Group rallies to protest closure of Spanish chapel
What was intended to be a solemn Mass about the closing of an important community institution turned into a spirited rally to oppose the closure of La Milagrosa on Spring Garden Street.
This story has been updated.
AS A CHILD, VIVIAN Ortiz spent many a Sunday with her parents at a small chapel on Spring Garden Street, a place where Ortiz learned about faith and community.
Now, decades later, that same chapel - and plans to close it - are challenging her faith and that of hundreds in the city's Latino community.
On Sunday morning, Ortiz joined more than 100 protestors outside Capilla Católica Hispana de la Medalla Milagrosa, or La Milagrosa, on Spring Garden near 19th, for a vigil to protest the looming closing of the historic church.
The group had hoped to hold an outdoor mass, but after the clergy nixed that idea, the gathering turned into a rally punctuated by speakers who described their personal ties to the century-old congregation.
"This is an institution. This is a family," Ortiz told supporters as she fought back tears. "This is a home, and we have to do what we can to save this home."
Like Ortiz, whose parents immigrated to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico in the 1940s, several protestors said the church was a central meeting place for their families and the growing Latino community.
"It's quite a thing to think about when even the church doesn't believe in your community," said Gloria Casarez, director of the city's LGBT Affairs.
Casarez said her great-grandparents were among the early members of La Milagrosa, which was the first place in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with an exclusively Spanish Mass on a regular basis.
"Once again we're embarassed and let down by the church," she said.
The Archdiocese, which began providing priests to the chapel when the Vincentians left in 1978, said it has no control over the sale of the building.
Miguel Ortiz, who has attended La Milagrosa for about 18 years, has helped organize opponents of the closure. They have enlisted the help of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and a private law firm.
Jennifer Clarke, executive director of PILCOP, said two financial donations made in the early 1900s could limit the use of those funds. She said they sent a letter to the Archdiocese and the Vincentians last week, but have not gotten a response.
A spokesman with the Archdiocese declined to comment on the group's legal argument because it does not own the property.
Miguel Ortiz said he is optimistic the chapel will remain open.
"What we're fighting for is not the building. In a way it is, but it's indirect," he said. "What we're fighting for is these people."