Back to Life

April 25, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, essayist Richard Rodriguez, editor of the Pacific News Service, has some thoughts about a reopening in San Francisco.

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: Something that was dead is coming back to life. This beautiful old church in San Francisco, All Hallows Church, locked and closed two years ago, is coming back to life.

1994 was a terrible year for Catholics in San Francisco. 1/5 of all parishes in the city were closed. At the time Church officials blamed the exodus of parishioners into the suburbs, or they blamed a declining number of priests, or they blamed the enormous cost of retrofitting old buildings like this one to meet new earthquake safety standards.

There is something mysterious and terrible about the loss of a church, a synagogue, a mosque. Here at All Hallows Catholic Church generations of San Franciscans were baptized, confessed their sins, took their First Communion, were married. Generations of live were buried from this Church.

Two years ago viewers of this program watched these scenes of the Mass everyone thought would be the last at All Hallows. It was like a funeral. Parishioners brought their cameras to memorialize the scene, and when the bagpipes sounded down the main aisle, for this was at its birth an Irish parish, the Filipinos, the Guatemalans, the African-Americans, the Samoan families wept at their great loss. Church officials acknowledge that whenever a church is closed, there follows a period of mourning much like after a death in the family. And, indeed, over the last two years, at the doors of churches that have been closed all over town people have left flowers and notes as they would a grave site. For two years parishioners and diocesan officials quarreled over fruitless petitions sent to the Vatican. For two years parishioners of All Hallows met and prayed for a miracle, that this lovely old church might open again.

This winter the new archbishop, William Levada, announced that several of the parishes closed, including All Hallows, would reopen. Fall, winter, spring, summer–for two years this building built in 1886 by Irish immigrants, this beautiful church sat idle and unheated. Winds destroyed the roof; walls wept whenever it rained. To reopen All Hallows would require months of restoration.

No explanation has been given as to why the new archbishop decided to reopen All Hallows. The official line is that All Hallows will serve as a Samoan parish. But who knows what will happen now that the doors have reopened? This working class neighborhood of San Francisco has its church back. The congregation, one of the most multi-racial in the city, is able to pray together again. What news is here I cannot easily say. We Americans complain that there is no good news ever in the morning paper or on the evening news. A number of our politicians and intellectuals tell us we are a nation in decline. Consider this good news–a story appropriate to the Easter season–the end of winter–something that was dead has come back to life. All Hallows has reopened.

I’m Richard Rodriguez.