Divine Mercy Sunday was a historic time in the life of SS. Peter and Paul-Epiphany parish, Williamsburg. The community celebrated the last Mass at the current church during a bilingual transitional Mass, followed by a procession to the parochial school building, which will be the site of the new church.
The atmosphere was very emotional as parishioners moved from the building, which was built on South Second Street as a provisional church in 1963, to the auditorium of McCaddin Memorial Building on Berry Street.
After a two-year renovation process that will start in June, parishioners will move to a new worship site at McCaddin. These changes are part of a strategic plan to address the parish’s financial challenges and concerns about its future.
The diocese issued a decree of reduction, a canonical process that reduces the church to a place no longer dedicated for divine worship. The church property can now be leased to pay for the renovation of the new site and to make the parish financially self-sufficient. (To learn more about this project, read our previous story “New Church Will Bring New Life to B’klyn Parish.”)
During the Mass, Father Juan Rosario, who was the main celebrant, thanked people for making this journey possible and thanked God for the beginning of this chapter in the life of the parish.
During his homily, he acknowledged that many might have a heavy heart while celebrating the last Mass.
“Perhaps many of us are weary because of this crucial moment in our lives,” Father Rosario said. “But years later we are going to realize that God has walked with us and guided us with this magnificent idea that does not only think of us but of future generations.
“How great that you were brave to partake in the history being made today, a new chapter in our communal history, in our salvation history.”
He added that this step – moving to a renovated building while renting the former space – helps parishioners to fulfill their responsibility of making sure the parish will be here for future generations.
“That is why we are taking this important step. So SS. Peter and Paul does not become part of the statistics of the Church in this city. Some parishes have closed due to financial reasons. We want to avoid those horrible statistics that cause so much damage to the spirituality of the people of God,” he said in Spanish.
At the end of the Mass, parishioner Jennifer D. Urbano called SS. Peter and Paul the place where she found her spiritual family. She added that the community’s love and unity will remain regardless of which building becomes the parish church.
“When we close the doors of this temple, we will suffer a little and this is natural given all the memories made here,” she said. “But this is a sacrifice we made with love to open the doors for future generations so that SS. Peter and Paul Church, this great community, will be with us forever.”
Mother Maria Bendita, S.S.V.M., director of faith formation, said Urbano echoed everyone’s feelings.
“The most important moments of our spiritual lives happened here; we received so many graces,” she said. “It also showed that SS. Peter and Paul parish is more alive than ever. We had a full church.
“Our spiritual life was nurtured in this place, but, as Father (Rosario) said in his homily, the church is one that moves forward and does not stand still,” Mother Bendita added. “We are moving forward. We are alive and together we will have a new church to live our faith.”
After the April 3 Mass, nearly 550 parishioners processed behind the Blessed Sacrament and the relics of Saints Peter and Paul to McCaddin Hall. The simple act marked a step toward the parish’s future, said Msgr. Anthony Hernandez, administrator of the predominantly Spanish-speaking parish.
Before the procession, Msgr. Hernandez reminded parishioners how the Catholic community under the protection of SS. Peter and Paul has been a vital part of the neighborhood since 1844. Reminiscing about the history of the parish and the strength of the community, he said that while a church can be considered the building – the bricks and stained-glass windows – in a deeper sense a church is people united through their faith in the risen Christ.
“SS. Peter and Paul Church not only has a great past but a great future,” he said. “And we will take that concrete step toward the future, so the great-grandchildren of your great-grandchildren can come here to celebrate their faith, partake in the sacraments and share the most important moments in their spiritual life.”
Months earlier, parishioner Julia Moreno and other members of the transitional committee said they were excited to have the church in the renovated building because it would act as an evangelization tool in the community.
“We will be there, sharing the Word of our Lord,” she said. “This is a parish for our children and we will support it throughout this project because is for the betterment of the church.”
Betsy Paulino said that during the Mass she reflected on her baptism in the old church, where she also received her other sacraments.
There was a mixture of sadness for losing a space that was very important to them, but also expectation for the new site.
Gen Bry, a member of the parish since birth, said he could not help but tear up during the transitional Mass. The closing of the current building was a sad moment for the young catechist and youth minister. “This church has seen me grow,” he said. “But like Father (Rosario) said, it’s not about the old temple. The building is closing but the church is still intact.”
Long-time parishioner Rafael Espinal, who received most of his sacraments in the parish, came to the Mass with his wife and four children.
“Hopefully other communities can pray for us to stay strong and together as a family” during this transition, he said.
He added that he was relieved the church was not closing but moving within the Southside of Williamsburg.
“This is something that we are doing with love for family members and parishioners that we have not met yet because they have not been born,” Urbano added after Mass. “The most important thing is that we all stick together. If we stick together, we are going to remain a family.”