By George Goss
Sadly, the West Village is not part of Pope Francis’ whirlwind Manhattan visit later this month. There’s always the option, however, for him to take a spontaneous detour and skip out on Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Madison Square Garden, the United Nations, and Ground Zero.
Not that I’m accusing him of being a tourist. The Pope’s speech at the United Nations on September 25th is surely meant to be an unequivocal call for peace, echoed by his interfaith meeting at Ground Zero later in the day. It’s just that there are worthwhile sights to see and people to meet here in New York City’s best ‘hood.
For starters, the West Village is home to five Catholic churches, and–a bit further down on Bleecker–there’s the soon-to-be-opened Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center for Art and Culture. Thankfully, the Archdiocese of New York’s latest round of church closures known as “Making All Things New” affects none of them.
The last West Village church building to close was Our Lady of Guadalupe. The building was too small to accommodate the large number of parishioners–many from Mexico–so in 2003 it merged with a nearby parish to become Our Lady of Guadalupe at Saint Bernard’s. In 2006, the Archdiocese also changed the status of Saint Veronica’s to be a chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Saint Bernard’s.
Our neighborhood churches are safe from closure (and development) for now, but the Archdiocese has sobering statistics: 12% of New York Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass. There is hope among Catholics that Pope Francis’ visit will be a game-changer and inspire people to greater participation in the Church.
Anyways, back to my sales pitch for the West Village. Saint Veronica’s on Christopher Street includes an AIDS memorial for those who’ve died. Row upon row of names line the railing of the balcony. They serve as a silent reminder of the ghastly cost of an epidemic that obliterated the crème de la crème of New York’s (and America’s) artists and creative visionaries.
In case the Pope needs a break from the Anglophones, he can enjoy a late afternoon Mass in Spanish at Our Lady of Guadalupe at Saint Bernard’s on West Fourteenth. If he heads east (and two blocks north), he’ll hit Saint Francis Xavier, where he’ll find his fellow Jesuits. Head south on Sixth Avenue, and he can spend time with the Dominican Friars at the University Parish of Saint Joseph in Greenwich Village. Its parishioners (myself included) would be overjoyed by a papal cameo on Saturday at the soup kitchen, which feeds hundreds. A few blocks south, and he’ll feel like he’s back in Italy at Our Lady of Pompeii.
For more on Pope Francis’ actual itinerary, check out “Pope Francis Comes to America: Thoughts on the Papal Visit” at the Fulton Sheen Center on September 16th at 6:00 p.m. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is hosting this conversation with Father Jim Martin, S.J. and Father Matt Malonne, S.J. Free tickets are available at www.sheencenter.org.
George Goss (George.firstname.lastname@example.org) is a parishioner at Saint Joseph’s in Greenwich Village. A West Villager since 2007, he currently works as a media assistant for the Dominican Friars.