How a Church on the ‘peripheries’ celebrates Easter

Gallup, N.M., Mar 29, 2018 / 11:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Catholic Church prepares to receive thousands of Catholic converts this Easter, Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup, N.M., is preparing to receive seven. Gallup’s bishop says he is grateful to celebrate the Triduum in a place many describe as the “periphery” of American culture.

“We go back to the first Mass being celebrated here in 1539 by the Franciscan friar, Marcos de Nizo, down at the Zuni Pueblo,” Bishop James Wall of Gallup told CNA, referring to a Native American village about 40 miles outside of Gallup.

“They were some of the first people to receive the good news here, so it’s important that [this] culture and that act of worship and praise of God in the Church’s liturgy is present,” he told CNA.

Wall has served as Gallup’s bishop for nine years. The diocese includes territory in New Mexico and Arizona, over 55,000 square miles, with 53 parishes, 5 social centers, and 13 schools. Native American reservations comprise much of its territory. 64,250 Catholics live in the diocese, 12.5 percent of the area’s total population.

Wall said the diocese includes Hispanic families living in the area for 14 or 15 generations, along with one of the country’s highest diocesan populations of Native Americans.  The diocese has extraordinary poverty rates. Census data shows that more than 25 percent of people in the diocese live in poverty, compared to a national average near 13 percent. In some areas of the diocese, particularly on reservations, the poverty rate climbs even higher.

Wall said the community, though poor, is generous, and contributes musical talents and artistic gifts to celebrate the Easter Triduum.

“They are giving from their poverty, and they are giving what they are able to give. So it might not be a humongous check, but they are really giving of themselves.”

“They give up their time. They give of their talents,” said Bishop Wall. “They will do whatever they can to make the liturgy beautiful, to give of themselves, because we know that the liturgy itself is all for the glory and praise of God.”

The Easter liturgies, Wall said, will include authentic Native American drums and indigenous Catholic songs, reflecting the cultures of the Acoma, Navajo, and Laguna tribes living in the area.

Many tribes celebrate the Triduum in their home parishes, Wall explained, but the Chrism Mass at Gallup’s cathedral included songs in the language of the Laguna. Pottery and rugs from other tribes are also displayed at the cathedral.

“We try to incorporate it as best as possible in our environment. We will have Native American rugs. We’ll have pots made from the Native Americans. We’ll use some of the visuals to incorporate the cultures,” said the bishop.

Of 196 dioceses in the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has received 85 reports from U.S. dioceses on the number of catechumens – those who will be baptized – and candidates – baptized Christians who will be confirmed – who are expected to enter the Church this year. “Based on these numbers, more than 30,000 people are expected to be welcomed into the Church at Easter Vigil Masses this Saturday,” the bishops’ conference reported.

Bishop Wall told CNA that Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup will welcome seven people into the Catholic Church this Easter, and other parishes in the diocese will receive new converts on as well.

Large dioceses like Los Angeles, Houston, and Atlanta will induct thousands of candidates and catechumens this Easter, but Wall said that, though small, the diversity and history in a diocese like his contribute to the beauty of its Easter liturgies.

Wall reflected on his own favorite moments of Holy Week, saying that it is moving to see Catholics return year after year to Triduum liturgies, to receive new Catholics, and also to experience Chrism Mass and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper as a priest and bishop.

“Especially as a bishop [and] as a priest, [Holy Thursday] is very, very special because of that institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood.”

“And those are the two great gifts to the Church because without the priesthood we don’t have the Eucharist, and what does the Eucharist do? It feeds us with the presence of our Lord, who is substantially present to us by his body, blood, soul, and divinity.”


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