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Decommissioning Churches while continuing to serve communities

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A 2-day international conference on Decommissioning places of worship and integrated management of ecclesiastical cultural heritage is organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture in collaboration with the Gregorian University, which is hosting the event from 29 to 30 November.

By Linda Bordoni

Over the last several decades hundreds of Catholic parishes have closed due to a combination of reasons: a shortage of priests to serve them, too few parishioners to sustain them, insufficient finances to support them.

But the fact that a church is no longer a church and whether it has simply been abandoned or sold for another use is an issue that is close to the heart of the Church and its people.  

That’s why the Pontifical Council for Culture is spearheading the international conference dedicated to “Decommissioning places of worship and integrated management of ecclesiastical cultural heritage.”

Day one is dedicated to the serious and urgent matter of the decommissioning of churches and their new use. On the second day, attention will focus on management and promotion of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage as a diocesan pastoral activity.

Bishop Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, spoke to Linda Bordoni about it:

Listen to the interview with Bishop Paul Tighe

Bishop Tighe explained that the conference looks at a situation that is increasingly urgent especially in Europe and in North America “where there are many church buildings that are no longer meeting the direct needs of communities”.

He specifies however, that in every part of the world the situation is different.

“In some parts of the world, churches were built in inner cities which are no longer populated” he said while in others the number of people who are going to church has decreased exponentially.

It is a sensitive issue, that requires “a coming together of people to talk about it and discuss the general principles and what decisions can be applied locally” he said.

So, Tighe, continued, this event “is bringing people from different countries who have engaged in this issue, offering them a chance to share their ideas and best practices, trying to articulate some general principles that could apply across the situations and trying to re-imagine future uses of churches”.

Re-imagining future uses of churches

It is necessary, Bishop Tighe said, to try to think for example, of redefining a church that is too large for contemporary use so that part of it can be used for religious functions and other parts of it for different community purposes.

One of the things, he added, that is guiding this initiative, is remembering that churches that were built for religious purposes were also built to facilitate the community.

“So if you are thinking of future uses of churches, not to just think of commercial uses, but to look at the kind of uses that are compatible with that desire of being of service to communities. So cultural uses like museums, art galleries, theatres… uses that still allow the communities to benefit from them” he said.

Other uses that are being explored Tighe said, are spaces for dialogue and debate and ‘building community’ even among people who are not necessarily believers.

Safeguarding the ideals that led to the building of a church

One of the things is to look at, Tighe said, regards what instruments can be used to make sure that a church that is being sold can continue to serve the community; perhaps some sort of restrictive covenant: something that means that for future use, certain uses are excluded.

“Obviously that probably limits the commercial value of the church you are disposing of, but ensures that sense of a commitment to a community and to the ideals that led to the building of the church in the first place” he said.

In a wider perspective, he pointed out that this is not just a question for the church, but it also engages city life and the possibility of making good use of buildings that can continue to offer a benefit to citizens.

Tighe mentioned successful decommissioning stories that have led to former churches being used as libraries, art galleries, concert venues, as opposed to some incongruous situations, “less acceptable situations  in which you may find yourself in a public house having a drink and there are elements of Christian symbolism that are still there”.

Ecumenical approach

Finally, he spoke of the need for an ecumenical approach to the issue as this is not a problem that is unique to Catholicism.

“Other Christian churches, he said, are also looking at this issue, and after this I imagine there will be a need for an ecumenical approach: that we think together about how we come up with practices that best serve our communities”.

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CATHOLIC WORLD

Killing of Christians: Buhari lied to Trump – CAN fumes

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Killing of Christians: Buhari lied to Trump - CAN fumes

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has reacted to President Muhammadu Buhari’s revelation of his conversation with United States President, Donald Trump, on the massacre of Christians in Nigeria, saying President Buhari was economical with the truth.

President Buhari had on Tuesday, revealed that at the heat of the bloody clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria, the United States President, Donald Trump, unequivocally accused him of killing Christians.

Buhari said these in his closing remarks at the two-day ministerial performance review retreat held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Tuesday.

At a point, the President digressed from his prepared speech and narrated his encounter with Trump on the bloody clashes.

He said he managed to explain to the American leader that the clashes were not about ethnicity or religion.

He said, “I believe I was about the only African among the less developed countries the President of United States invited.

“When I was in his office, only myself and himself, only God is my witness, he looked at me in the face, and asked, ‘Why are you killing Christians?’

“I wonder, if you were the person, how you will react. I hope what I was feeling inside did not betray my emotion, so I told him that the problem between the cattle rearers and farmers, I know is older than me not to talk of him. I think I am a couple of years older than him.

“With climate change and population growth and the culture of the cattle rearers, if you have 50 cows and they eat grass, any root, to your water point, then they will follow it. It doesn’t matter whose farm it is.

“The First Republic set of leadership was the most responsible leadership we ever had. I asked the Minister of Agriculture to get a gazette of the early 60s which delineated the cattle route where they used meager resources then to put earth dams, wind mills even sanitary department.

“So, any cattle rearers that allowed his cattle to go to somebody’s farm would be arrested, taken before the court. The farmer would be called to submit his bill and if he couldn’t pay, the cattle would be sold, but subsequent leaders, the VVIPs (very important persons) encroached on the cattle routes. They took over the cattle rearing areas.

“So, I tried and explained to him (Trump) that this has got nothing to do with ethnicity or religion. It is a cultural thing.”

However, CAN’s Vice President and Chairman of the association in Kaduna State, John Hayab, was not impressed with Buhari’s submission, saying “Buhari and his government will never stop from amusing us with their tales by moonlight because what is happening in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Birnin Gwari, Southern Kaduna, Taraba, Plateau and others cannot be described as a cultural thing.

He told Punch correspondent in an interview: “President Buhari’s weak story about his conversation with President Donald Trump further confirms why his government does not care about the killings in our country by calling them cultural things.

“Just this (Tuesday) evening, I received a report from the Kaduna Baptist Conference President about the number of their members that have been killed by bandits in Kaduna State from January 2020 to date to be 105 and our President will call it a cultural thing? All we can say is may God save our Nigeria.”

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CATHOLIC WORLD

Nuncio tasks clergy, laity on good stewardship

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Nuncio tasks clergy, laity on good stewardship

The Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, has urged the clergy, religious and lay faithful to be trustworthy, transparent, selfless and generous stewards in the discharge of their duties in the Church, following the way of Jesus.

Archbishop Filipazzi made the call during the opening ceremony of the maiden General Assembly of the Abuja Archdiocese, which was held on at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, Friday September 4.

The General Assembly, with the theme “Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja: Together in Evangelization,” saw Bishops, priests, religious men and women, and the laity gathered together to discuss means of strengthening the faith of God’s people amid the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis.

Addressing participants, Archbishop Filipazzi said that “an administrator is neither a master nor a slave who cannot decide anything, but one who is given a responsibility by the Master.” In this light, the faithful are called to be “true administrators of divine mystery” entrusted to them by Our Lord, according to their varying roles in the Church.

The Apostolic Nuncio also said “differences must not lead to division,” as everyone, though different, must strive for unity since there is no room for divisions in the body of Christ.

Archbishop Filipazzi, speaking on the upsurge in violence in northern Nigeria in a Vatican News interview on 29 August, had also called for shunning divisions along religious and ethnic lines.

Rather, he appealed for “general respect of the law and general intervention of the government” in the violent attacks which have claimed many lives and caused massive material damage.

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Assumpta CMO raises fund to roof “St Joseph’s Hall of Faith”

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Assumpta CMO raises fund to roof “St. Joseph's Hall of Faith”

The Catholic Men Organization, CMO, Maria Assumpta Cathedral Parish Owerri, joined their counterparts in the Archdiocese to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday, August 30.

The celebration earlier scheduled for May 10 this year was differed because of Covid-19 pandemic.

The occasion began with a Pontifical Mass presided over by His Grace, Most Rev. Anthony Obinna, Archbishop of Owerri cum Parish Priest of the Cathedral Parish.

In his homily, Archbishop Obinna called on Christians to live a life of witnessing to Christ at all times. He said that the zeal to preach the word of God is like a fire that burns inside the heart of a Christian and will not abate until one bears witness to Christ. This, he said, must be done in the course of our daily lives, in our places of work, in our families, among our friends, through living life that is Christ-like.

He congratulated the Christian fathers on the occasion and appealed for support to enable them complete their building project in no distant time. His Grace also appreciated the performance of the CMO choir during the Mass.

The theme for the parish celebration is: “Catholic Men As Spiritual Heads of the Domestic Church: Implications in the Family.”

The parish CMO used the celebration to raise fund for the roofing of their building project named: “St. Joseph’s Hall of Faith.”

In his brief remark at the occasion, the Parish CMO President, Arc. Anthony Emeka Ozoude said, “We have been able to complete the block work,” adding that, “the task before us now is to put a roof on the building.”

He therefore made a passionate appeal for generous donations from members and well wishers, assuring donors that every kobo donated will be prudently applied for the purpose.

Arc. Ozoude recalled that early this year, the parish CMO executive identified a three-prong programme of focus, namely: Membership revalidation, Debt recovery and Fund raising for the roofing.

He advised members not to sit on the fence anymore as there is so much to gain spiritually, morally and even intellectually from participating in the CMO activities both at the parish, stations and prayer groups levels.

“The committed members who attend our programmes regularly have discovered this and have remained resolute in their participation,” he said.

Activities marking this year’s celebration included Retreat, visit to ailing members in their homes, thanksgiving Mass blessing of the mini altars for the 5 prayer groups of CMO etc.

Arc. Ozoude thanked in a special way, Archbishop Obinna, the Cathedral Administrator and priests working in the Cathedral for their support. He also commended the various stations and prayer groups for their cooperation.

The CMO president acknowledged the good work and sacrifice of the Planning Committee, headed by Dr. Uche Ukozor and thanked them for a job well done.

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