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Churches always seem to outlast the frenetic change in the world around them; this symbolic contrast between the permanent and the fleeting is never more apparent than in inner-city churches. One such case in New York is Holy Cross Church, which describes itself, appropriately, as the church “at the Crossroads of the World.” Surrounded on all sides by taller and younger buildings and located just beyond the gaudy displays of the theater district, Holy Cross also stands near the steady stream of travelers to and from Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. It doesn’t take more than a glance at the brick facade of Holy Cross to see that this Romanesque church stands out architecturally from its neighbors, nor much imagination to see that it embodies solidity in the midst of change. Founded in 1852 to meet the ecclesial needs of Irish Catholic immigrants, Holy Cross today maintains its common-man identity, although for a far more varied demographic (there’s a Mass in Spanish each Sunday at 10). And while Holy Cross’s identity is stable, certain facets of its history seem destined not to be repeated for a while, such as its 1930s tradition of offering a 2:20 A.M. Mass for late-shift workers at the New York Times .

Holy Cross Church bears witness to time in every sense. The building currently is undergoing significant renovations, and Masses at the 329 West 42nd Street location have been moved downstairs. On Sunday, January 3—the feast of the Epiphany—Holy Cross’s pastor, Fr. Peter Colapietro, seemed acutely aware of just how many visitors pass through the church. He also was familiar with many regular parishioners by name. The crowd that filled the basement was young, old, and middle-aged. With Jerusalem incense hanging in the air beneath the lowered ceilings and fluorescent lighting of the church basement, one might suspect that some parishioners would be tempted to attend another of New York’s many beautiful Catholic churches until this one’s renovations are complete. But very few have, it seems. With his booming voice and confident presence, Fr. Colapietro’s role as spiritual father was complemented by his parishioners’ noticeable sense that they are, indeed, a family. In his announcements, Fr. Colapietro made special note of the rising fame of a star parishioner: one-year-old Jace Ditmeyer, whose tearful face was on a recent cover of Time Magazine . And the church’s well-trained and refined choir, although situated much closer to the congregation than usual, clearly has a commitment founded on something higher than the beautiful, now sequestered, architecture upstairs.

In his homily, Fr. Colapietro expounded on the centrality of journeys in the Gospel—in particular, the many interrelated journeys that led to the Incarnation: Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, the Magi’s and shepherds’ journeys to the Christ Child, and, above all, Jesus’ journey out of the stable and into an unwelcoming world. Noting that there is always movement—never a mere status quo—in a well-ordered Christian spiritual life, Fr. Colapietro submitted that hope is the most essential Christian virtue of the Christmas liturgical season. And evangelism—the giving of hope to others—must be motivated by an image from the Epiphany readings, from Isaiah: “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; But upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” Bringing his homily to a close, Fr. Colapietro offered words that must be the start of a familiar exchange with his parishioners: “God is good.” And his congregation responded, “All the time.”


City: New York
Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood: Theater District / Times Square
Address: 329 West 42nd Street
Phone: 212-246-4732
Religious affiliation: Catholic
Main service: 11:30 A.M. Sunday
Pastor: Fr. Peter Colapietro


Precision, Reverence, and Aesthetics of the Mass: 9 (out of 10)
Precision, Reverence, and Rhetoric of the Sermon: 9 (out of 10)
Music: 9 (out of 10)

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