It started to rain, and the plastic tablecloths fluttered in the breeze as the women prayed, rosary in hand. First in Polish, then in Spanish, then in English.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our d*ath. Amen, ”the chorus of voices said in sync with the woman leading the English prayer.

The weather did not discourage about 50 parishioners and supporters on Tuesday evening from gathering in the alley behind the church on the 108th anniversary of St. the last two weeks, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on rotating shifts to prevent removal of the statue.

From 2017, after parishioners found out that St. Adalbert at 1650 W. 17th St. has been closed, a group of them is fighting to re-open St. Wojciech.

Their struggle intensified just two weeks ago when they learned that workers were drilling through the back wall of the church to remove the La Pieta statue, which depicts Mary seated holding Jesus’ body on her lap after he was taken down from the cross.

Since then, a group of about 25 parishioners have been working in shifts, making sure at least one person is always in the alley at the back gate leading to a partially drilled wall to prevent workers from doing the work.

On Tuesday evening, the group invited supporters and neighbors to celebrate the 108th anniversary of St. Wojciech. People shared flautas, Spanish rice and beans and Polish soup while the man played guitar and the other sang in Spanish.

Around midnight, after the ceremony was over, and the group had helped clear the grounds and packed tables and chairs, Judy A. Vazquez stayed where she was sleeping in the SUV. She did this on six of the last 14 nights and spent many days there visiting other parishioners and neighbors.

“I really think God is here,” said Vazquez.

Two weeks ago, Dalia Radecki, who lives under St. Wojciech, she heard a loud noise in the morning from the alley. She stepped out into a cloud of dust and found workers drilling the back wall to remove the statue.

Radecki called one of the parishioners and the news spread among the parishioners of St. Wojciech – she said. They showed up to protest against the drilling, and eventually the police showed up and the workers left.

But the parishioners knew the workers would be back, so they organized and decided to stay there day and night to stop them.

“It was an amazing community effort,” said Vazquez. “It opened my eyes because… it is uncharted territory.”

She said the next time workers returned with permission to continue drilling, Rosemarie Dominguez sat down in front of the gate, refusing to move.

“It has been a home for many of us, especially me,” Dominguez said on Tuesday. “I’ve been coming here since I was a fetus. My mother was part of the choir. My dad is a deacon, he served this parish ”.

Dominguez, 30, is one of the youngest in the group struggling to reopen St. Wojciech. She said she sometimes works on site, using a hotspot and charging a laptop at Radecki’s house.

Dominguez is a community and housing organizer for The Resurrection Project, a nonprofit that works to promote peace and security in the southwestern part of Chicago by helping families find affordable housing and providing immigration legal services. St. Wojciech was one of six parishes that donated seed money for the 1990 Resurrection Project.

“It is close and dear to my heart,” said Dominguez. “This is where my business started.”

Their fight against the statue began when the archdiocese announced in an emailed statement that a replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta statue was to be transferred from St. Adalbert to the Catholic Church of St. Paul, about a mile southwest.

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“Parishioners will have early access to church services and will be able to enjoy the sculpture better in their new home,” the statement said. “In addition, this valuable community treasure can be better protected and stored in a working parish church.”

The Archdiocese announced that from April 19, a post appeared on the parish website informing people about the removal of the statue.

“The parish followed a proper permitting process and consulted with engineers who advised on the safest way to move the statue to its new home,” the statement said.

In 2016, the archdiocese announced that the Church of St. Wojciech will be closed as part of the plan: consolidate the six Catholic churches in the Pilsen area on three.

In this announcement, the archdiocese referred to $ 2.5 million that it would cost to repair the 185-meter bell towers of St. Adalbert and a decrease in attendance at Holy Mass. by about 2,000 people since 2000.

In October 2020, the city moved to officially become the landmark of St. Wojciech, but since then this process has stalled.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, the 25th, representing the Pilsen area, sponsored the ordinance to reclassify the land use classification of the church location from residential to parks and an open space district. This ordinance was postponed until a future city council meeting.

The archdiocesan document from August mentions the Church of St. Adalbert for sale for $ 3.95 million.

Demetrio Reyes lives across the street from the church. It was there that he married his wife in 2007, where he attended Sunday mass and attended events and celebrations.

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“This is your home,” he said in Spanish. “You find refuge there for your problems. You go to church to thank God for your life. And then suddenly you find out that it will shut down.

Reyes said he found hope in watching people continue to come together to pray, including him and his wife.

“It’s amazing people’s faith,” he said.

The neighbors meet in the church parking lot on the west side of the building to pray daily from the first Sunday closed at St. Wojciech in the summer of 2019. The Polish Rosary Group is saying the rosary in three languages.

Additionally, on Sundays, parishioners pray in protest in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Name, at 735 N. State St., where Cardinal Blase J. Cupich lives.

“We are here en la lucha (in battle) and we say OK, what will happen next?” Vazquez said, adding that if they don’t organize, the archdiocese and the Vatican will continue to shut down churches for profit.

“And if we don’t organize and really take it to another level, the leadership of the Catholic religion will do so.”

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