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PHOENIX — The faithful are again worshipping inside Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.

The mother church of the Diocese of Phoenix opened her doors to the public Sunday, Oct. 24, for the first time in six months, unveiling a lighter, brighter, fresher look after the first major renovation in its 55-year history. The improvements were hailed by clergy and laity alike as a work that evokes the radiance of Christ and the reverence for the Mass and the Eucharist.

“I’m so grateful,” smiled Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted after the grand reopening Mass. “The church looks really beautiful. It has a sense of Jesus’ words, ‘I am the Light of the World’.” (Jn 8:12)

“Welcome home,” said the Very Rev. Fernando Camou, Cathedral rector, capping brief remarks prior to the opening hymn, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

The reopening drew an estimated 500 worshippers.

“It’s beautiful. It’s much lighter now. It seems like a more reverent, spiritual place. I’m so excited to be back,” said Judy Crable, an usher and parishioner.

The Mass marked the first time worshippers were inside since April 25, when the cathedral launched the renovation project. Services were moved temporarily to the parish hall, but capacity there was 250, compared with the 900 the Cathedral can host. The church originally held more, but previous reworking of seating trimmed that number.

The renovations were funded through the diocesan discipleship and evangelism campaign, “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante.”

Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN

“We are very grateful to all who contributed,” Fr. Camou said.

The upgrades included a repainted interior that changed the hue in back of the altar from a medium reddish brown to a light gold. It also gave other walls a fresh coat of their current color. Around the altar itself, the dark carpet gave way to a brilliant floor of white and golden natural stone. The aisle flooring, dark and worn, has been replaced with a herringbone pattern of interlaced honey gold and silver and white tiles. The center aisle has been widened, including a square-shaped area in the center of the nave. Three large floor medallions will be added, marking the three stages of the Rite of Baptism. Delivery is expected in the next week.

Cathedral staff replaced old, worn light-tinted wooden pews with ones of a deep, dark wood finish, and cushioned kneelers featuring small hydraulic components to slow their movement when raised or lowered, eliminating the banging that echoed the nave each time that was done.

There are other changes.

A white plaster surface now coats the ceilings of the apse, entrances and narthex. The ceiling over the narthex has been raised several feet, exposing the stained-glass windows at the back of the church and allowing sunlight to flow in. New chillers and duct work are in, and the level of the air vents has been raised to balance the temperature throughout the interior.

The electrical wiring hidden beneath floors, was reworked — a job that almost caused a major problem and left Fr. Camou breathing a sigh of relief.

Almost none of the wiring was in the architectural plans, he explained after Mass, and required re-routing. One day, as a worker was using a huge machine to saw through the concrete floor base, there was a dubious discovery. “They found he was very close to cutting a high-voltage wire, which probably would have blown up the church – an ordeal I was not ready for,” he said.

The excavation needed to prepare for the beautification gave Fr. Camou one of the illustrations for his homily – renewal never takes place without disturbing the status quo.

“Our souls were made to be radiant. But to receive the radiance, we have to do some digging,” he said. Meeting and getting to know the Risen Christ on a personal level involves stepping out in faith and is always a life-changing decision. To explain, he used the example of Bartimaeus, the blind man given his sight by Jesus as recorded in the day’s Gospel (Mk 10:46-52).

Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN

“When he heard Jesus was calling him, he leaped up and ran to Jesus. It’s not wise to do if you’re blind. He took a massive risk to encounter Jesus. When he receives his healing, the first thing he sees is Jesus (who) says, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.’ And Bartimaeus decides to do something different. Bartimaeus followed Jesus on HIS way. The blind man recovers his vision. He sees the face — the radiance of Jesus. That changes everything.”

Worshippers often mentioned the cathedral’s increased light when asked their impressions.

“This is more sacred in appearance as well as its very nature,” observed parishioner Devin Michael John Garcia.

“It’s beautiful now. It was beautiful before, but it was showing its age,” said Chet Yancy of Queen of Peace Parish in Mesa, a Knights of Columbus district marshal and part of the Knights contingent that day.

“This is becoming a beautiful cathedral. It always was because of the people, but now it is beautiful in its stature,” said Pat Wickert, a 15-year parishioner. “It’s like another renewal,”

The upgrades will be followed by others.

Future improvements will include two shrines on either side of the altar, one to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Diocese, and the other to St. Joseph.

“We have never had anything for St. Joseph in the Cathedral, and Our Lady of Guadalupe has only had a statue,” noted Fr. Camou She needs to be prominent in the Cathedral church.”

A statue of St. Simon and an as-yet-unnamed one will be installed in two slots along the sides of the nave to help foster devotional prayer.

While not all is finished, the reopening could not wait.

Oct. 24 was the Feast of Ss. Simon and Jude, the two Apostles for whom the Cathedral is named.

“I’m thankful that we could celebrate this on our Feast Day, of Saints Simon and Jude. I’m sure they were praying for us,” Bishop Olmsted said after Mass.

In addition, many are struggling with the overall frustrations, anxieties and — for some — the physical effects and personal loss of the COVID-19 pandemic, now almost 20 months old.

“We’re back; not because the pandemic and everything with it is over. But because we need to be one with Jesus to continue to face this ordeal,” Fr. Camou said in his homily.

Like the robust new look, he urged his hearers to renew their relationship with Jesus. Recalling the words of Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” issued Nov. 24, 2013, on the Feast of Christ the King, he reminded worshippers the invitation is for all “since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk.”