As Pope Francis makes his inaugural journey to the United States, Catholics from the United andStates around the world are calling on him to help them keep parishes open. 

 AOpen Letter to Pope Francis released today calls attention to the widespread policy of bishops to merge, cluster and close parishes and asks Pope Francis to urge them to find ways to keep them open rather than shuttering them.  Catholics are asked to sign on.

Hundreds of parishes have been merged or closed in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland and beyond.  Recently, the Archdiocese of New York merged or closed more than 70 parishes, often in the face of staunch opposition by committed parishioners.

When the Pope visits Our Lady Queen of Angels (OLQA) School in East Harlem in just a few weeks, we want him to learn that the Church was tragically closed in 2007 amid protest. 

Sadly, in the years that followed, two funerals, one for Carmen Gonzalez and the other for Carmen Villegas, both courageous leaders working to keep OLQA open, had to be held on the sidewalk in front of the closed Church when the bishop refused to unlock the doors. 

These stories show how the efforts of dauntless faith-filled Catholics are often met by the unrelenting indifference, and sometimes obstruction, of those who are supposed to pastor.  

As the Pope journeys to the United States, we hope the Pope will meet with parishioners from Our Lady Queen of Angels, Our Lady of Peace Church in Manhattan, St. Peter Claver in Philadelphia, St. Francis X. Cabrini in Scituate and other closed parishes. If he wants to learn about the devastating effect on faith life and the human cost of these corporate policies, he should sit with the many courageous Catholics who have been working for years to keep their parishes intact and listen their stories.

The policy of closing and merging parishes that relies on a corporate model of Church rather than a pastoral one is widespread and is slowly extinguishing the richness of the body of Christ in the world today.   According to Kate Kuenstler, PHJC, JCD, a canon lawyer who knows the appeals process and helps parishioners who want to use it to keep their parish communities intact, "The Parish reconfiguration process used by Dioceses most often has a business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations whose principal beneficiary is not God's people, but the church as an institution."  

The Open Letter petition also calls attention to similar problems that parishes face world-wide and is supported by priest associations in Australia, Austria, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. Read it now.