Historic day for Byzantine Catholics as Phoenix Eparchy’s cathedral marks 50 years

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Bishop John S. Pazak, CSsR, of the Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix, leads hundreds of parishioners in the opening prayer for the Sept. 30 Divine Liturgy celebrating St. Stephen Byzantine Cathedral’s 50th anniversary as a parish community. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)
St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Cathedral

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St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Cathedral, the cathedral for the Phoenix-based Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy, celebrated 50 years of serving the faithful with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy Sept. 30.

The liturgy, how Eastern Catholics refer to the Mass, marked the cathedral’s jubilee.

“It’s a feast day to remember,” said the eparchy’s Bishop John S. Pazak, CSsR, during his homily before over 250 worshippers who filled the cathedral to overflowing. “As we recollect, we’re all part of what God has blessed in this community in Phoenix.”

The occasion also reinforced the faith bond between the eparchy, which serves 13 western U.S. states, and the diocese, which is home to 1.8 million Roman-Rite Catholics. The Eparchy, whose members practice the Byzantine Rite, one of the Church’s Eastern Rites, has a population in the thousands. Joining the celebration were Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted (center) and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares (right) of the Diocese of Phoenix join Byzantine Catholic clergy — including Bishop Emeritus Gerald N. Dino of the Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix (left) — in concelebrating the Eucharist during the Sept. 30 Divine Liturgy celebrating St. Stephen Byzantine Cathedral’s 50th anniversary as a parish community. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

“St. John Paul II said the Church breathes with two lungs: Eastern and Western,” noted Bishop Olmsted, who was appointed Aug. 1 by Pope Francis as Apostolic Administrator Sede Plena of the Eparchy. “To have an eparchy in Phoenix, as well as the diocese in the Latin Rite [shows] we’re breathing with both lungs. It shows a fuller Church that’s alive with the Holy Spirit — the breath of God.”

Originally based out of Van Nuys, California, the eparchy moved its pastoral offices to Phoenix after a 1994 earthquake damaged its cathedral — St. Mary. The jurisdiction’s name was changed by the Vatican at the request of then-Bishop Gerald N. Dino in 2010, elevating the parish to the status of cathedral.

“It’s growing nicely. It’s gratifying,” said Dino, now the eparchy’s bishop emeritus.

Bishop John S. Pazak, CSsR, of the Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix, preaches the homily at the Sept. 30 Divine Liturgy celebrating St. Stephen Byzantine Cathedral’s 50th anniversary as a parish community. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

While young families and immigrants from the Middle East, notably Iraq, are helping fuel the cathedral’s current growth, a core of established members has sustained St. Stephen.

Thomas and Jennifer Hetrick of Phoenix, members for about a decade, embrace the sense of family as well as the worship style, which is highlighted by chanting the liturgy without musical instruments.

“Everyone gets involved. Even visitors can pick up the rhythms. It doesn’t take much if you come several times. It is a lot more like a prayer. It reminds me of all the heritage back East and you think more about what you are doing,” said Jennifer, who is originally from West Virginia, a state that is among many where the Byzantine heritage is more prevalent due to stronger ties with Eastern Europe.

Volunteers welcome parishioners at a reception following the Sept. 30 Divine Liturgy celebrating St. Stephen Byzantine Cathedral’s 50th anniversary as a parish community. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

The liturgical tradition also appeals to Chester and Dolores Sugent, parishioners for more than 20 years who moved here from central Pennsylvania. But Dolores cited other factors, too.

“It’s the fellowship, fun and camaraderie; the support. It’s very important. It’s God house and it is important to feel at home in God’s house,” she said.

Fr. Diodoro Mendoza, rector of St. Stephen and chancellor of the eparchy noted the celebration was also a time to “… look ahead at the mountains we still must climb and to continue working in the vineyard of the Lord to proclaim the message of salvation to those around us. Today, we pay homage to the founding fathers and to every single person who has been part of this spiritual journey.”

“God has blessed us, and we want to share those blessings…and bring about the transformation of the world. That’s what Stephen was all about,” said Bishop Pazak after the liturgy, referring to the cathedral’s patron and namesake — St. Stephen, the first martyr. “He paid the ultimate price of laying down his life for Christ. As we celebrate the parish feast, it is a good chance to renew ourselves and allow Stephen to show us the way to be better followers of Christ.”