When the Rev. Angelo Chimera looked out over his congregation Sunday at All Saints Catholic Church in Riverside, he saw some familiar faces but mostly new ones.
The fourth Buffalo “Mass Mob” had descended upon his parish to fill its pews and bring attention to one of the city’s historic but struggling neighborhood churches.
“Some of our regulars were here but there was a big crowd of new people here,” said the pastor. “We tried to make them feel welcome and we tried to give them our hospitality.”
Organized via social media, the Mass Mob phenomenon is now well-established here and elsewhere.
The first Mass Mob visited St. Adalbert Basilica on the East Side in November, moved on in January to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the Old First Ward and, most recently, drew more than 800 people in March to St. John Kanty on Broadway.
During that time the idea took off and spread to other cities including Philadelphia, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Rochester and New York City, which also hosted a Mass Mob on Sunday, organizers said.
After winning rounds of online voting, All Saints got its boost Sunday as about 350 people turned out for 11 a.m. Mass in the Colonial Revival style church built in 1911.
“It’s so wonderful to see the churches full again like the days back in the 1960s when it was standing-room only,” said Joyce DiChristina, who heard about the initiative on Facebook and attended Sunday’s Mass with her sister and their husbands.
All Saints was “the hub” of Riverside until about 20 years ago with multiple generations growing up in its church and grammar school, said North Council Member and All Saints parishioner Joseph Golombek.
“This was sort-of like a South Buffalo type of community but not Irish,” he said.
“Just a very mixed, Catholic neighborhood.”
In fact, all of Buffalo’s neighborhoods have beautiful churches built by the first immigrants to settle the area that should be admired and preserved, said Christopher Byrd, who organizes Mass Mob with Danielle Huber, Alan Oberst and Greg Witul.
“Now they’re struggling though because a lot of the population from Buffalo over the last 30 or 40 years has left, impacting these old churches whose parishioner bases have declined,” he said.
Once All Saints won a close public vote against St. Thomas Aquinas in South Buffalo by a mere 12 votes, the group sought permission from Chimera, who said he was initially unfamiliar with the Mass Mob concept.
“I must admit I was a bit reluctant at first because I didn’t know much about it,” he said. “But it’s a very genuine group of interested Catholics, Christians and others who want to support and highlight the city churches that have been hemorrhaging their people to the suburbs.”
The next Mass Mob will take place in August and voting will likely be among the churches that previously finished in the runner-up position, Byrd said.