To the editor,
Nearly 500 people recently attended the Feast of the Assumption mass at St. Mary’s. It was the first mass since the parish was closed in July by recently resigned Bishop Emeritus Robert Cunningham. It was presided over by Rev. John Canorro, the new pastor of the former St. Paul’s Church, now said to be part of a four-parish coalition and renamed “Christ the Good Shepherd.”
Father Canorro’s sermon was brief, and stressed the concept of community as being more important than the building in which mass is being said. His exhortation at the end of mass for all to come together as a community, and to set aside loyalty to a building received some tepid applause. I feel a response is in order to his use of the pulpit to exhort all parishioners to get in line with the diocesan decision.
Forgive me, father, but I have not sinned by holding the view that St. Mary’s is a sacred space that should be preserved. His argument was: where you worship is not as important as the coming together of the faithful, with a sense of community and purpose. Nice try, father, but that is simply wrong.
If buildings did not matter when it comes to spiritual expression, then churches would not have steeples. There would be no stained glass windows and all of the artistic and religious adornments of many churches would not be necessary. That is just not the case.
Architecture does matter. If it did not, then the bishop’s ordination could have taken place in the Oncenter, instead of the ornate gothic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. You needed a ticket to get in because the capacity was limited to 1,000 individuals. That would not have been the case in the War Memorial. So, spiritual and artistic adornment and architectural flair does matter. Gregorian chant and repetitive singing of a litany of the saints is much more meaningful in a cathedral than a bare auditorium.
One more thing: location matters, too. Not everyone has a car. Many elderly people are used to walking to church, some even use a walker in the process. Seventy percent of the church-going Catholics in Oswego live on the west side. There is no reason the new pastor could not say Saturday vigil mass at the east side church and Sunday mass at the west side church, or vice versa. The Roman Catholic Church has always placed great emphasis on ritual. The mass itself is a ritual. The expression of sacred music by a choir is a ritual. The dressing of the priest in long flowing garments is part of the ritual. The skullcap worn by a bishop, and the crimson garb is another part of a ritual.
There are many, many things that go into framing spirituality, which is the totality of the approach of the Roman Catholic Church. There is a difference between watching the dazzlingly brilliant hues of a major lake sunset, and the dismal ending of a dark and cloudy day. It is rather silly to argue that spires don’t matter and where we hold our rituals is of no concern.
St. Mary’s is a building, for sure. But it is also the penultimate expression of spirituality, which is woven into the fabric of many of our beings — an architectural and artistic treasure that was, at the time of its completion, considered to be the finest church of moderate size in the state.
I had the feeling that Father Canorro, when he celebrated mass at St. Mary’s on Aug. 15, perceived himself as having stepped into enemy territory. He has refused to allow a group seeking to preserve the church from using the church as a venue. The group had to have meetings and events at the Hibernians, the Elk’s lodge and the Roy C. McCrobie Civic Center, instead of Hopkins Hall. That is just not right. Instead of towing the company line and trying to convince his new Oswego parishioners that buildings don’t matter, I for one would argue that his time would be better spent serving the pastoral needs of his flock on both sides of the river, in a two-church, east-west side configuration.
Getting the Diocese of Syracuse to reconsider and recalibrate its plan for Oswego’s Catholics is no easy task, but it is a cause worth fighting for. Sheep-like acquiescence in the face of ecclesiastical misjudgment is not in our DNA. Oswegonians are made of sterner stuff.
It would be a breath of fresh air if the newly installed bishop, the Most Reverend Douglas Lucia, had the courage and foresight to engage in an open-minded review of the decision made by his predecessor. That, however, remains to be seen.