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Parishioners hold last service after 11-year vigil at church marked for closure

A parishioner is overcome with emotion at St Frances X Cabrini Church in Scituate, Massachusetts (AP)

For more than 11 years about 100 die-hard parishioners of St Frances X Cabrini Church kept their beloved parish open by maintaining a round-the-clock vigil in peaceful protest against the Archdiocese of Boston’s decision to close it.

On Sunday, the parishioners’ efforts came to an end as they vacated the church that many of them have attended for decades. Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court refused to hear their final appeal, leaving them no choice but to end their fight.

The group held a final service on Sunday, a “celebration of faith and transition”, the parishioners said, before leaving the church. Dozens of parishioners gathered in the church’s entrance ahead of the service, many of them embracing.

During the service, a handful of empty pews dotted a sea of churchgoers, many of whom openly cried. About a dozen felt banners, some of them depicting each year of the vigil, decorated the church’s walls. At the service’s conclusion, families retrieved the quilts and formed a procession, carrying them down the aisles and through the church’s doors.

The case was heard in civil courts and went all the way to the Vatican, but the parishioners were unsuccessful in persuading church officials to keep St Frances open.

A Superior Court judge ruled that the archdiocese was the legal owner of the church property and had the right to evict the parishioners occupying the church building. That ruling was upheld by the state Appeals Court.

St Frances X Cabrini was one of more than 75 parishes closed by the archdiocese to deal with declining Mass attendance, a shortage of priests and deteriorating church buildings. The closures came after a clergy sex abuse crisis rocked the American Church, starting in Boston but extending throughout the world.

Parishioners of some of the closed churches rebelled and held round-the-clock vigils in the churches. At one point, nine churches were occupied by parishioners. St Frances X Cabrini was the last church to remain occupied.

The archdiocese hopes the protesters will go to another parish within the district, archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon said.