DENVER – Members of a small Denver Catholic church built by Hispanic families are fighting to reopen their parish over a year after it was closed by the archbishop.
A group of about 50 people gathered outside the locked Our Lady of Visitation Church for a Christmas Eve vigil as a way to keep their community alive and draw attention to their fight with the church hierarchy.
Holding candles on a street, they re-enacted Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem, a tradition known as Las Posadas.
Men moved a wooden door in a frame along the residential street as a young man and woman dressed as Mary and Joseph repeatedly knocked on it and were rejected until they found someone willing to take them in.
They were followed by two men playing guitars and parishioners, who were holding candles, as they sang Christmas carols in Spanish.
Sirens and train horns sounded in the distance in the unincorporated area just north of Denver where the families of many church members settled a century ago after moving from rural areas of Colorado and New Mexico to find work.
The settlers first gathered at an adobe morada, or prayer house, before starting to hold Mass in two donated street cars. Later, parishioners built a one-story cinderblock church, which they later expanded, and a gazebo where they hosted yearly festivals with homemade food to raise money to cover church expenses.
Archbishop Samuel Aquila ordered that the last Mass be held there in April 2017. The archdiocese later offered to hold monthly masses at the church but that offer was rejected.
Church members appealed to the Vatican and, in September, the Congregation of the Clergy upheld Aquila’s decision to merge the church with a larger parish, Holy Trinity. However, it said there must be at least two Masses held at Our Lady of Visitation each year.
Under the ruling, one must be held on the anniversary of its dedication, which members say is Christmas Eve, and one on its feast day in May. The parishioners say the archdiocese is not following the order and they have appealed.
The archdiocese says it will comply, but it was unable to arrange for a Mass in time for Christmas Eve because the church relies on one of two priests from Holy Trinity to say Mass. Parish members have also previously brought in retired priests to officiate at the Mass.
The dedication date of the church also still needs to be confirmed, archdiocese spokesman Mark Haas said.
Haas said the archdiocese understands that the church has deep roots, but he downplayed the importance of going to a particular building to worship.
“The Catholic faith is one church throughout the world,” he said.
As people shared hot chocolate and bizcochitos near a heat lamp after the Christmas Eve vigil, Joann Valdez of Westminster said members of larger churches she has attended are friendly but the culture is different.
Former church treasurer Fred Torres of Berthoud compared members of Our Lady of Visitation Church to the Israelites wandering the desert.
“It hurts to see this building sit empty,” he said. “Generations of people devoted their time, their labor and their experience to build this church.”