A pall of silence covered the neighborhood in expectation of what would occur that day. The sharp caws of the crows were not heard nor were the shrill of the may birds announcing the start of a new day. The familiar sound of the bell which, for decades, called the faithful to mass did not toll.
It was Sunday morning. They should have been here. Painfully, I remembered waiting, watching the clock tick by the hours until the designated time the feeling of separation began.
Shortly before l p.m., my doors opened, the air conditioner was turned on for it was a blistery hot day and coolness would be needed to salve emotions. My people began to filter in. Many came with cameras in hand to photograph for remembrance and to pass on to future generation the beauty of my interior.
As photos were taken of my stained glass windows of St. Rocco, Our Mother of the Rosary and the Mother of Sorrow, they were remembering the times statues were carried on the shoulders of their grandfathers, fathers or themselves in procession. What beautiful memories of customs that derived from their mother land and continued here.
As my pews began to fill, the customary rite of reciting the prayers of the rosary were heard. The tears felt in their hearts reflected on their faces and in the muffled cries in their voices. I, too, cried. For them and for me.
The Oblates of St. Joseph’s priests came to honor me and to reflect on the years spent in service to my people. They processed to the altar with the singing of “We are the Light of the World.” As the choir and congregation sang in unison, the words in the hymn reflected the mood of the people. “Blessed are they who will mourn in sorrow, They will be comforted. Bless us O Lord whe we share their sorrow, Bless us O Lord our God.”
As mass progressed, I looked upon the faces of those who had come to share in this painful event. I saw those who were held in their mother’s arms during baptism and whom I watched as they were nurtured and grew through the stages of their lives receiving the sacraments of the church. As the cycle of the life continued, they came holding their infant children and I had the grace to watch them grow.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of witnessing the baptism of a fifth generation child whose great, great grandfather was one of the founding fathers who helped to manually build my strong foundation and structure.
The choir is exceptionally strong as their voices blend in the beautiful Italian hymn, “O Dolce Nome” while congregation members process to the altar to receive Holy Communion. Their faces wear a solemn look of pain, tears are openly falling and I cry because I cannot comfort them or give them promise. It was here in the shelter of my loving edifice they found comfort in seeking Our Lord. I wanted to reassure them that I would be here and then remembered they could no longer come.
Do they understand that I have loved them as they love me? They have been good and kind to me. Never faltering when I needed to be repaired or updated. They cared for my needs as I cared for them when their hearts were filled with pain at the funeral of a loved one, when they were joyous at the baptism of a child or at a wedding when two were joined as one. When trouble seemed overbearing, they prayed for guidance in me, the House of the Lord.
Mass has ended. Father Joseph invites all to come to kiss the altar where, for 92 years, the holy sacrifice of Jesus’ passion was commemorated. Quietly, reverently and tearfully, they say their goodbye and begin to leave me. Pew after pew, they came with heavy hearts. I called them by name and whispered thank you for the prayers and pleadings to save me.
The Blessed Sacrament has been removed from the tabernacle where I have been sheltered and loved all the days of my existence. It is in the hands of Father Joseph who, too, is heavy hearted and tearful. He will carry it to a new home. What will become of me?
All have left. The doors are closed and locked and I scream inwardly. Do not leave me! Do they hear me? I plead do not forget me! Remember I was your church. You called me St. Rocco’s Church.
A beautiful bouquet of flowers is placed at the foot of my doors. A final act of kindness and love. I watch as they descend the steps and disperse.
Then there was silence.