Bolivar church fight brought to Houston

June 21, 2009 5:07:01 PM PDT
Parishioners are taking steps to try to save their church and protest action by the Galveston-Houston archdiocese. They brought their pleas from the Bolivar Peninsula to Houston on Sunday.Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Port Bolivar was severely damaged during Hurricane Ike. And the archdiocese is planning to have it demolished, but the parishioners want it rebuilt, so they took their plight to other Catholics.

Bolivar homeowners protesting here say they built their church 50 years ago and gave it to the diocese. Now, they say they have at least $300,000 to fix it if the church leaders would let them.

This father's day, as families gathered for mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston, John Dafonte gathered with his family outside.

"This is my Father's Day gift for my dad," said Dafonte's daughter.

"I love it 'cause I'm fighting for something that means a lot to me," said Dafonte.

When Hurricane Ike blew over the Bolivar Peninsula last September, the Dafontes lost part of their home and their business.

"Everything and now our church," said Dafonte.

Despite damage, Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church remained standing. Still, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston decided to demolish the church, citing the difficulty of complying with flood plain restrictions and other legal requirements.

It instead proposed building a multi-use facility in Crystal Beach about twenty minutes away.

"It just broke my heart," said Bolivar parishioner Joyce Simpeton.

Simpeton says she remembers raising the funds to build the church more than 50 years ago.

"They had bazaars, went to the rodeos, we had dancing, we prepared food," she said. "We did everything we could to help our church."

Now even the stain-glass windows, she says parishioners donated in memory of loved ones, have been removed by the church.

Fellow Catholics we talked to sympathized with the community's loss.

"I'm sure the bishop has a sympathetic ear. If he doesn't, we'll pray for him," said parishioner Rosemarie Ledet.

Dafonte just hopes they learn from his example.

"We donate to the church every Sunday to keep it going, but we really don't have any say in this church," he said.

Standing before the $32 million co-cathedral, protesters felt their request is a small one. But a spokesperson for archdiocese told Eyewitness News Sunday that this is much more complicated than just finances. The two sides will head to court.

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