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For Catholics, having a priest say Easter Mass today is perfectly normal, but it was something special for parishioners of a Catholic church in Boston. That's because the church has been closed for four years. The Boston archdiocese shut it down along with 60 others after clergy sex abuse lawsuits drained the church's coffers. Today, a bishop was allowed to preach what might be the last Easter sermon for this century-old parish.

From member station WBUR Boston, Shannon Mullen has the story.

SHANNON MULLEN: Lorenzo Grasso(ph) has been leading bilingual services here every Sunday since Our Lady Of Mount Carmel was shut down in 2004. But Grasso's not an ordained priest. He's actually a parishioner protesting the closure of the church. This morning, Grasso greeted the mostly Italian-American parishioners as they filed in. The building looked the furthest thing from closed. Its altar was decked out with Easter lilies, tulips and flickering candles. And people filled the pews.

Mr. LORENZO GRASSO (Parishioner, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Boston): It feels excellent, beautiful, it feels like the old days. You know?

MULLEN: Grasso says the church hasn't changed much since it was built in the early 1900s. Except for some water damage, its marble walls are in pretty good shape. The church means a lot to these worshippers. Seventy-three-year-old Mary Fusco(ph) and 93-year-old Mary Placenza(ph) grew up here, and they've been coming to this church their whole lives.

What did it make you feel like when you found out that this church was going to close?

Ms. MARY FUSCO: Very, very sad. Very, very sad.

Ms. MARY PLACENZA: Yeah. When I heard that…

Ms. FUSCO: …oh, our hearts broke.

Ms. PLACENZA: It was sad.

Ms. FUSCO: Because it's been so long and so beautiful here. We love this place.

Ms. LINDA CAMEOLOS-ECETTI(ph): Well, this was my church growing up. I was baptized here, received communion, confirmation. I got married in this church.

MULLEN: Linda Cameolos-Ecetti lives across town now. She came here today to support the parishioners who've been fighting the church's closure.

Ms. CAMEOLOS-ECETTI: I'm heartbroken over it. I think it's a tragedy that the devout and the followers have to be penalized for the scandals of the archdiocese.

MULLEN: Parishioners said before this service, that they hoped that Bishop Robert Hennessey's offer to say Easter Mass was a sign that the archdiocese was rethinking its closure of the church. So as the building filled with the odor of incense again for the first time in a long time, the air was also charged with anticipation. Hennessey began his sermon.

Bishop ROBERT HENNESSEY (Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, Central Region): My presence today does not change the policy, it doesn't affect the status of this church or this community. But my presence today is a pastoral statement, one to be with you on a very special day.

MULLEN: Hennessey lamented the suffering the shutdown of the church has caused, but he said occupying the building and holding Sunday services instead of going to formal Masses could put parishioners' souls in peril. Hennessey did not want to be interviewed, but a spokesman for the archdiocese said it has no plans to reopen Our Lady Of Mount Carmel.

Bishop HENNESSEY: The lord has been taken from the tomb.

MULLEN: Parishioners welcomed today's service, but Lorenzo Grasso admitted afterward that he and his fellow protesters are tired.

Mr. GRASSO: Obviously, we are not going anywhere with this situation. You know, eventually, if we don't get an answer from the archdiocese, this is going to end, because what's the sense of it?

MULLENS: Outside the church, some parishioners smiled and hugged; others cried.

Unidentified Woman: You know, we could pray - that's all. It's just really sad, now. You can shut that off now. It's just too sad.

MULLEN: Many agreed that if the vigil ends and the archdiocese sells the building, having a bishop say Easter Mass one more time was a bittersweet but fitting farewell.

For NPR News, I'm Shannon Mullen.

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