By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Three West Philadelphia churches face an uncertain future after the announcement at mass Sunday morning that they’ll be merged into three larger parishes. The mergers are part of an ongoing restructuring aimed at making the remaining parishes more sustainable.

St. Callistus on Landsdowne Avenue will merge with the growing Our Lady of Lourdes. Our Mother of Sorrows will merge into St. Ignatius of Loyola, with which it has already been twinned for more than ten years, and Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament — which was formed from two parishes that merged eight years ago — will join St. Cyprian, a mile away on Cobbs Creek Parkway.

Spokesman Ken Gavin says the Archdiocese knows the news upset many parishioners.

“We understand very much that identity for Catholics in the Philadelphia region are very closely tied to the parish at which they worship,” he says.

Gavin says a strategic planning committee started looking at all parishes two years ago. He says a number of factors go into the merger decisions.

“Demographic shifts in Catholic population,” he says, “concentrated density of parishes in limited geographic area, declining mass attendance and sacramental activity and economic challenges that threaten sustainability, as well as decreasing availability of clergy to staff them.”

The three buildings remain open for at least a year, to be used for weddings, funerals or other special masses.

About a dozen mergers were announced in 2012 and more are likely to follow.

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