a worship site of St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise parish in Crown Heights.

“This is a day of tremendous mixed emotions — a day where there will be tears and rightfully so,” he told the parishioners during his homily. “The Lord is asking us to give up this place … but to remember that we are the living stones of the church.”

Parishioner Patricia Smith said she will continue her work as a member of God’s church in her new worship site. She will continue her ministry as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and lector at St. Francis Church.

“In a way, it is sad because we are losing a place that has been part of my life for 35 years,” she said. “However, this is not my God. It is only an edifice. My God is in my heart.”

Parishioner Rendell Blount expressed a similar sentiment. Although he started to attend the church with his wife only five years prior, the worship site has been part of his and his wife’s family for generations. The church served the Crown Heights community since 1908.

“It’s just a place of worship,” he said. “You can worship anywhere. But there is a sense of loss because of the history.”

Parishioner Hajore George said she will miss St. Ignatius. She is also concerned about the longer walk she will have to the church, especially during the winter.

Bishop Caggiano encouraged the parishioners to have strength as they walked in procession to their new worship site after the final Sunday Mass.

“I come before you today with humble gratitude to every single one of you for your courage, fidelity and faithfulness to listen to the Lord even when it is difficult to do so and to walk in the path He has chosen for us,” he said. “I ask you to go forth from this place and into the community and remember that the Lord is with us. He will walk with us to St. Francis of Assisi. He will walk with us every day of our lives … so we can proclaim His living presence.”

As the faithful made their way out of the church for the seven-block walk, the feeling of loss was evident. However, the people sang praise to God, passionately proclaiming that “God is a good God. Yes he is!”

As the St. Ignatius community made the symbolic journey, they carried with them the most important aspects of their church: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the holy oils used for the sacraments, holy water which was mixed with the holy water at St. Francis Church and altar linens which were placed upon the altar at St. Francis Church. The people also carried banners representing various ministries and societies.

When the procession arrived at St. Francis of Assisi, they were welcomed with applause and song. The words, “Let us build the city of God. May our tears be turned into dancing,” served as an embrace to all the new arrivals.

“Today we take a step forward in our spiritual journey of faith,” Father Juan J. Gonzalez, S.M., pastor, said when he addressed the now unified congregation. “We do this because we love each other. We have been called to be witnesses of Divine Love.”

Father Gonzales said this change can serve to strengthen the parish as a whole. St. Ignatius was conducted by the Jesuit Fathers from 1908 until it was merged with St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise parish on Jan. 31, 2011.

Two former pastors, Fathers John Hyatt, S.J., and John Pugliese, S.J., attended the final liturgy.

For the past year and a half, the diocese has worked in collaboration with the parish to come up with a plan for a sustainable future. This plan calls for the discontinuance of regularly scheduled Masses at St. Ignatius church.

However, long-time parishioners will still be able to request wedding and funeral Masses at the St. Ignatius worship site.

Father Juan Gonzalez, S.M., and Bishop Frank Caggiano lead Crown Heights Catholics from St. Ignatius Church to St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise following the celebration of the final regularly scheduled Mass at St. Ignatius.
St. Ignatius Church was filled for its final Mass.
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