Buffalo Catholics Pioneer ‘Mass Mobs’ to Help Save City Parishes
The Buffalo Mass Mob is trying to raise awareness about the city’s beautiful churches in an effort to save them from closing.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo, N.Y.-area Catholics have created a new twist on the “flash mob” social-media phenomenon: a “Mass mob” inspiring hundreds to attend a Mass at older parishes to spread “awareness and appreciation” of the communities.
The Buffalo Mass Mob helps participants “support and experience some of Buffalo’s wonderful churches in need of a boost,” the project said on its website. The churches are selected through an online vote, and the event is then publicized through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Buffalo resident Christopher Byrd, 46, has organized two Mass mobs: a November event at St. Adalbert Basilica and a Jan. 12 event at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“I call these churches faith enhancers. You can’t help but walk in and feel closer to a higher power,” he told The Associated Press.
A flash mob is an event of people who gather in a particular location via social-media organization. Some flash mobs involve groups that give a seemingly spontaneous musical performance for onlookers. Others have been used to create sudden mischief and mayhem.
But Buffalo’s “Mass mob” seeks to use the practice to highlight “historic and heritage” parishes in the city.
The Jan. 12 Mass mob at Our Lady of Perpetual Help drew about 300 people to the old church, where about 50 usually attend.
Father Donald Lutz, the parish’s pastor, said the Mass mob was “wonderful.”
“It just shows that we are not just one parish, that it’s the whole family of the diocese. We take care of each other,” he told the AP, adding that the events can help a parish “pay a few more bills.”
Elizabeth Barrett, an 88-year-old lifelong parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, who lives one block from the church, said the crowd reminded her of her childhood.
“You had to get here very early when I was young, it was so crowded. And now there are just a handful. It’s hard to accept, but you have to.”
The church has stained-glass windows from Austria and an ornate marble altar.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help received advanced notice about the Mass mob, and a reception was held after Mass at a nearby community center.
Byrd told the Buffalo News that he hopes the Buffalo Mass Mob will inspire people to return a few times a year. The mob “gives the church a little one-day boost, attendance-wise and in the collection basket.”
The Diocese of Buffalo has closed almost 100 churches due to declines in attendance, financial support and the number of priests. Buffalo’s population grew consistently into the 1950s, peaking at more than 580,000.
Rerouting of both railway and shipping lines, as well as the exit of heavy industry, drew people away from the city, and the population has now fallen to under 300,000 — smaller than it was in 1900.
Church closures resulting from the changing population trends are a motivation for the grassroots effort to raise awareness of historical parishes.
“It is Buffalo Mass Mob’s hope to help create more awareness and appreciation for sacred sites in western New York through the simple act of experiencing them in their intended purpose and encourage people to attend Mass more at Buffalo’s historic churches,” the organization’s website says.
Danielle Huber, one of the organizers, said, “we need to be proactive to save these buildings.”
The Buffalo Mass Mob’s next event is scheduled for March 23, though the parish to be assisted has not yet been determined. The group will profile five potential churches in coming days, with Buffalo residents voting on the parish to be “mobbed” beginning Feb. 10.