Pope’s Visit to East Harlem School Highlights Church’s Challenges
On a recent Sunday, on park benches amid public housing projects in East Harlem, more than a dozen people sang hymns and joined hands to pray.
The park did not rest for them. The sounds of children playing and dogs yipping made for an accompanying choir. The small group has met this way for several years, huddled together every Sunday through the bitterness of winter and under the scorching summer sun.
They are what remain of Our Lady Queen of Angels parish, which closed in 2007 as part of a broad reorganization of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York that led to the closing of dozens of churches across the New York region. Although their church on 113th Street was boarded up, a hardy band of former parishioners continued to meet every Sunday. Weeks became months; months turned into years.
The Vatican announced this month that Pope Francis will visit the former parish’s school, which continues to operate around the corner and serves about 290 mostly poor immigrant children. The decision to include the school in the pope’s three-city itinerary in September, when he visits the United States for the first time, fits with Francis’ efforts to focus the church on the poor and marginalized. But it will also cast a spotlight on the challenges facing the Roman Catholic Church in New York and across the country.