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Scituate Parishioners Hopeful Vatican Will Reopen Church

SCITUATE (CBS) - Wednesday was day 2304 of the vigil inside the church of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate.

Ever since the Boston Archdiocese closed the church in October, 2004 someone has been here -- eating, sleeping, praying, keeping vigil. Every minute of every day.

After nearly seven years of ups and down, of appeals and rejections - this week, there's an end in sight.

"This is the first time that we've received any real positive news from the Vatican," said parishioner Maryellen Rogers, who helps organize the shifts that make up the 24/7 vigil. "It's been denial after denial...after denial after denial. So this is great news."

WBZ-TV's Jim Armstrong reports.

In a stunning surprise, the Vatican has overruled the closing of three churches in the Springfield diocese -- announcing the churches must remain open as places of worship. The decision follows a similar ruling regarding churches in Allentown, PA. The Vatican intends that the once-closed churches continue to be used for prayer and must not be converted for secular uses.

That means local parishioners and church leadership will have to work together and develop ways to share the authority and responsibilities of maintaining these churches as places of worship. The exact dynamics of such relationships remain to be seen.

"This is the last one, this is final chapter in the story," explained parishioner Jon Rogers who also helps with the vigil's organization. "If this didn't work, at that point, quite frankly, we walk into the unknown."

St. Frances is one of seven Boston-area churches with petitions currently before the Vatican. They're asking for the same decision that the churches in the Springfield diocese have received.

The spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese did not want to comment about the Vatican's ruling regarding the three churches in the Springfield diocese, telling WBZ it would be a bit of a reach to connect the two situations.

Not so, say those leading the charge to re-open the Bay State's closed churches. While they acknowledge every case is different, they believe the Vatican's policies are shifting ever so slightly.

Council of Parishes spokesman Peter Borre tells WBZ, "It should be kept in mind that there are substantial differences between the appeals from Springfield parishioner groups and several groups in the Diocese of Allentown, yet the [Vatican] ordered both bishops to reopen several local churches. Perhaps the Archdiocese of Boston should show some initiative and do the right thing, instead of waiting for Rome."

Back at St. Frances, they're actually making plans for what will happen when the vigil ends. Seventy-seven-year-old Nancy Shiltz has been taking vigil shifts every week for six years.

"It's still God's house as far as I'm concerned and it'll always be," she said. "It's like my home, them coming in and saying, 'Your house is condemned, we have to turn you out of it.' It's heart-wrenching. I think in my heart, it's got to be open, it has to be open."

Vigil leaders here say it is reasonable to expect that they will hear good news from the Vatican in time for Easter.

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