Inflatable churches… I’m not making this up

You just knew a lot of churches were filled with hot air, right?

Blow-up church looks to lure beachgoers
Thu Aug 7, 2008 4:51am EDT

ROME (Reuters) – Catholic nuns and priests in Italy are following their flocks to the beach this summer, establishing an inflatable church and a beach-convent in the sands to lure sunbathers.

The 30-metre (98 ft) long blow-up church — staffed by priests ready to take confession — will debut on Saturday on the Adriatic coast in the Molise region, an organizer said.

"There will be four or five people singing, with music about God," [innovative!] said Chiara Facci with Catholic group Sentinelli del Mattino. Night time activities, which will not include Mass, [?!?] will run from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The first attempt to inaugurate the inflatable church last month on the holiday island of Sardinia failed after strong winds forced organizers to relocate, she said.  [I remember something about opening the windows and letting some fresh air in, but this is something entirely different.]

Big cities like Rome and Milan empty in August, when Italians head to the beach for summer holidays, leaving streets empty and many businesses closed. Churches are hardly immune, and also see their congregations thin.

On the Mediterranean coast, nuns from a convent near the southern Italian city of Naples have relocated to beach cabins to join holidaymakers saying the rosary. An adjoining altar was set up under two tents.

"The concept of a beach-convent is something that is appreciated by vacationers and the nuns themselves," [I think I’ll just leave that one.] priest Antonio Rungi, who helped spearheaded the initiative, told Italian news agency ANSA.

(Reporting by Olivia Scarlett and Phil Stewart, editing by Mary Gabriel)

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52 Responses to Inflatable churches… I’m not making this up

  1. Bob says:

    Are there pictures anywhere?

  2. Atlanta says:

    Ok, how is this “legal” in the Catholic church? I don’t get it. Isn’t that heretical what they are doing?

  3. “Isn’t that heretical what they are doing?”

    How is this heretical? I do not see this action as being contrary to the faith. Odd maybe; bordering on sacrilege perhaps too; but not heretical.

  4. Devin says:

    *puts face into hands and sobs/giggles*

    Sad and ludicrous at the same time…

  5. Peter W says:

    In the early 20th century in England the Catholic Missionary Society had a series of vans they would take into rural areas. Open the back doors of the van and a chapel all ready – statues, lights, etc.

    Many of these on the road missioners became bishops (Cardinal Griffin of Westminster, Archbishop Dwyer of Birmingham). I think they would understand the motives behind the beach mission.

  6. Christabel says:

    Lighten up folks!

    This happens all over the Mediterranean in the holiday season (well, perhaps not as wacky as INFLATABLE churches, but pretty close). I’ve attended Mass in marquees, on boats, in shopping centres, in the paddock of a local stud farm in Andalucia (and yes the horses were there as well). And I can assure you that these celebrations of Holy Mass – and they are holy – are PACKED with holidaymakers and vacation workers (waiters, hotel porters, taxi drivers, etc). For the clergy it’s hot, difficult and busy – one seaside town I know if in Spain ups the number of Masses every weekend from three to TWELVE during summer weekends – and those priests are really devoted.

    God bless them, I say. Didn’t Christ himself preach from a boat when the crowds got too big?

  7. Jane says:

    There is obviously a need to build a proper church near the beach. An inflatable church is inappropriate.

  8. Pater, OSB says:

    up, up and awaaayyy in my beautiful, my beautifulll……

  9. Andy says:

    Didn’t Christ himself preach from a boat when the crowds got too big?

    First of all, yes, but he didn’t encourage worship there.

    Second of all, didn’t he also say something about “building your house on sand?”

  10. Dan says:

    I don’t get all the negative press about this. What these nuns and priests are doing is making sure the flock gets the sacraments and the word. In other words, they CARE about the souls of these people. And, Andy, the point is that Christ WENT to the flock to gather
    them in and that is exactly what these nuns and priests are doing. I think you are taking
    the “house built on sand” issue a little too far, no??? It’s nice to see so
    many people “pontificate” about the wrongs of others who are doing what they
    can to bring Christ to the flock while they sit and do nothing. Interesting.

  11. QC says:

    First off, Mass is not being offered there. I think its a good idea and don’t really see how its different than using a tent in a mission land. If only we were all courageous enough to bring the faith so openly into such public places!

  12. Dan says:

    And another thing, it might bring new members into the Church who otherwise have
    never been taught the faith or been to church.

  13. Paul Stokell says:

    What Dan and Christabel said.
    I don’t have a coveted D.Min., but I remember hearing in one of my classes about “where two or three are gathered in My name.”

  14. I first heard of the inflatable church a few years ago on the Ship of Fools web site. There’s a link with pictures here.

  15. MD says:

    Hmm, it could be a bit ‘old school’? Catholics boys and girls roaming on the beach and those who fail to have a near occasion of a bathing suit can offer the good Sisters a reason to grab them by the hair on their neck and enter a confessional? :-)

  16. Dan says:

    Right on MD.

  17. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Mixing half-naked sunbathers with priests and nuns on a beach? Clearly firing on all cylinders there. Night-time activities from 10pm – 1am, not including Mass, eh? Including (!) music about God!

  18. The other David says:

    It seems to me, the issue here is whether we are getting “hung up” on the idea of the inflatable church or whether we are evaluating what is done there.

    Let’s remove the inflatable church from the equation. What are these priests and nuns doing here? hearing confessions, praying the rosary and the like. There are no masses held in this Inflatable Church, which would I believe be against the laws of the Church.

    So, if they had rented some sort of cottage on the beach and set it up for these purposes, would we be appalled? Or would we view it as a welcome outreach to these people?

    It seems to me the objections are to the presence of an “inflatable church” which does seem a bit undignified and perhaps should be replaced with something more suitable, and not the actions they do.

  19. Maureen says:

    “Mixing half-naked sunbathers with priests and nuns on a beach?”

    Yeah, ’cause businesses love priests and nuns to march into the office and mix with the three-piece suit folks.

    When else do most people have time to think about God? Only on vacation! When do they need a reminder not to drink too much or throw themselves off balconies? On vacation!

    “Night-time activities from 10pm – 1am”

    Again, providing a haven for the drinkers and partiers who suddenly realize their despair — not to mention a safe place for girls to run from being harassed.

    Honestly, were the complainers ever young? Even a geeky non-partier like me found myself wandering in the wee hours, wishing a church were open.

  20. Royce says:

    On the bright side, they’re actually offering confession! It will probably be more available to the beach-goers in these ‘inflatable’ churches than in their own parishes. Also, I really doubt these inflatable churches are going to look like ball pit games. However, if people are really at these beaches every summer, they ought to build a proper church.

  21. Jonathan says:

    I agree with those who think this is not a bad thing. As Christians, we are called to bring others to the faith by preaching the gospel. To do this, you don’t just stay in a church, you go out and bring God’s word into places where it might not otherwise be. In my diocese, the bishop opened a chapel in a shopping mall. There is an area with a tabernacle to pray and there are priests hearing confessions. The bishop has been criticized much for doing this because people feel that it isn’t a holy place. I am friends with one of the priests who hears confessions there and he says that they have been very busy and he has had people come to confession that haven’t come in years. I think that it is great that by doing this, people are coming back to Christ. Christ came to call sinners, so as disciples of Christ we need to go out and bring sinners to Christ, wherever they may be. Whether it be in on a beach partying, or in a shopping mall giving in to materialism and commercialism. I do think, however, that it is very important to not compromise our beliefs in doing this and to remain faithful to Christ and His Church.

  22. Serafino says:

    Does anyone remember the “Mass Rock” in Ireland? Why is it that some people feel, that unless a Mass is celebrated in a Basilica with Deacon and Subdeacon, with lots of Palestrina and clouds of incense, somehow it is less than a “real” Mass?

    How about the pictures of John Paul II as a young priest working with the youth of his parish celebrating Holy Mass in a forest during a weekend trip? Was this “less” of a Mass? As the old Irish used to say, “It’s the Mass that matters.”

    I think bringing the Mass and the sacraments, especially holy Confession to the people is a great idea. This type of missionary work is just what the Church should be doing.

    Too many of our seminarians and newly ordained priests seem to be more interested in the “smells and bells” and the comfortable life style of rectory life, than getting out and saving souls. Trust me, after 20 years of priesthood, I know what I am talking about because I see it all the time.

    Pope Benedict, in speaking to a group of newly ordained said, that priests cannot sit back and expect people to come to them, like Christ and His Apostles, priests must go and bring the Gospel to the people.

    BTW, I am no liberal. I celebrate the Latin Mass every week.

  23. http://www.inflatablechurch.com/InflatableChurchPictures.htm

    Strangely, it looks like more of a Catholic church than the spaceship in my neighborhood.

  24. Baron Korf says:

    I think they would’ve been better off with pitching a tent rather than somthing inflatable. It just seems hard to take seriously. If we are lucky, the “nighttime activities” would include the Divine Office.

  25. Pater, OSB says:

    I love the following line from the inflatablechurch website:
    “The Inflatable Church is Registered in the Guinness World Records 2004 for being the world’s largest Inflatable church in the world.”

  26. HMacK says:

    This rather inflated idea could blow up in their faces!

  27. “So, if they had rented some sort of cottage on the beach and set it up for these purposes, would we be appalled? Or would we view it as a welcome outreach to these people?

    It seems to me the objections are to the presence of an ‘inflatable church’ which does seem a bit undignified and perhaps should be replaced with something more suitable, and not the actions they do.”

    Why not use a (much cheaper) tent? Though I suppose the idea of an inflatable church is part of the appeal.

    “I think bringing the Mass and the sacraments, especially holy Confession to the people is a great idea. This type of missionary work is just what the Church should be doing.”

    Again, Mass is not being celebrated.

  28. Padre Steve says:

    Well, we had balloon masses so this is a logical progression! Too funny!

  29. Jackie says:

    I really like this idea. Priests and sisters should go where the people are. Now given, I dont like the inflatable church idea. I think a regualar tent would work perfectly well and be a better atmosphere. However its a great idea to have a place where people can go to Confession, pray in silence, and at night have somewhere to have some nice clean fun.

  30. Antonius says:

    Serafino wrote:

    Does anyone remember the “Mass Rock” in Ireland? Why is it that some people feel, that unless a Mass is celebrated in a Basilica with Deacon and Subdeacon, with lots of Palestrina and clouds of incense, somehow it is less than a “real” Mass?

    How about the pictures of John Paul II as a young priest working with the youth of his parish celebrating Holy Mass in a forest during a weekend trip? Was this “less” of a Mass? As the old Irish used to say, “It’s the Mass that matters.”

    It is still a Mass in all essentials (one hopes), but it is less liturgical. The proper space for Mass is a fitting church built to the glory of God in the great tradition of church building, not some oversized inflatable dingy replete with sun-lotion stoups and beach towel altar cloths.

    Christian liturgy’s great ancestor was Jewish temple worship, and we all remember the rules and regulations, the pomp and circumstance God prescribed for that. Even in the portable tent of meeting God laid down detailed rules – the tabernacle was made of gold, covered in acacia wood and adorned in cherubim, the tent was made of goat hair, ram skins dyed red and curtains joined by golden ringlets. There was fine linen, elaborate vestments, incense, copper altars, golden menorah etc. etc. All this and God wasn’t even physically present as He is in our churches.

  31. Warren says:

    The Church must be in the market place, calling people to Christ, transforming culture. A beautiful structure inspires and uplifts, and we should spare no expense when it comes to building edifying structures. But hey, if we Romans can celebrate in the catacombs – dank, dark places well suited to a Church of martyrs – we can certainly acknowledge Christ on a beach in the full light of day. If the Church is not a public voice, a public face, we can expect more governments to try and steam roll over us and expect us to play dead. And then, we may have to get familiar once again with the catacombs.

  32. Larry says:

    Amen to Warren and a few others; but, for many where are you coming from? If you are rolling in cash and want to build churches on beach front property go right ahead. Of course you are quite literally building on sand. The Church is alive and she is where her members are and if they have gone to the beach then she must go as well. Heretical you ask? Look up the meaning of the charges you hurl so freely. The article says they are NOT saying Mass in this inflatable church. They are praying and singing abou GOD and not about the worldliness that calls them just outside. What would you people have done in the first two centuries of the Church when there were no formal church buildings? Our culture needs evangelization and that is done in the market place and on the beach or in the hill or mountains. Prau that these people who are doing the Opus Dei will be able to bring many souls to God. Pray also that your mind can grow just a little to see how God reaches out to us–everywhere!

  33. Oremus says:

    How can you take it seriously?
    I am all for the idea of reaching out, but there is a limit to what is appropriate and what isn’t.

  34. Michael J says:

    While I agree that this type of missionary work is just what the Church should be doing, does it have to be trivialized? Honestly, the Church evangelized virtually the entire world without resorting to gimicks or other tricks to get people to pay attention.

    Is eternal salvation not enough?

  35. Dan says:

    Ok then oremus, what are you doing about reaching out to beach kids who have
    no idea about Christ and His Church? Did not Christ meet sinners where they were at first and then the Apostles and disciples took over from there and fed them the faith?
    Are you praying for these people? Will you pray for these nuns and priests
    who by all accounts are being laughed at for the “audacity” perhaps of bringing
    Christ to these people at the beach? Do you have even a smidgen of their guts
    or would you rather sit at your computer pontificating at the “tastelessness”
    of it all.

  36. Oremus says:

    Oh good grief Dan. Are these people living on the beaches? Probably not. And yes, I suppose I am Pontificating at my computer…I can have my own opinion.
    I wouldn’t go into it. I wouldn’t take it seriously either.
    I would help and donate to build a proper church nearby and put flyers, etc on cars. .
    BTW I thought confessions could only be heard in a “proper” setting, e.g. confession in a “Proper” building..unless it was an emergency.
    Convenience to an all time low.

  37. joy says:

    Well, it is shaped like a church, even with a rose window! Maybe we should look into this for future rebuilding plans…

    People like gimmicks, if it draws them in…you have to start somewhere. It reminds me of Cinderella’s castle at Disneyworld. Of course, if this leads someone to go looking for the ‘real’ church building when they get home, it’s not going to look like that in their neighborhood, with funky modern ‘worship-spaces.’

    Soli Deo Gloria.

  38. Jayna says:

    I’m just gonna say it’s weird. That isn’t to say it’s good or bad, just…weird. It’s kind of difficult to wrap my mind around it.

  39. One great effect of the inflatable chapel is they can be flying nuns (all puns intended) – they can go where the crowds are, not build an establishment at whatever beach is fashionable THIS decade only to be left forlorn in the twenty-teens!

  40. dark_coven says:

    They could’ve used one of these back in Bastogne, or probably Market Garden (i.e. WWII)

    Instavrare Omnia In Christo

  41. dark_coven says:

    “There is obviously a need to build a proper church near the beach. An inflatable church is inappropriate.”

    Yes but in extreme cases like war (e.g. World War II) all you need for an essentially “worthy” altar would be an altar stone, and dignified rubrics. The Tridentine Mass was even celebrated in vehicle hoods in those days out of necessity.

    Instavrare Omnia In Christo.

  42. RBrown says:

    Obviously, this new approach is a consequence of Pius XII’s encyclical Divino Inflante Spiritu.

  43. RBrown says:

    The Church must be in the market place, calling people to Christ, transforming culture.
    Comment by Warren

    Totally agree. And that is precisely the apostolate of Opus Dei and to a lesser extent, the Third Orders of those Religious Institutes founded in the Middle Ages, e.g., Dominicans, Franciscans, and Carms.

    Benedictine Oblates also need to be mentioned.

    Yeah, ‘cause businesses love priests and nuns to march into the office and mix with the three-piece suit folks.
    Comment by Maureen

    See above.

  44. Mitch says:

    I clicked on the link for the Inflatable CHurch and I was surprised. My initial thought was “Oh How nice it looks”. Then I started thinking how it looks better, at least outside from the modern “box” style many construct now. Why not just make a square blowup room? Obviously the designers understand it must resemble a Traditional Church or people will not even recognize it. It still escapes me as to how these modernist architects build box shaped Churches that do not resemble Tradition in any way. I would prefer the blowup to many Churches I see here in the US..In fact I will be on the beach this afternoon..I will look for one. What do u think my chances are of finding one?

  45. Brian C. says:

    I have to agree with Oremus on this one. The idea that “reaching the heathen where they are can excuse any banality” just doesn’t wash, to me. What’s next: embossing smiley-faces into the sacred Hosts given out at the beach, to make the experience less “stuffy”, more “relevant”, and the like?

    Others who are appealing to “necessity” don’t seem to be distinguishing between “it’d be nice” and “this is a genuine emergency”; the point about Confessions needing to be in an appropriate place, as per Canon Law, is a valid one, too:

    === quote ===
    Can. 964:

    1) The proper place for hearing sacramental confessions is a church or oratory.

    2) As far as the confessional is concerned, norms are to be issued by the Episcopal Conference, with the proviso however that confessionals, which the faithful who so wish may freely use, are located in an open place, and fitted with a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor.

    3) Except for a just reason, confessions are not to be heard elsewhere than in a confessional.
    === end quote ===

    I think “making it fun and accessible” doesn’t really count as “a just reason”, frankly.

    No one is arguing that “beach evangelization” is bad! But there are reasonable limits as to which liturgical functions we drag through the mud of banality, in the process; good ends do not justify illicit means. If it helps, think that this same “let’s reach out and meet the people where they are” mentality invited guitar groups to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (a perfectly good song, for concerts in the Parish hall) *DURING HOLY MASS*! Let’s not let our hearts run away with our heads, here.

    In Christ,
    Brian

  46. TonyM says:

    A bad, bad idea. Italy is so densely populated with small towns that anyone at a beach can easily drive twenty minutes to attend Mass on Sunday. I’m afraid this is only more evidence of how our religion is adapted to the consumerist mindset of today (i.e. going to Church should be as easy, as accessible, and convenient as possible).

  47. TonyM says:

    Oh, and one more thing. As a member of the laity, this whole enterprise seems very insulting. THe idea is that us lay people can’t be trusted to find our way to church on Sunday when we are on vacation. It’s as if we are so spiritually lazy that we need to have nuns and priests pack up their things, and follow us to the beach, because otherwise, we will forget that we are Catholic. That is not said explicitly, but it is implied.

  48. I understand that Saint Paul is the Patron Saint of Tent-makers? So I imagine he was very good at it, and must of used his own products for when he traveled. He may had the first travel-altar, and set up to offer Mass in a mobile chapel. That’s nice.

    Anyhow, I’ve read that Military chaplains have to do this very often, as they travel across the battle field to offer Holy Mass. I do not see anything heretical in the “object” of a mobile chapel for offering Mass. I think if used for proper reasons is a very beneficial item for pastoral work. I think some persecuted priests in the Ukraine had to do this often to say Mass in the woods or wherever. I was wondering if the same is with the Missionaries? I know of Holy Ghost Fathers, Redemptorists, and some Dominicans who are very active in traveling to preach and say Mass. I am looking to find such a traveling Roman Catholic Missionary priest who says the Tridentine Latin Mass in China. Anyone know about this?

  49. Christabel says:

    Tony M : forgive me, but I think you are mistaken. The Mediterranean seaside areas are inundated with holidaymakers to the point where the local churches (yes, even 20 miles inland, IF one has a car – and many people don’t) are overwhelmed. I personally have driven more than 20 miles searching through inland villages and towns in Spain in August only to find that wherever I find a Mass, I CAN’T GET IN!

    Which actually is fantastic.

  50. Maureen says:

    Re: Confession outside church

    I think you’ll find that, for most priests, somebody stopping them and asking them if they can make their confession is a “just reason” for offering Confession outside church. All things being equal, of course it’s better to hear Confession in a church; but catching fearful or hardened souls in that moment of repentance — that’s part of being a fisher of men.

    Where better to fish than at the water’s edge? :)

  51. pdt says:

    Here is the BBC report showing the actual inflatable church in place:

    Beach Church