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Mass Mobs Bring Thousands To Detroit Church Services

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Flash mobs have popped up in the most unusual places, which is kind of the point. The latest incarnation of mass mobs is, well, at mass. In Detroit, a group of Catholics figured it might be a way to fill their pews. Sarah Hulett of Michigan Radio reports on efforts to revitalize urban churches.

SARAH HULETT, BYLINE: Saint Florian Catholic Church was built by the Polish families who flocked here to work for Dodge, Ford and Packard. The eight-story, redbrick church seats 1,500 people. Normally, only about 200 people attend the noon mass. But on a recent Sunday, Thom Mann had to get here early.

THOM MANN: Because there'll be standing room only.

HULETT: Mann doesn't belong to this parish. He's an organizer behind a group called Detroit Mass Mob. Every month, the group picks one church, spreads the word on Facebook, and just like that, these churches fill up and buzz with the energy they once had back in the days when more car factories were open and families hadn't yet moved to the suburbs.

MANN: People are upset that the churches are closing. But the simple reason is that people don't go.

HULETT: Detroit Mass Mob started earlier this year after Mann saw an article about a similar effort in Buffalo. The first event in Detroit was in April and drew 150 people. The Detroit Free Press ran an article right before the second event.

MANN: And it doubled our attendance. We filled that church at 400.

HULETT: Two-thousand people showed up at Saint Florian. People trickle in looking for seats, and then the traditional Roman Catholic mass begins.

MIREK FRANKOWSKI: Let us pray, dear Lord.

CONGREGATION: Lord, hear our prayer.

HULETT: The priest here, Reverend Mirek Frankowski, also doubles as the musical director. He says today's crowd nearly brought him to tears.

FRANKOWSKI: Because, I mean, such a big crowd is impossible to see these days in any of the churches. But thanks to the mob mass, those people that came for that, we have this feeling of what it was so many years ago, when the churches were filled with people.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLKA MUSIC)

HULETT: Following the mass, folks head down to the basement for traditional Polish dancing, pierogi, kielbasa and a cash bar. Nancy Tash is a regular parishioner here. She says she loves what the mass mob is doing, and she hopes it gets Catholics to start going to church again.

NANCY TASH: And if they don't go to church, I sure hope they send some money sometimes, just to keep these old parishes surviving.

HULETT: On this day, Saint Florian's collection baskets brought in almost $20,000. That's about 10 times the amount donated at a typical mass. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Hulett. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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