In the historic mining town of Bagdad, located about 100 miles northwest of Phoenix, is the parish of St. Francis of Assisi.
The 55-year-old church is actually made from separate World War II housing units that were joined together.[quote_box_right]
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The 40 to 50 parishioners who make their way up the dead-end road to Cook Street every Sunday are miners – mostly.
“This is a very unique parish,” said Fr. Leonardo Joy Vargas, who has been the pastor for the past seven years. “Nobody lives here unless they work here.”
For more than half a century, the parish has been serving the spiritual needs of the miners, who work the open-air copper pit, and their families.
The parish offers religious education and youth classes, adult preparation classes for the sacraments and a few others, which all need funding.
Collections are highest before summer, about $300 a week, but it’s difficult keeping up with the $3,000-a-month overhead.
Parishioners schedule rummage sales, and monthly burrito and taco sales, to offset expenses.
“We really depend on the help of the diocese,” Fr. Vargas said. “Without it, we couldn’t pay the bills.”
A Catholic presence in the high deserts of central Arizona is only possible because of the annual Charity and Development Appeal, which last year awarded the church a $35,000 grant.
“The Charity and Development Appeal’s support of parishes is crucial,” said Fr. Greg Schlarb, vicar of Stewardship and pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Scottsdale.
“While some parishes receive direct funding to support their ministries, all parishes receive indirect support such as training and resources for leadership and staff through CDA-funded programs,” he said.
About a three-hour car ride northeast of the mine is the city of Flagstaff. Adjacent to Northern Arizona University, behind the library, is Holy Trinity Catholic Newman Center.
Its building, a multipurpose center, doubles as a chapel for Sunday Mass.
Fr. Matt Lowry, chaplain and associate director of vocations for the diocese, said that in the course of a year he sees about 1,400 students.
Not all come through the front door for Mass, studies or the weekly free dinners and speaker; the center’s outreach extends to intramural sports, retreats, tailgating parties and mall events on campus.
“Without the Catholic Church’s presence, it’s really a desolate wasteland, at times, on a college campus,” Fr. Lowry said. “Without the CDA, we would not be able to do our mission of reaching our young people and helping them stay connected to Christ and His Church.”
Last year the Newman Center received a $40,000 CDA grant, but Fr. Lowry does raise two-thirds of his budget. About 66 cents of every dollar comes from fundraising.
“There’s such a need, and if we weren’t here how could they turn back to God in a tangible way?” he said.
“People make us a priority, and one way is through the CDA appeal. With the CDA’s assistance we are able to have a strong, viable presence here.”
A few hours south of the college, down in the Valley of the Sun, is St. Mark Parish, which neighbors a public elementary school on 30th Street and Van Buren.
The staff is small, but the community founded in 1946 is large, alive and active in their faith.
Fr. Fausto Penafiel, parochial vicar, said he is grateful for the $40,000 grant they received last year, which not only supports bilingual ministry, programs and training, but those employees who maintain the campus and run the office.
“Some who support CDA do not know the good they do,” he said, “but the people who are the recipients of such generosity know that people they have never met, or will ever meet, provide for them and that is a blessing from God in itself.”