MALAGA, NJ (AP) — Parishioners at a Roman Catholic church in South Jersey targeted for consolidation have begun a sit-in at the church, vowing to remain until the Diocese of Camden reverses its decision.

The doors had been shut for almost two months at St. Mary’s in Malaga (Gloucester County), NJ after the building’s heater broke down.  But when parishoners including Leah Vassallo found an unlocked door on Monday, they began their sit-in.

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She calls it a vigil, with a dozen or more people in there at any one time.

“It’s approximately an $8,700 replacement cost, and one of the parishoners in our parish offered to pay for it.  And they (diocese officials) declined and said no, instead we’re shutting down the church,” Vassallo told KYW Newsradio on Tuesday.

Officials in the diocese are planning to merge it with two other parishes as part of a larger consolidation effort.

Peter Feuerherd, spokesman for the Diocese of Camden, says the closure is also due to a $250,000 debt there, plus low attendance at Mass.

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Besides, he says, “the people of St. Mary’s in Malaga have not been left as spiritual orphans by the diocese. They are part of a new parish.”

And, he adds, they are welcome to worship at St. Rose of Lima in Newfield.

For now, police in Franklin Township have been made aware of the protest but there were no immediate plans to do anything about it.

Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio 1060.


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