Anchorage to establish co-cathedral

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In an effort to better serve the needs of a growing Catholic population, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz has decided to establish Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as the co-cathedral for the Anchorage Archdiocese.

This will officially occur during a special Mass on Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Holy Family Cathedral will continue as the “historic cathedral” and should always be considered to be the “primary church of the archdiocese,” Archbishop Schwietz told the Catholic Anchor.

In an interview with the Catholic Anchor, Archbishop Schwietz spoke about the process of establishing a co-cathedral and how it can remind local Catholics of their connection to the universal church. He also emphasized the important ongoing role of Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Anchorage.

What is the rational behind establishing a co-cathedral?

The archdiocese is growing and the downtown area is also growing. It’s more of a tourist area with the accompanying problem of limited parking. So I decided to continue to honor Holy Family as our historic cathedral and have services there that we can conduct there, but then to have a co-cathedral in which we can conduct other liturgies. Other dioceses have done this for practical concerns.

Holy Family Cathedral will be considered the historic cathedral. Our Lady of Guadalupe will be the co-cathedral.

Why not just transfer cathedral status from Holy Family to Our Lady of Guadalupe? What is the purpose of having two cathedrals?

There is an historic presence in downtown Anchorage with Holy Family and I think it is very important to continue to honor that. Beginning next year, the cathedral will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the parish. As you know not many things up here are over a 100 years old.

I also really feel it is important for the cathedral to be in the midst of the people and that’s where Holy Family is. During the summer there are so many visitors in that area and it is appropriate to have the cathedral open and functioning there. Also, there are many other people in the area, including street people, the poor, young people who are homeless. It is important for the cathedral to have a presence and to welcome those who are drawn to the church. So many visitors and others come by Holy Family Cathedral who are not part of the archdiocese. In this sense, the cathedral will remain more present to and serving people who are not part of the archdiocese; whereas the co-cathedral will function for various ceremonies that are primarily attended by the people of the archdiocese.

It is important to remember that this in no way lowers the dignity of our Holy Family Cathedral downtown. As the historic cathedral it should always be considered the primary church of the archdiocese. It also provides a primary service to the archdiocese in that they have regular confessions over there for people from all over the city and perhaps from beyond. They use it as their place to experience the sacrament of reconciliation. That kind of pastoral presence is really important and I don’t want this move to be seen, in any way, as taking anything away from the dignity of Holy Family Cathedral.

This year the Dominicans are celebrating 40 years of service at Holy Family Cathedral. Will they continue to serve there or are there plans to have them transfer to Our Lady of Guadalupe?

The Dominicans have told me that they are happy to continue at Holy Family. They fixed up the rectory there so it is more convenient for them as a community. In my discussions with their provincial, there is a continued desire to see their presence at Holy Family as a major mission of the province of the Dominicans. So my expectation is that they will continue to serve there.

Can you describe the process of establishing a co-cathedral?

I’ve been thinking about this for several years now, especially since we started using Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Chrism Mass and the Christmas Midnight Mass. There are other dioceses with co-cathedrals and I thought that maybe this would be appropriate for us too.

We went through the Holy See to get a proper decree from the Holy Father. We sent an initial request to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops asking for this designation. First they wanted to see photographs of the proposed co-cathedral and a history and so on. The entire process took about a year before it was settled. Final approval came about a month ago from the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican.

What changes need to take place at Our Lady of Guadalupe before it can be designated a co-cathedral?

We need a cathedra — the bishop’s chair — and that needs to be a permanent fixture in the church. And then the metropolitan cross, which is different from a regular processional cross. I wanted to make sure we had one for Our Lady of Guadalupe and it is being worked on now so that it will be clear that this is a church that has the status of the bishop’s presence. The metropolitan cross will be used whenever the archbishop is presiding at Mass.

Where will the new bishop’s chair come from?

We plan to use the chair that Pope John Paul II used when he said Mass here in Anchorage in 1981. It will be a sign of our continuity and connection to the Holy Father in Rome who is the primary pastor and shepherd of our souls. That sense of the universal nature of the church is important for us to celebrate because it is what makes us so unique as Catholics and what we’re so determined to continue as people who are faithful to the establishment of the church as Jesus established it.

So many of our adults don’t have that sense of the historic nature of the church and so this is an opportunity for us to celebrate that.

Has this chair ever been used for a public Mass since Saint Pope John Paul II presided from it in 1981 during his visit to Anchorage?

No, never.

What is the significance of a cathedra — a bishop’s chair?

The cathedra is a symbol of the presence and governance of the local bishop or archbishop and so it is treated with that kind of respect. You often have ceremonies that take place at the chair. The bishop can preach from the chair and when there are other ceremonies, such as ordinations, the main elements of the Mass are conducted from the bishop’s chair. He is at his symbolic place of guiding and shepherding the people.

Why was Our Lady of Guadalupe chosen to be co-cathedral?

First, the Virgin of Guadalupe has been named the patroness of the Americas by Pope Saint John Paul II and so it seems appropriate to me to choose that church for a co-cathedral. Secondly, it has proven, practically, to be very accessible. It is also a very beautiful church.

What exactly will occur on Dec. 12th?

It will be a declaration by decree from the Holy See. Someone will be designated to read the decree. The nuncio [the Vatican’s representative to the United States] said that either he or a representative will read the decree during the Mass.

Others from outside the archdiocese will also join us in celebration. I’m sending invitations to the bishops of our Northwest region who might want to attend.

Why was this day chosen?

Dec. 12 is the patronal feast day of the church and the day on which I consecrated the church and so it seemed the appropriate day to declare it a co-cathedral.


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