The following photos were made at the Brooklyn parish Saint Thomas Aquinas during Lent, the forty day period in the Christian calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes with Easter. For the Catholics who observe Lent, it is a time of reflection in which to mirror Christ's withdrawal into the desert for forty days.
The 2008 holy season came to a close just weeks before Pope Benedict XVI's Pastoral Visit to New York, when many Catholics in the States looked for some acknowledgment from the Pope that the church is facing difficulties as parishes and their schools are being closed and consolidated. A national Coalition for Parishes has been formed to work toward the prevention of these mergers and closings, and the Vatican will receive more appeals as the faithful across the country fight to keep their churches intact.
Recently St. Thomas Aquinas, whose first Mass was celebrated in 1884, and Holy Family, became one parish due to the shortage of priests and demographic changes in the Park Slope neighborhood. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who issued the decree, states that changes in the spiritual practices among the faithful and the number of available clergy and men and women in consecrated life influenced the decision to merge the parishes.
Over the last year, 27 parishes in Brooklyn and Queens were merged into 13 by canonical decree. During preparations for the Pope's arrival, the bishop of Camden, N.J., announced plans to close or merge almost half the parishes in his diocese.
Ed Wilkinson of The tablet, a newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, reports that the number of active priests in the diocese has fallen at an annual average of 16% since 1993. Today, 80% of the sisters, brothers and priests of religious orders are over 60 years of age, and approximately 18 priests die each year. Over the last 15 years there has been a 42% decrease in the number of diocesan priests, bringing the number of priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn to fewer than 300. The Diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning estimates that in 10 years, the number of priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn will fall to 200, allowing for only one priest for each parish as they are configured today.