Diocesan Mass Mobs bring new life to parishes

Technology and social networking have helped fuel groups of Massgoers who are excited to share their faith with new people.

The concept ties in with popular “flash mobs,” where people come together to spontaneously burst into song or to perform a choreographed dance in the middle of a public place for an unsuspecting audience. But in the Catholic version, people are invited to come together not to dance, but to share in the Eucharist — and they’re called Mass Mobs.

Originating in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, in 2013, Mass Mobs are seen as a chance to invite new life and to give a boost to aging parishes and churches whose parishioners had moved out of the area, as well as an attractive way to encourage people to come to Mass.

How it’s done

Organizers of Mass Mobs rely heavily on social media and websites to spread the word about when and where the event will take place. The crowd — from the beginning — is part of the process in not only selecting a parish, but also in spreading the word.

Mass mob in Buffalo

Some people attend a Mass Mob as a way to explore a different church, others may have never set foot through the parish doors before, and still others are returning after time away.

Using this way to connect with people and invite them to experience a parish related with Ben DiFrancesco, who began Mass Mobs in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Through Mass Mobs, DiFrancesco, 28, said people gain the opportunity to come together as a community, see other churches and offer support for local parishes where the demographic has shifted.

“Archbishop (Charles) Chaput says that the local church is your diocese,” DiFrancesco said. “He is our pastor (and) we are members of the whole local church.”

Mass Mob origins

Christopher Byrd, one of the founders of the Buffalo Mass Mobs, decided to launch Mass Mobs at a parish in the city’s East Side — at St. Adalbert’s Basilica — whose neighborhood was heavily Polish until about 30 years ago.

Byrd, 46, who calls himself an “accidental activist,” was familiar with the neighborhood from when his grandmother lived there. As an adult, he visited and noticed that the parish population had shrunk.

He recalled the beauty of these parishes and knew they had the potential to take your breath away.

“They are absolutely drop-dead (gorgeous) artistically,” Byrd said, adding that he hoped inviting people to St. Adalbert’s would help them to see the parish building as a work of grand architecture.

After making their debut in Buffalo, Mass Mobs have been started in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, New York, Rochester, Chicago and more.

“It is a different experience when the pews are full as opposed to not,” DiFrancesco said. “It (makes) you excited and a little more on fire.”

Clarissa V. Aljentera writes from Illinois.