Fujianese Parishoners Lose Church in Chinatown

St. Joseph’s Church (Photo by Joe Chen via The Lo-Down)

St. Joseph’s Church (Photo by Joe Chen via The Lo-Down)

Last December, Sing Tao Daily published a story on the somber mood at St. Joseph’s Church in Chinatown. After serving worshippers for 88 years, the church held its last Christmas Eve ceremony before it would go on to merge with the Church of the Transfiguration on Aug. 1, as part of reorganization efforts by the Archdiocese of New York. Some among the congregants – 90 percent of whom were Chinese – questioned whether the decision was discriminatory, especially considering the church has 2,000 members and hundreds of attendees at the Sunday Masses.

The Chinese congregants are encouraged to attend Mass at Transfiguration but just because the church, also in Chinatown, has Chinese parishioners doesn’t mean it will work for the congregants who attended St. Joseph’s, as Joe Chen points out to The Lo-Down’s Ed Litvak. Chen’s father-in-law, Rocco Wong, has been active in protesting the merger.

Chen acknowledged that their pastor, Father Lino Gonsalves, has encouraged Chinese parishioners to attend Mass at Transfiguration.

But Chen explained that it’s not an option many Fujianese take very seriously. Transfiguration is a stalwart in Chinatown, but heavily Cantonese. The cultures are very different. “Ninety-nine percent (of the Fujianese parishioners at St. Joseph’s) won’t go to Transfiguration,” Chen said. “We’re pretty mad about what they did behind our backs. It seems like they just saw St. Joseph’s as a financial asset.” Chen added that around 300-400 people regularly attended the Chinese-language masses at St. Joseph’s. During major holidays, that number rose to more than 1500.

In a letter to Cardinal Timothy Dolan on her concerns about the closure, City Council member Margaret Chin mentioned that Transfiguration only has space for 350 parishioners, making it smaller than St. Joseph’s. Go to The Lo-Down to read more from Chin, as well as a letter from a church leader and Dolan’s response.

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