If I were mayor I would write a letter to Archbishop Alfred Hughes and tell him something like this:
"Your Eminence, this is not about separation of church and state; this is about rebuilding the city. Please keep churches open. There are some, I know, that have lost their parishioners, but there are others where there are people really fired up about keeping their church open. Listen to them, please. Churches are important parts of neighborhoods.
"I’ll leave the spiritual matters to you, Archbishop, but I am telling you that in order to maintain spirit in the city we need things that are endearing to the people to stay open. We all understand that things are not what they used to be, but if people are willing to work to maintain their church, why not give them a chance?
"I know you’re worried that if you change your mind about some churches than what about the others that have already closed, but not all the churches are equal. It is like our neighborhoods, some have more people who are able to rebuild than others. Don’t close some parishes because you have had to close others."
If I were mayor I would also send similar letters to rabbis, ministers, even non-believers if there’s a place where they meet.
"P.S.," I would add to my letter, "I know other cities are having to close churches too. This is not unique to New Orleans. What is unique, though, is that no other city has faced a disaster like New Orleans has. No other city needs to give its people reasons to come back as New Orleans does."
I attended the closing hour of a recent dance held at St. Henry church. The event was a recreation of an old CYO dance. In the churchyard the talk was of the impending closing. "Look at this crowd," someone told me. "Does this look like a dying parish?" There was talk of appeals to Canon Law but that would mean having to deal with Rome and there’s not time, nor much confidence, for that. In an institutional structure that is an absolute monarchy, there is nothing else to do but to appeal to the good will of the men who have the power to make the decisions.
"Y’all religious people," I would write if I were mayor, "you can help this city rebuild not by closing things but by keeping them open. Where there is a spark of enthusiasm, man, give it a chance to burn!"
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