PITTSTON — After being vacant for more than three years, the former St. Rocco’s Roman Catholic Church on the corner of Tompkins and West Oak streets has reopened its doors as St. Irene Russian Orthodox Outside Church of Russia.
The church plans to open more doors in the community by purchasing homes in the Greater Pittston area for parishioners in need.
Leader of the church Bishop Ramzi R. Musallam, whose orthodox name is Bishop Elias, wants the new church to have a positive impact on the community, which includes a program that provides housing in apartments and single family homes for those in need.
Church members can be housed in individual or group homes.
Musallam said the church purchases properties, and then church members interested in participating will present their cases in front of Musallam and a council.
Requirements he said are they have to have been members of the church for at least one year, attend church regularly and have a good standing with the church and the community, (i.e., no criminal backgrounds).
Musallam said once the church members are housed and have a good job with a steady income, he then starts charging the residents to help pay for taxes and rent on the property.
“People are facing a lot of problems and, yes, we want them to come to church, but there’s more,” he said. “The church must be in the hearts of the families’ lives and the church has to be there to assist them in programs and assist them in housing.”
Musallam said the church is currently in the process of purchasing homes in the Pittston area, and it’s not the first area in which the church has implemented this program.
“I’ve been working very tirelessly serving people since I became bishop six years years ago,” Musallam said. “We’ve done this in Pottsville, Mount Carmel, State College and Orlando, Florida, where we have 14 condos. I have more houses in Ohio, so wherever we have congregation I try to purchase houses to assist local parishes.”
Though the new congregation is hoping to gain a strong foothold in the community, Musallam does not want people to forget the positive impact St. Rocco’s left behind.
“St. Rocco’s closed, but St. Rocco’s continues to exist,” he said. “The mission of Christ is handed over to us, so it’s up to us now to continue the good work of the good people who were here at St. Rocco’s Parish. St. Rocco’s parishioners — from their graves, the streets, or their home — we will continue to speak the word of Christ through them and what they have established here for us.”
St. Rocco’s closed its doors in July 2012 to combine congregations with St. Joseph Marello Parish. The St. Rocco’s Church building was purchased by the Bishop Joseph Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton.
The Russian Orthodox Church purchased the building in September 2015 for $70,000 and the first Mass was held right before Christmas.
Despite the church being open only a few weeks, Masses have been well-attended, Musallam said.
“We didn’t have any advertisements so we’ve just been having people come in,” he said. “On the weekday Masses, we’ve been having people come and we’ve been having Sunday Liturgy where it varies. We had three Masses on Christmas Eve and all three had people in them.”
Musallam said he will temporarily conduct Mass and Liturgy until a permanent priest is appointed.
The religious practices of St. Irene Church are of the Orthodox faith, particularly the Western Rite Orthodoxy and the Eastern Rite Orthodoxy.
Musallam encourages everyone in the community to attend Mass.
“We welcome all faithful people of God and I want the people to know that we are an ancient holy church that practices faith,” he said. “We welcome those who, perhaps, want to come back home into the faith. We welcome anybody who came to us and said that this is their home and they grew up here. I welcome those people as well.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher