September 25, 2015 / 4:05 PM / 3 years ago

Pope's visit to New York school sparks hope for shuttered parish

NEW YORK, Sept 25 (Reuters) - A Harlem parochial school serving mostly Latino and black children that Pope Francis holds up as an example of the future of the Catholic church bears scars of the past, and members of its shuttered parish on Friday hung banners urging him to unlock the church’s doors.

When the Argentine pontiff visits the school in New York on Friday on his U.S. tour he may encounter some of the parishioners who hold their own prayer services every Sunday on the sidewalk outside the church.

More than eight years after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York closed Our Lady Queen of Angels church, parishioners said they drew hope from the pope’s visit.

“Welcome Pope Francis. Parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Angels continue on the side walk. Please open our church,” read bright colored banners in Spanish and English, which the group hung from fire escapes on buildings across from the school in East Harlem.

The Archdiocese of New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The church’s shutdown in 2007 reflects a national trend of parish closures in the United States caused by low attendance, a shortage of priests and financial troubles in the wake of a scandal of clergy sexual abuse of churchgoers.

Our Lady Queen of Angels school reflects Francis’ mission of serving immigrants and the poor.

Carrying posters with the same message as the 8-foot-long banners, Patty Rodriguez, who for years has run the pavement prayer sessions regardless of the weather, strategized with fellow parishioners on ways to catch the pope’s eye.

His selection of the school as a stop on his six-day visit to the United States has convinced them they have already captured his heart, Rodriguez said.

“We feel the Archdiocese of New York has been very brash with us, where this pope carries kindness and tenderness,” said Rodriguez, 51, who works in publishing and was among six women arrested in 2007 for occupying the church in an attempt to stop its closure.

“Because he is so unpredictable and because he’s for the people, there is even greater hope,” Rodriguez said.

After years of attending the sidewalk services, Eduardo Padro, 62, a New York state court judge, headed with his family to join Rodriguez on the street corner for a glimpse of the pope, saying the pontiff’s actions speak louder than words.

“Somebody in his world was sensitized to this hurt that happened here in East Harlem, and that brought him here,” said Padro.

“Other actions of his have forced people to reconsider what they’ve done,” he said. “We can hope there will be a ripple effect.”

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Grant McCool

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