Detroit Mass Mob fills pews in struggling churches

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Detroit Mass Mob fills pews in struggling churches
In this photo taken on Oct. 12, 2014, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron delivers his homily during Mass at St. Francis D’Assisi Church in Detroit. Building on the idea of flash mobs, a group called the Detroit Mass Mob picks one historic Roman Catholic church per month and encourages area worshippers to show up for a service. Its church for October was St. Francis D’Assisi. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)
In this photo taken on Oct. 12, 2014, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron delivers his homily during Mass at St. Francis D’Assisi Church in Detroit. Building on the idea of flash mobs, a group called the Detroit Mass Mob picks one historic Roman Catholic church per month and encourages area worshippers to show up for a service. Its church for October was St. Francis D’Assisi. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)
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DETROIT (AP) - Detroit has seen half of its residents skip town over the past 50 years, and the fallout has been felt in every corner of the city, including its religious communities.

A number of Roman Catholic churches built to welcome hundreds of worshippers now draw only dozens any given Sunday.

The Detroit Mass Mob is determined to change that.

Building on the idea of flash mobs and continuing an initiative that has sprouted up in other population-challenged Rust Belt metropolises such as Cleveland, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York, the group picks one historic church per month and works to fill every pew.

"They'll drive for a half-hour to go to the mall or an hour to go to a sporting event. We need them to drive a half-hour and come back to the churches in the city so that they can stay open," Mass Mob organizer Thom Mann said before a recent service at St. Francis D'Assisi Church.

More than 1,000 worshippers lured by both social and traditional media as well as word-of-mouth turned out to pack the pews - and collection baskets - at St. Francis D'Assisi, a towering jewel built a century ago to serve a burgeoning immigrant population from Poland.

The historic house of worship has had a tough time drawing worshippers, so much so that it merged with a church a mile away to form a single parish.

"Both sets of my grandparents came here. This was their founding parish in America. And to see how things have changed, I think it would make them very sad," Pat Olszewski, 67, said as Mass Mob members filed into St. Francis behind her.

St. Francis was the seventh church the group has targeted since April. And the organizers said they have no intention of stopping.

While he appreciates the one-time-only inflated attendance figures, Father Ed Zaorski, who was on hand for the St. Francis Mass, would like to see the undertaking produce a more lasting effect: "That they start coming back to the churches on a more regular basis and ... breathe new life into the churches."

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