NJ parishioners stage sit-in at their own church

January 4, 2011 3:43:02 PM PST
Parishioners of a small church in Malaga, New Jersey say they love their house of worship and they don't want to lose it and so they're conducting a protest.

It's a church without Christmas decorations, instead wilted fall flowers speak to the last time Mass was celebrated at St. Mary's Malaga.

The Diocese of Camden closed the church in November, but a few days ago, parishioners of the tiny Roman Catholic church say they found an unlocked door. Now, they've commenced an around the clock prayer vigil.

The aim of the faithful, they say, is to send a message and not just to the Diocese of Camden.

"We don't want our churches to be closed, not just here, but all over the country," parishioner Venerande Ramos said.

The Camden Diocese slated St. Mary's to merge with two other area parishes citing just 200 parishioners and a $250,000 debt.

The church's furnace breaking down in the fall prompted the building's closure, but members of St. Mary's, who've protested the merger for a couple of years, say they refuse to give up their church which was founded in 1922 by Italian immigrants.

"It's for those people and the current parishioners that I feel this is necessary, I feel it's the parishioners' church and that is why I'm assisting," parishioner Kevin Kelton said.

The battle facing the small congregation may be an uphill one, but the members say they will take turns continuing their sit-in 24/7.

The Franklin Township Police have been alerted that there are people keeping a vigil inside the church and the dioceses says it's not moving to ask them to leave