Published: Jan 04, 2011 6:40 PM EST
Updated: Jan 04, 2011 3:47 PM EST

BOSTON (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI has rejected an appeal from Boston-area parishioners who asked him to reverse a seven-year-old decision to close their Roman Catholic churches.

The pope's decision was relayed in a December letter to the Council of Parishes, which sent the last-ditch appeal in October. In the letter, a top Vatican diplomat says the pope remembered the group in prayer "in these difficult times."

Council of Parishes head Peter Borre says he was heartened by the expression of sympathy. He says his group is working to reopen the churches as places of worship, not full parishes.

Five of the churches remain occupied in protest. At some, vigils are kept 24 hours a day. Archdiocesan spokesman Terry Donilon says the archdiocese is seeking a peaceful end to the vigils.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)