Houston’s Catholics Get New Co-cathedral

Retired Archbishop Fiorenza Shares Highlights

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By Annamarie Adkins

HOUSTON, Texas, APRIL 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The 1.3 million Catholics in the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese now have a new mother church to go along with their new cardinal.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop, was on hand when the newly built Co-cathedral of the Sacred Heart opened the first weekend in April in the heart of downtown Houston to continue serving its 2,000 families and reaching out to the community.

Retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, 77, of Houston began this project under his episcopacy, and continued to shepherd it after then Coadjutor Archbishop DiNardo was appointed head of the archdiocese two years ago.

ZENIT spoke with Archbishop Fiorenza, former president of the U.S. bishops' conference, about the meaning of the new co-cathedral for the archdiocese and some its most notable features.

Q: What is the importance of a cathedral in the life of a local church? Why does Galveston-Houston have a "co-cathedral"?

Archbishop Fiorenza: In the life of every diocese the cathedral is the mother church, where the bishop has his "cathedra," his chair.

Symbolically speaking, from the "cathedra," he teaches, governs and sanctifies the Church for which he has been given responsibility. It is the most important church in the diocese; it is the liturgical center for the diocese. It has extreme importance in every diocese.

The original cathedral, St. Mary's, was built in Galveston when the diocese was established in 1847. At that time, it embraced the whole state of Texas, which now has 15 dioceses.

When the diocese was redesignated as Galveston-Houston, the Holy See established A co-cathedral in Houston; so it's a co-cathedral because of the original still in Galveston.

Q: The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is one of the fastest growing and most diverse communities in the United States. How is the unique character of the diocese reflected in the new Co-cathedral of the Sacred Heart?

Archbishop Fiorenza: We were conscious of the fact that we are diverse. We are centered around the local bishop; he is the source of unity for the diversity.

In the co-cathedral we have two major shrines: one to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who is patron of the co-cathedral; and one to Mary Immaculate, patroness of the archdiocese and the United States.

One of the minor shrines is dedicated to Juan Diego -- with his tilma bearing the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- because over half of the diocese is Hispanic.

We have another statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the foundress of the Catholic school system, surrounded by three children: one Anglo, one Asian and one African-American. We did that deliberately to show the diversity of our children.

There's also a shrine to St. Martin de Porres of Peru, whose father was Spanish and mother was African; he is the patron of charity and social justice.

So in that sense we tried to be conscious of our diverse population. We've tried to appeal to our cultural diversity and the saints who have a large number of devotees locally.

Q: There are beautiful statues, Italian marble, and stained glass windows throughout the new co-cathedral. Can you describe some of your favorite features of this magnificent edifice?

Archbishop Fiorenza: A lot of people ask me, "What is your favorite part, or statue or window?" That's hard to decide.

The two large statues of Jesus and Mary are from marble, and are 12 feet high; the other statues of the saints are wood, but beautifully painted. There's a magnificent window over the entrance to the cathedral of the resurrection of Jesus, symbolically rising over the city of Houston.

The huge crucifix over the main apse is so striking in its depiction of the suffering of Jesus. They are all very attractive parts of the co-cathedral.

But I think that the most beautiful thing is the altar, a magnificent red piece of marble from Ethiopia. It sits on twelve columns, and is very strong, striking and powerful.

When you walk in, it draws your attention there, which it should; that's where the Eucharist is celebrated, where we renew the death and resurrection of Jesus at every Mass.

Q: Could you elaborate upon that point and describe what principles guided the building and design of the co-cathedral?

Archbishop Fiorenza: We instructed the architect that we wanted something that was simple but beautiful: elegant and noble, that's what's attractive.

I think the exterior does that, with its Romanesque and modernistic features; it still captures the traditional cruciform architecture but with some very modern touches which I find powerfully simple and beautiful.

Our instructions for the interior were the same; we did not want Baroque. We wanted the height of it to attract you to the transcendence of God, but still focus attention to the altar, where the Mass is celebrated.

Q: Did you look to other cathedrals as models for the new co-cathedral?

Archbishop Fiorenza: We did not at all. We just gave those basic instructions to the architect.

Q: How does the new co-cathedral highlight the Eucharist as the "source and summit" of the Church's life?

Archbishop Fiorenza: When you walk in, the whole line of sight leads you to the altar, where the Eucharist is celebrated. That's what we wanted. That's what the Catholic faith is all about -- celebrating the Eucharist -- and we didn't want to distract from that.

The side shrines are out of sight, so you are only drawn to the huge crucifix above, then the altar; that's clearly highlighting the Eucharist as the source of our worship and our abiding love of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The tabernacle is a replica of the exterior of the cathedral, and is placed at the side of the altar, clearly visible to everyone. Its chapel is lined with the same red marble that the altar is made of, and has engraved in its wall, "I am with you always until the end of time."

It leads you to be conscious of the presence of Jesus, the abiding presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Q: It's often said that the Church should not be spending so much money on building grand temples, and instead be giving the money to those in need. How would you respond to this age-old criticism?

Archbishop Fiorenza: Actually, I don't hear it said very often. When we began the campaign to fund the co-cathedral, we were also raising money for eight other projects, some having to do with social services.

The money given for the co-cathedral in no way has taken away from the commitment of this archdiocese to serving the poor, elderly and sick; we have every intention of continuing that commitment. The poor will not be neglected.

What I think the co-cathedral will do is intensify Catholic life in the archdiocese. If that happens, there will be more love of the poor and a greater commitment to helping others, serving justice, and doing what we can to eliminate the problems that trap people in poverty.

The co-cathedral is not only a place of central worship but also a place for Catholics to learn that living their faith includes charity and justice; that's how we are faithful to the faith we profess.

I think that the ones who are the happiest about the co-cathedral and were looking forward to it the most are the poor; they just love it and feel it's their church, too. They have anticipated the building with greater joy than anyone. The poor should have a nice place to go to church, too.

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On the Net:

Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral: http://www.sacredhearthouston.org