The Associated Press covered an interesting practice in Buffalo of late: “Mass mobs fill pews, lift prayers at NY churches.” Evidently, Buffalo area Roman Catholics are targeting a different inner city parish each Sunday in order to fill up the old temples as they were before white flight and deindustrialization depopulated the Roman Catholic population in the urban core. The visitors also contribute money during their flash mob attendance to help support the parishes.
This is a neat idea, but these abandoned parishes need more than just occasional visits from the working and donating white folk in the burbs. Fr. Z. suggests that religious communities, especially ones with a focus on traditional liturgical worship, move into abandoned parishes. Then, families who want to worship at a reverent, sober mass rather than singing Girl Scout campfire hymns with a subquality teeny band and a Mr. Happy priest in a sanctuary that looks more like a high school gym would make the trek every week (and every day for downtown workers). If you want a committed congregation, this is how to get one.
On the other end of the spectrum, papist-socialist communities with a focus on charity toward the poor could also use dilapidated parishes as a center to serve (and hopefully to preach unto) the poor. Just because the Irish and Italians abandon a neighborhood to blacks doesn’t mean that there is no longer a need to preach the gospel. Why haven’t inner city parishes been more successful in converting the newer waves of Protestant blacks? I suspect that it is because the kind of American Roman Catholic who is interested in feeding poor blacks doesn’t care as much in converting them to the faith. Their liberalism has made their religion into a form of community service rather than an all embracing commission to transform the world. Unawares, they have adopted a form of Marxist materialism that makes them attentive only to material needs. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Jesus’ words apply as equally to the poor man as to the rich—to the black as well as to the white. Well fed beggars can go to hell just as Dives the rich man. Similarly, Roman Catholic schools enroll many poor blacks on scholarship as a form of charity, but they do little to introduce them to the faith. Of course, they do an abysmal job in instructing their indigenous papist students in the faith, as well—so the problem there is likely more fundamental. On second thought, maybe they should just leave those little black Baptist kids alone so that they at least remain Christians rather than turning into blasé agnostics with contempt for scripture and tradition. For it is better to be a heathen who knows nothing of the gospel—and is thus receptive to it—than an ignorant punk who falsely believes himself to be a religious scholar. How much idiocy and heresy follow the phrase, “Well, I went to Catholic school for twelve years and I think . . .”?
Kudos to the folks in Buffalo—and to all who work to reinvigorate decaying neighborhoods. Civilization needs every tower to be manned all the time.