Several members of the last of 50 Cleveland-area Roman Catholic parishes shuttered in a downsizing locked themselves inside Thursday, declaring they were well-stocked with food and ready to stay "for a long time" in order to save their church.
Meanwhile, officials of St. Emeric Church in downtown Cleveland gathered in front of the historic Hungarian church, where the parishioners had staged a midnight vigil — and never left.
Parishioner Marta Fordos said that when she left the vigil at 8 a.m. for personal reasons there were at least seven people still inside. They locked the door from the inside, Fordos said.
The group has plenty of food, one of the protesters, John Juhasz, told The Associated Press by phone.
"We're going to hang out here for a long time," Juhasz said. The goal, he said, was to force Bishop Richard Lennon into a dialogue toward saving the 106-year-old church.
Juhasz would not confirm how many people were inside St. Emeric with him but said the number was growing.
"We have been rebuffed for four years by this bishop," Juhasz said. Parishioners still hoped the closing could be reversed in a Vatican appeal, but that decision has been delayed, "and I believe Rome has taken a hands-off policy," Juhasz said.
The Diocese of Cleveland announced the closings last year, citing falling attendance, a priest shortage and financial problems. The diocese said Thursday it is reviewing the situation at St. Emeric but would not comment further.
The protesters were prepared in the event of utilities being turned off, but diocesan officials did not indicate any such plan, Juhasz said.
Holy Communion was still contained in the locked tabernacle of the church, and protesters were maintaining a prayerful, dignified approach respectful of the church environment, he said.
The demonstrators were inspired by round-the-clock protest vigils at Roman Catholic churches in Boston a few years ago before the archbishop there decided to reverse a few church closings out of dozens, Juhasz said.
© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.