Parishioners of Shuttered East Harlem Church Rally for Pope Francis's Help

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By Tracy Connor

NEW YORK — The crowds waiting for Pope Francis in East Harlem included a dozen longtime residents who want him to perform a miracle — re-opening a neighborhood church shuttered by the Archdiocese eight years ago.

Since the 2007 money-saving closure, former parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Angels have gathered every Sunday morning on the sidewalk to hold services without a priest or Holy Communion.

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When they learned that Pope Francis would be coming to the school that bears the same name as the church as part of his first U.S. visit, they printed up banners asking him to intercede.

"I truly feel that if anyone has the power to open that church it would be he," said Patty Rodriguez, 51, who usually leads the renegade services. "I think he was guided to us."

Former parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Angels want the pope to reopen their shuttered church.
Former parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Angels want the pope to reopen their shuttered church.Tracy Connor / NBC News

The church had about 400 parishioners when the Archdiocese closed it down in 2007 as part of a shuffling of resources. Six women staged a sit-in and were arrested, but the trespassing charges were dropped.

Our Lady Queen of Angels wasn’t the biggest church in the neighborhood, but it was known as one of the most activist, said Eduardo Padro, 62, a state judge who has lived in East Harlem all his life.

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"This church was the cement. It was a second home and people are not willing to give up on their second home," he said.

If Pope Francis does answer their prayers, parishioner Margarita Barada, a 91-year-old retired nurse, plans to be back on the sidewalk on Sunday.

"I want to be an example that we are strong," she said, "and we are protecting our community.”

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