Deal heads off church occupation
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The agreement in East Boston was made possible by some particular details of the local situation. The parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, many of them elderly, were not eager to stage a sit-in, and they were pleased to have a face-saving alternative to consider. The two parishes are located within blocks of each other, making the building swap relatively painless. And the pastor of Sacred Heart speaks Italian, making it easy for him to say Mass in Italian.
The deal also reflects a relatively friendly relationship between members of the two parishes and the willingness of the two pastors to work together to find a way out of a potentially ugly confrontation.
The proposal was put together by Rev. Wayne L. Belschner, pastor of Sacred Heart, Rev. Francis de Sales Paolo, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and a seminarian from East Boston, according to Belschner. Belschner presented the proposal to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners Monday night and took questions from them until they were satisfied.
"We had a strong proposal that benefited everybody," Belschner said. "When people work together and have a common goal, faith plays a significant role in having things come together."
Sacred Heart is the larger of the two parishes, with about 500 people attending weekend Masses, compared to 300 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, according to the archdiocese.
Belschner said the building that Sacred Heart is agreeing to relinquish to the archdiocese is a former church, St. John the Baptist. That building is currently used for religious education by Sacred Heart, but the building is in disrepair and is also too small, Belschner said.
The former convent at Our Lady of Mount Carmel is larger, and in better shape, so it can adapt easily to become the religious education center for Sacred Heart. And the convent, which would have been turned over to the archdiocese for possible sale in the original church closing plan, has a room that had been used as a chapel by nuns, and that can be restored for worship use. Belschner said the frequency of Mass remains to be decided.
Parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel said they considered the proposal the best they could hope for.
"I am pleased, because half a piece of pie is better than no pie at all," said Benito Tauro, 71, who has belonged to the parish since emigrating from Italy in 1952 and who spearheaded the financing of a statue of Padre Pio, the saint who he believes helped save his life.
"It's not what I wanted -- I wanted the church to be open -- but at least we can keep the tradition going," he said. "Even if we started the vigil, I didn't think it was going to get us anywhere, and this is a relief, because now the old people here will have a place to pray."
Tauro's wife, Debora, 64, is also relieved. She has been part of the parish since she emigrated from Italy at age 13, and has been active in many of the church's activities.
"I still wish they would have some explanation of why it was done this way," she said. "If they went to one parish at a time and explained, whatever the situation, and started rebuilding the church by communication and working together, that's what I believe in. And that was not done. But I feel better, having the convent. . . . At least something good is happening out of this."
Michael Paulson can be reached at email@example.com.
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