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Two flocks in one fold?

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The recent announcement that congregations of Blessed Sacrament and Holy Cross might be merging was met with mixed reactions from parishioners.

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However, Monsignor Joseph Goering, vicar general of the Fargo Diocese, said the proposal still is in its infancy, and no final actions are planned until at least May.

"This is basically the beginning. Right now we're just laying out the proposal, and having (the parishioners) go home and digest it," he said.

Still, accepting even possible major changes to the churches may take time, Goering admitted. When news first broke earlier in January that Bishop Samuel J. Aquila of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo announced a proposal to restructure parishes and catholic schools in West Fargo, Horace, and Fargo, it was hard to say how people would react. After a recent meeting, however, it was apparent that emotions run the gamut.

"The church was pretty full," said Brad Schmidt, a member of Blessed Sacrament's Finance Council. "There was a lot of emotion coming out, and that's ok. We're just asking that they deal with that emotion in a Christian way."

The meeting Thursday at Blessed Sacrament Church, in which approximately 200 people attended, was one of several informative meetings planned. It was set up to allow parishioners a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about the proposed changes.

These changes, if implemented, would effectively close Blessed Sacrament, as its congregation would merge with that of Holy Cross. Holy Cross Church has plans for its own expansion, which would include additional space for a new school. Other changes to area churches include:

• The congregation of St. Benedict's Church of Wild Rice would move to diocesan property at County Road 17 and 64th Avenue South in Horace, N.D.

• St. Anthony of Padua and the Cathedral of St. Mary would "cluster," sharing one parish staff.

• Besides a school at Holy Cross, another would be added to the new St. Benedict's site in Horace.

The Fargo diocese also was in attendance at Thursday's meeting, "which was good to see," Schmidt said, however frustrations from audience members were apparent.

"In the catholic religion, there's not a democracy there," he said, meaning that although parishioners may get a chance to throw in their two cents, any decisions from the process still fall solely on the bishop and diocesan leaders.

Part of the difficulty at this point, Schmidt said, is the apparent lack of communication from the diocese.

"There are a lot of questions, and we're having a tough time getting information," he said.

One of the biggest conundrums floating amid Blessed Sacrament parishioners, in particular, can be summed up in one word: why?

"(Goering) said it's not a money or staffing issue," Schmidt said, of his church's merger. "Our numbers are holding steady and even growing a little bit. So then why close our parish?"

Blame it on demographics, Goering said.

"Data shows the growth is in the south and southwest, and we want to be there and meet their needs," he said.

Some parishioners have difficulty with this logic.

"We have questions about the data that they used," Schmidt said. "They talk about taking it out of the census, but is that the best way to do it? That just accounts for registered families. What about unregistered ones?"

Another big question comes from funding. The proposal set forth by the diocese calls for an immediate 20 percent of each parish's envelope take. That amount will then increase to 40-45 percent by 2016.

"That's a lot of money," Schmidt said. "If you have to do that, what do you cut?

"Our parish nurse saw 973 people that she visited in their homes, and that's a program I don't know how we do without.

"We've served a Christmas and Thanksgiving meals for the last 28 years for people who have nowhere to go. ...you can't do all that stuff in you take 20 percent off the top and go to 45 percent later on.

"Something's got to give."

Hopefully with additional meetings, both sides can get a better picture of how everything will pan out. Additional clarification meetings are set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Sts. Anne and Joachim in Fargo, and 9 a.m. Saturday at Holy Cross. Goering said it is important that parishioners plan to come to at least one meeting.

"First, it outlines the proposal, so everyone knows what it is, and so we can clarify and questions," Goering said. In two weeks, both sides will come back together "with refinements" for another round of meetings, he said.

If one thing is apparent, it is that open channels of communication must be made on both sides of the pew.

"The bishop made the comment that our faith is more than the parish family," Schmidt said. "No, we're not buying that.... we need to have them start talking to us. They can't keep us in the dark. The bishop would do well to meet with leaders of his family. I mean, we're adults. Why can't we talk like adults?"

A website with additional information has been set up at concernedcatholicsfargo.com, and there also is a Facebook page.

Whatever the outcome, Goering hopes it is at least positive.

"How do we best preach the gospel? We want to do what we do in the most effective way possible," and plan accordingly, he said.

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