MALAGA, N.J. (CBS) – St. Mary’s of Malaga looks like it’s ready for Sunday Mass. But the few people here have been waiting for months.
“I haven’t been to church since they closed the doors,” lamented Nancy Pantaleo.
The Roman Catholic church has been closed since November, when the Diocese of Camden announced its merger with two nearby parishes because of rising debt and declining attendance, one of 33 parish mergers in the Diocese.
“It’s been a process and we’ve tried to involve the people as much as possible in it,” said Bishop Joseph Galante.
But this church was different. In January, a group of about 20 parishioners started a round-the-clock vigil, refusing to leave.
“We might get back in here,” said Pantaleo.
The group has taken over all of the upkeep of the building. They pay the electric bills and maintain the grounds, all in hopes of one day reopening.
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“There’s really not a lot of maintenance to this building,” said Leah Vassallo, one of the members of the “Save St. Mary’s” organization. Vassallo is part of a weekly schedule of parishioners who live at the church.
Now they see a new chance. A new pastor, Father Allain Caparas, will take over the merged parish this month, and they hope he is willing to reopen the church, insisting the interest has always been there.
“They’ve yet to say what enough attendance is,” said Vassallo. “If we had 500 people, I suspect 500 people wouldn’t have been enough attendance.”
The diocese however says the merger is final and they will not revisit the decision.
“From the beginning, they were not interested in going along with this,” said Bishop Galante, describing the consolidation process each parish went through during the mergers.
The 89-year-old church has become more than a house of worship. It is a home for the people who refuse to see it close.
Reported by Oren Liebermann, CBS 3