- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

New York’s massive Roman Catholic population will sit out this weekend’s Billy Graham crusade in Queens because its parishes are too busy, spokesmen for the two closest dioceses say.

The 413 parishes in the Archdiocese of New York, representing 2.5 million Catholics, are too involved with school graduations, confirmations and the Vatican’s emphasis on the Eucharist during 2005, spokesman Joseph Zwilling said yesterday.

The Graham crusade “asked if it would be possible for our churches to invite their people to come,” he said, but “given everything happening in our parishes, especially it being the Year of the Eucharist, we didn’t feel it’d be possible to ask our parishes to take on any additional activities.”

Across the East River in the Diocese of Brooklyn, which lists 1.8 million Catholics, church leaders have also declined involvement, although the crusade will take place there in Flushing Meadows’ Corona Park. Spokesman Frank DeRosa cited Year of the Eucharist preparations as a key reason.

Thus, none of that diocese’s 217 parishes is among the 1,300 sponsoring congregations for the crusade, which is expected to draw up to 70,000 people a night for what’s been billed as the evangelist’s last American crusade. Neither are Catholics officially among the 15,000 volunteers amassed for the event.

The Rev. A.R. Bernard, crusade chairman, professed some puzzlement over the archdiocese’s reasoning, noting Catholic involvement in other crusades.

“Those who were touched by the Catholic charismatic renewal will be there,” he predicted. “You cannot judge by the leadership’s protests because the lay people will come anyway.”

Catholics are still welcome to attend, but the lack of official involvement amazed Graham biographer Bill Martin, who characterized the archdiocese’s reasoning as a “change in policy” from Mr. Graham’s 1991 Central Park crusade. Back then, he said, 630 Catholic churches cooperated with the crusade and information on the meetings was handed out at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

That 1991 stance had been a huge shift from Mr. Graham’s first New York crusade in 1957, he said, when Catholics boycotted the event and Catholic clergy were instructed on how to counter Mr. Graham’s preaching.

“So maybe something’s come down from above saying not to be involved in this,” Mr. Martin added.

Mr. Zwilling said he didn’t remember any such cooperation from churches back then, but Catholic clergy in 1991 did receive names of Catholics who answered Mr. Graham’s altar calls at the Central Park event.

In a column to be released Saturday in the diocesan newspaper the Tablet, Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio outlined the significant divide over how Catholics and Protestants understand salvation.

The bishop said he welcomed Mr. Graham into the area and promised to follow up on any names given to them by crusade organizers.

To forestall objections of “sheep stealing,” crusade policy is that all Catholics attending the event who sign a card signifying a desire for salvation are referred to the diocese.

Another Graham biographer, David Aikman, said Mr. Graham had a “good relationship” with many Catholic prelates, such as the late Boston Cardinal Richard Cushing, who in 1964 praised the evangelist’s talent for converting non-Christians, adding, “I only wish we had half a dozen men of his caliber to go forth and do likewise.”

In 1997, Mr. Graham told New Man magazine, an evangelical publication, that “through the years I have made many friends within the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, when we hold a crusade in a city now, nearly all the Roman Catholic churches support it.

“And when we went to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, for the crusade [last year], we saw St. Paul, which is largely Catholic, and Minneapolis, which is largely Lutheran, both supporting the crusade. That wouldn’t have happened 25 years ago.”

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