Guadalupe Stays Street

The Other Catholics

“Independent Catholics do things like this all the time. They step in when ordinary Catholics of whatever stripe need something and the big churches can’t or won’t provide.”—Julie Byrne

The following post is by Julie Byrne, author of The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion. Originally written just before Christmas, Byrne’s essay explores how independent Catholic clergy fill a niche when Roman Catholic official policies leave people on the sidelines:

It’s the night before Christmas Eve, but I’m a bit of a goddess girl, so the Virgin of Guadalupe remains an all-Christmas, all-year saint for me. I pay attention to her appearances around the city.

This year, as for the past few years, the parish of All Saints gathered with Queens community members for a midnight celebration of Guadalupe’s feast day in the streets of Long Island City.

All Saints and its pastor Father Mike Lopez are independent Catholics, part of the United American Catholic Church. Most of the Long Island City participants were Roman Catholic. So why weren’t they attending their own parish celebration? Good question. A few years ago, the local Roman parish declined to continue the traditional late-night street fiesta. The Guadalupe confraternity called Father Mike. “We have to keep it going,” confraternity members said. She’s the people’s saint.” Father Mike told them that he was independent. It didn’t matter to them. They just wanted a priest.

Independent Catholics do things like this all the time. They step in when ordinary Catholics of whatever stripe need something and the big churches can’t or won’t provide, from a wedding to a baptism to a popular (perhaps worrisomely unregulated) sacred block party. I don’t question the big churches’ reasons. But factually speaking, nature abhors a vacuum, and so does religion. Where there is Catholic lack, independent Catholics often fill it.

Father Mike himself lived this dynamic. I had the chance to hang out with him a few weekends ago in East New York. He grew up locally and always loved both the streets and the church. Eventually a Vincentian brother on track to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest, Mike fell in love and left the seminary to marry and have kids. After some fortuitous encounters, he realized he could be a Catholic priest and be married, since many independent churches allow clerical marriage. Keeping his day job in New York City law enforcement, Father Mike founded All Saints a few years ago.

Like most independent parishes, All Saints rents space for mass — and turns it into an ecumenical opportunity. They need the worship space. Ridgewood Presbyterian in Queens welcomes the vitality. Now the younger Latin@-and-everybody All Saints often joins with the older mostly-white Presbyterians for community events.

All Saints is at 5914 70th Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens, New York City.

Father Mike says everyone is welcome. All Saints can handle all the worrisomely unregulated situations just fine.

Que Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!

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