WEYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) – Parishioners who had camped out in their church around-the-clock for 10 months to protest the Boston Archdiocese’s decision to close it celebrated Saturday as the church formally reopened.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Mary Akoury, 68, of Weymouth, who has celebrated Mass at St. Albert the Great church for 38 years. “Our prayers were answered.”

Parishioners began their occupation last August, when Archbishop Sean O’Malley ordered the small parish to shut down as part of a reconfiguration of the archdiocese that has since closed dozens of churches.

Other parishes followed St. Albert’s lead with their own vigils, arguing their churches are essential parts of the community that shouldn’t be closed.

The reconfiguration is the result of declining attendance, fewer priests and persistent financial struggles, due in part to the clergy sex abuse crisis and settlements with victims. Since it was launched last year, 62 parishes have been closed.

Most shut their doors quietly, but several fought the decisions. They wrote letters of appeal to the pope, vowed court fights and nine began holding round-the-clock vigils.

The archdiocese has since reversed a handful of its closure decisions, but St. Albert’s is the only church that began a vigil that has seen its closing completely reversed.

O’Malley issued the decision last month, and said he based his decision to on a recommendation by a church reconfiguration committee he formed.

On Saturday morning after a final sleepover, parishioners gathered for breakfast, where they popped bottles of champagne and toasted the success of their efforts.

“We did it,” George Itz cheered, raising a glass to friends and family in the crowd of 200-plus people. “Could you imagine 10 months ago us being here like this?”

Keeping the momentum going is very much on the minds of many St. Albert’s parishioners who took part in the 306-day vigil. Some will stay involved in the effort to stop closures at other churches. Others will dedicate their efforts to increasing attendance at St. Albert’s.

“Parish life may end up seeming dull to them after all of this,” joked the Rev. Laurence Borges, who will be installed next week as St. Albert’s new pastor. “We have to make sure we don’t lose this.”

Borges said parishioners have been leading themselves for the past 10 months, and he thinks of his role as keeping that community together and strong.

“I said I’d work with them, not for them,” he said. “They’re a tight-knit group. I guess that has to happen after you spend night after night together.”

AP-ES-07-02-05 1934EDT


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