Dear Bishop Kmiec,
One hundred and forty years ago, my grandparents arrived from Poland, and immediately became parishioners of St. Adalbert’s Church. This church provided them with the security and comfort they needed in adjusting to their new homeland. Illiterate and poor, with a large family to support, they sacrificed to give to the church. They were no different from other parishioners at the time. The church took priority over the basic needs of their own family and children. If alive today, they would be shocked and unbelieving that, despite the wishes of current parishioners, the church hierarchy, represented in this instance by you, Bishop Kmiec, is determined to close St. Adalbert’s Basilica.
The church edifice was built by the people, by its parishioners. Many felt it belonged to them since it was their sweat and their talents and their money that built it. The Catholic hierarchy did not agree; it was the issue of ownership of the church property, not religious differences that historically resulted in the creation of the Polish National Church.
Yes, I have heard all the excuses for closing churches, shortage of priests, shrinking Catholic population, changing neighborhoods, shortage of money, etc. None of these are valid reasons for closing this basilica, or any of the beautiful, ethnic and historic churches in the area. Change is normal. The issue is not to react by consolidating or closing churches or converting them to oratories, but to evaluate what can be done to find solutions. All the above have answers if one takes the time and has the courage to act on these.
A church binds the community. It is the heart and center of the life of that community. When it is closed, or destroyed, as has happened in too many cases to date, it impacts upon the viability of the neighborhood. It also discourages Catholics from continuing their membership in and attendance at a Catholic Church. Why? Numerous reasons among them, difficulty in getting to another church, a feeling that their church has let them down, recognition that if the church hierarchy is not committed to serving them, the Catholic religion cannot be that important, even anger.