Catholics from closed churches seek audience with Archbishop ahead of World Congress of Families

Luz Raquel Torres, left, Gilberto Gonzalez, and Gladys Colon hug at a rally organized by parishioners of the St. Joaquin and La Milagrosa churches outside the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's offices in Center City. They called on the Archdiocese to re-open the churches. Credit: Charles Mostoller
Luz Raquel Torres, left, Gilberto Gonzalez, and Gladys Colon hug at a rally organized by parishioners of the St. Joaquin and La Milagrosa churches outside the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s offices in Center City. They called on the Archdiocese to re-open the churches. Credit: Charles Mostoller

At 1903 Spring Garden, Philadelphia’s oldest Latino church, La Milagrosa, no longer has its holy artifacts, its Virgin, or its stained glass windows. The church has been bought by a developer currently seeking zoning variances to demolish and build seven housing units.

“If you ever see the eyes of these elderly people I represent, you will feel badly in your heart, because these people don’t even know how to fight,” said Miguel Ortiz, a longtime member of La Milagrosa, which opened in 1912 and closed last year.

Ortiz was among the Catholic protesters outside the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Thursday asking for Archbishop Charles Chaput to grant an audience to members of closed parishes.

The Archdiocese did not respond to requests for comment on the protests.

Catholics from La Milagrosa were joined by those from Mater Dolorosa and Saint Joachim’s churches in Frankford, which were merged with Holy Innocents Catholic Church in nearby Juniata.

“There’s not a Catholic church in Frankford for the first time in 168 years,” said organizer Pat Smiley. “We never had an opportunity or were asked if we wanted to merge.”

Joined by about 20 fellow protesters, Smiley and Ortiz both want Archbishop Chaput to help reopen their churches.

“We are here because in three days you are going to Rome with Gov. Corbett and Mayor Nutter,” Smiley addressed to Chaput through her megaphone. “How can we host the World Meeting of Families when the families of Philadelphia are not heard?”

Ortiz maintained that the former La Milagrosa Church, which technically was owned and sold by the Vincentian Fathers, should not have been allowed to close by the Archdiocese. There are no other Catholic churches that only give services in Spanish, he said, and most former parishioners now come to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter and Paul for celebrations.

“The last time the cathedral was full was for Our Lady of Guadalupe — the 12th of December,” Ortiz said. “They want to use the Spanish Catholics as a flag in the city of Philadelphia, and yet they don’t want to serve them.”

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