Places of Worship—Do We Need Them?
‘Thousands of pilgrims wearing colorful dress from different parts of the country, groups of Indians reenacting supposed pre-Hispanic dances to the beat of drums, and the faithful painfully making their way on their knees through the multitudes to the shrine filled the atrium and the streets around the basilica.’
THAT is how the newspaper El Economista described a teeming crowd in December 2001. At that time some three million people visited the basilica in Mexico City to demonstrate their faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Other religious edifices, such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, also attract multitudes of visitors.
Religious buildings occupy a special place in the hearts of many who desire to worship God. “For me, the church was a place where I could be close to God,” says Maria from Brazil. “It was a holy place. I believed that going to church cleansed the soul and that it was a sin not to go to Mass and to confession every Sunday.” Consuelo from Mexico relates: “The church produced in me a deep emotion; I greatly valued it. While there, I felt I was in heaven.”
Although some attach great importance to churches, others have doubts about their necessity as places of worship. Speaking about poor church attendance, Peter Sibert, a Catholic priest in England, says: “[People] choose the bits of religion that they like. A lot of older people are Catholics and they live their faith—but there is not the sense of commitment among younger people.” London’s Daily Telegraph of November 20, 1998, observed: “Since 1979 some 1,500 churches have been closed in England compared with the 495 churches which have opened and the 150 which were rebuilt.”
In 1997 the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich, Germany, reported: “Churches turned into cinemas and apartments: Believers are staying away, places of worship are being converted. . . . What has already become tradition in the Netherlands or in England is being done in Germany.” It added: “One can locate some 30 or 40 spectacular sales of churches in Germany within the last few years.”
Are religious buildings really necessary to worship God? Do basilicas and ornate churches have a precedent in the Scriptures? What types of buildings have been associated with the worship of the true and living God? What can we learn from them about the need for places of worship and about what should take place there?