Anticipated closures and mergers of Catholic churches affect more than just millions of Catholics

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EAST HARLEM (PIX11)-- Dozens of Catholic churches, serving thousands of people in New York City and its suburbs, will close, or be merged with other parishes. That was the word Thursday from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the New York archdiocese. Once the news was known, however, it became apparent that the changes will have a significant impact even beyond the 2.8 million Catholics who make up the archdiocese.

One of them is Myrna Santiago, a parishioner at the Church of the Holy Rosary, on East 119th Street. "I don't want them to close it!" she said passionately in front of her church, regarding information she and its 200 other parishioners have been told by clergymen for a few months now, that their church is slated to merge with another parish four blocks away. "God is on our side," Santiago said.

Still, hers is one of at least 50 parishes in the New York archdiocese that are anticipated to be on an official list of churches that will close, or merge with other parishes. After such moves, the church structures will be re-purposed or put up for sale, a fact that leaves churchgoers like Santiago sad.

"I was born and raised here," she said about Holy Rosary Church. "Baptized here. Confirmed here."

The closure and merger decision is the result of years of analysis by Archbishop Dolan and a council of   and laypeople. They concluded there are not enough priests, parishioners or dollars to keep all 368 parishes in the archdiocese open. The New York archdiocese is composed of Staten Island, Manhattan, and the Bronx, in New York City, as well as the suburban counties of Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, Sullivan and Ulster.

Cardinal Dolan wrote about the coming changes in a column published Thursday in the church newspaper Catholic New York. In the article, Dolan admits the closures may feel like "something has died."

That was certainly the case at another East Harlem parish named, ironically, the Church of the Holy Agony. It's also expected to be on the closure list, even though its popular thrift store makes money to help its community, and takes money from shoppers like Amuda Yusif. He is not Catholic. He told PIX11 News, which encountered him while he was picking out and buying a gently used sweatshirt, that he's Muslim. But he added that the loss of parishes like Holy Agony affects a whole community, including people like him.

"When we buy," said Yusif, "they use it to build the church, like a salvation, to help others who are poor. It's good."

The official list of closing or merging parishes will be issued by the archdiocese "in the next few days," according to its spokesperson, Joseph Zwelling.

This planned downsizing in the number of parishes is the largest in the history of the archdiocese. The second largest was in 2007, which was met with a series of protests at some of the parishes, which tried to get then-archbishop Edward Egan to reconsider. There are apparently protests planned for next week's announcement.

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