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Chris Thompson: Changes afoot in local Catholic diocese

  • Author: Chris Thompson
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 16, 2015

Last Sunday I attended St. Benedict's Catholic Church's services. I did so with no intention of writing about their services, but afterward decided to write a few words about my experience there. The reverence displayed by congregants was a real contrast with what I often experience in attending so many other churches services. Often, a din and buzz of conversation makes it almost impossible to adjust one's mind for the commencement of actual worship, confession, prayer and communion to be received, regardless of faith. There was a reverential quiet as I entered their church sanctuary, which was most refreshing.

I was further impressed by the deportment of the children I observed in my immediate seating area. They were actually paying attention to everything that was going on, even to the point of following the service through the printed liturgical guide that included the key elements of the service. I see children in many churches scribbling, coloring, talking, playing, reading, lying down or acting totally bored. The children I saw were interspersed with their parents and looking on with them, in a most participative way. As a substitute teacher in Anchorage schools, I am often astounded at the levels some of the children achieve in areas such as reading, math, respect for adults and others. Upon inquiring, I almost always find one or both parents are doing what I witnessed in church -- being actively involved in their child's education. It is my understanding Catholics are currently emphasizing re-catechizing all levels of believers so there is a better understanding of the church and its mission. Cardinal Dolan emphasized this aspect last year when he visited. The importance of a role model parent cannot be underestimated. I applaud the behavior I witnessed at St. Benedict's on Sunday.

The interplay of music, Scripture and readings was well-coordinated. In many churches there is nothing to tie the music to the sermon, or other portions of the service.

St. Benedict's offers seating on three sides of the platform and its altar. That dimension alone lends a participative air of worship. Their choir, too, sits in the congregation and rises as required. The use of their cantor, choir and congregation on a particular song was beautiful and effective. Clearly this church does not use music as an entertainment platform but as an artful form of instruction and worship.

Although I'm not a Catholic, I appreciate the St. Benedict's community and its love and respect for its pastors and one another. I urge believers in Christ, Catholic or not, to visit them to see, firsthand, how solid their worship service really is.

Designation of Our Lady of Guadalupe as co-cathedral

Generally, Roman Catholics have only a single cathedral in each diocese, except where practicality dictates otherwise. Seeking to better incorporate the facilities of Our Lady of Guadalupe church in the activities of the archdiocese, Archbishop Roger Schweitz petitioned the Vatican to declare them a co-cathedral to Holy Family Cathedral. The approval process took about a year and was declared publicly on Dec. 12, when Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Pope Francis' highest ranking ambassador to the U.S., delivered the good news to the archdiocese with a warm homily. (You can read the full text of Vigano's remarks in the Catholic Anchor.)

For some time, local Archbishop Schweitz had been contemplating how to address parking and other practical issues at Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Anchorage. Holy Family, hemmed in by commercial development downtown, has found it is increasingly difficult for parishioners and staff to find places to park.

"The designating of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as co-cathedral was necessitated by the growth of our Catholic population," Schweitz said. "This is certainly good news. Also, through this growth the Catholic community is being enriched by the increasingly diverse cultural backgrounds of our people."

Tourist activities prevalent in downtown Anchorage weighed in on Schweitz's decision to designate Holy Family a historic cathedral.

When I asked the Rev. Anthony Patalano OP, pastor of Holy Family Cathedral, about the co-cathedral designation, he was most enthusiastic. "I think it's a wonderful thing," he said. "It needed to be done." The Rev. Patalano also emphasized that Our Lady of Guadalupe offers better space layout for pontifical events and other ceremonies, compared to Holy Family Cathedral. The Rev. Augustine Hilander OP, parochial vicar, noted the cathedral was the scene of a papal audience by Pope John Paul II in 1981, and downstairs he conducted a similar audience for the handicapped, underscoring its historical significance.

Cathedrals are considered to be the seats of bishops where they pastor to people of their diocese. What to do for a cathedra? The cathedra, i.e. bishop's chair, used by Pope John Paul II in his historic Mass here in 1981, is being prepared for placement at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral to signify it is also the seat of the bishop's presence.

Archbishop Schweitz, very active around the archdiocese, is a familiar face during many of the times I've attended Our Lady of Guadalupe. In years past, I've visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City several times and have witnessed the love Catholics hold for the Virgin of Tepeyac and her connection with Mary. The imagery of Mary and local ties to the Mexican origins of Our Lady of Guadalupe were invoked several times by Archbishop Vigano, who connected their roles in evangelization and proclamation of the gospel.

2015 is a significant year for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. The centennial of the Archdiocese and 50th anniversary of Holy Family Cathedral's building will be celebrated. The Catholic Anchor has provided excellent coverage of Catholic events and activities in the archdiocese in print and online. Catholics in our community maintain vibrant, caring communities, consistently demonstrating their love for the gospel. With a long history in Anchorage, the Catholic presence will undoubtedly continue to a blessing for residents of Anchorage and Alaska long into the future.

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