Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was elevated to co-cathedral status Dec. 12 in a Mass featuring many ethnic cultural celebrations and attended by Alaska’s four bishops and Vatican ambassador, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
More than 700 people packed the largest Catholic church in Alaska and one of the state’s most ethnically diverse parishes. Several attended in traditional cultural costumes, Peruvian, Filipino, Mexican, Columbian, Samoan and Alaska Native peoples and several took part in the liturgy.
Pastor Father Vincent Blanco, who has served the parish in various capacities since 2001 and is a native of the Philippines, leads the church
Archbishop Vigano, who serves as the Vatican’s highest ranking ambassador to the United States, delivered the homily.
“Today, this church of Our Lady of Guadalupe becomes a co-Cathedral,” he said. “This is needed in order to provide for the increasing number of people who, united with their archbishop, gather to worship God in communion with the whole Catholic church.”
Vigano credited the church’s population growth today to “the guiding hand of Mary, (who) has led to this increase, and has made this day necessary.”
Vigano harkened back to the 16th century and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church’s namesake, on whose feast day the Mass was held.
“(Mary) visited God’s people in Mexico to announce yet again the good news … From the day of that visitation to the Mexican people, a land overshadowed by the darkness of paganism was enlightened by Christ through Mary,” he said.
That message to the New World of the 16th century by the “Patroness of the America’s has reached the great and beautiful land of Alaska,” Vigano said. He also linked the Alaska church to the Vatican in a message from Pope Francis.
“It gives me great pleasure to bring you the blessing of our Holy Father, who is always in spiritual communion with you,” he said. The new designation also joins the parish more closely to its Archbishop Roger Schwietz, he said, as the center of his Anchorage parishes along with the Holy Family Cathedral.
Archbishop Schwietz, who presided over the Mass, had petitioned the Vatican a year ago to receive permission for elevating the church to co-cathedral status. During the Mass he was joined by Juneau Bishop Edward Burns and newly appointed Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski. Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Francis Hurley also attended along with many of the priests from across the 138,000 square mile archdiocese.
The elevation to co-cathedral is the story of steady growth for the parish, from its early days in the 1970s when it was without a building. At that time, Mass was held at a Methodist church until the parish could construct a temporary building to serve as both worship area and multi-purpose room. It took 30 years before the current expansive Spanish mission style church, with two bell towers, was dedicated in 2005.
With its elevation as the co-cathedral — next to Anchorage’s historic Holy Family Cathedral — came several historically significant new liturgical furnishings for Our Lady of Guadalupe. A chair used by Pope Saint John Paul II during his 1981 Anchorage visit is now in permanent residence as the cathedral’s “cathedra” or bishop’s chair.
Along with the cathedra, other sacred items symbolize Our Lady’s new status as well. A metropolitan cross, created especially for the church, carved of wood from a linden tree, is in permanent residence as well and a holy chalice for communion.
In coordinating the music program for the Mass, music director Kevin Barnett and his assistant Regina Barnett, said they wanted to convey the joy marking the event. The music during the procession and presentation of gifts echoed the joy in “Malo! Malo!,” proclaiming ‘thank you’ in many languages and utilizing music from non-traditional instruments.
The chorus was composed of 60 people from at least six parishes. In addition to singers, it featured organ and piano, six guitar players, an upright bassist, flautist, violinist, conga player, drum set and timpani player, an additional piano player/flautist and the Glacier Brass Quintet.
The new status for Our Lady of Guadalupe was a logical move in a large parish with ample parking which increasingly has served as the location for special Masses in a growing archdiocese. Holy Family Cathedral will continue as the “historic cathedral” and should always be considered to be the “primary church of the archdiocese,” Archbishop Schwietz has stated of the parish which turns 100 years old in 2015 and is Anchorage’s first Catholic church.
After the Mass, a festive dinner reception followed. Pastor Blanco, who has served his diverse parish for 14 years, said the elevation of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a “tremendous honor for the parishioners.”