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Archdiocese of Santa Fe observes 150th anniversary
Associated Press
Oct. 6, 2003
07:42 AM

SANTA FE, N.M. - Joy was the word, a thread among Roman Catholic parishioners and those in religious vocations alike, as the Archdiocese of Santa Fe celebrated its 150th anniversary.

The Rev. Jerome Martinez y Alire told early arrivals Sunday at St. Francis Cathedral, a Santa Fe landmark, that they were entering a place "soaked with history."

A diocese founded in 1853 has carried on traditions that began with Spanish settlers and Franciscan friars who first came to the area in 1598.

"Our hearts are joyful," Archbishop Michael Sheehan proclaimed to the 1,200 people in the cathedral, including more than a dozen other bishops.

The diocese that now covers much of New Mexico once oversaw all of the state and areas of Arizona, Colorado and other parts of the Southwest.

"We stand on the shoulders of men and women of faith, our spiritual ancestors," Sheehan said. "Others will stand on our shoulders."

Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Santa Fe on July 29, 1853, and named Jean-Baptiste Lamy its first bishop. It became an archdiocese in 1875, and Lamy had the cathedral built in 1884.

Lamy, Sheehan said, was a product of spiritual revival that followed a period of scandal and persecution of the church in France. Likewise, the troubles and scandals of today will be followed by spiritual renewal, said Sheehan, who recalled once celebrating a Mass in Lamy's village church in France.

"If we take our Catholic faith seriously, our lives will be happier, there will be fewer problems, and the problems we do have will be lighter," Sheehan said.

He blessed a new processional cross and rededicated the great carved doors in the front of the cathedral, which have new panels commemorating historic moments from early New Mexico. He also blessed a new stained glass window of St. Francis of Assisi. The cathedral already has a number of stained glass windows from France and arched ceilings like those in many French churches.

"It's wonderful to be a Catholic," Louella Florez Evans of Farmington said in an interview at the cathedral. "The rituals of faith we have come from our ancestors. Wherever we are in the world, we feel at home walking into a Catholic church. It's universal. The people of God are so blessed."

The nearly two-hour-long celebration was multicultural and multilingual.

It began with a procession led by men carrying what is billed as the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary in America - La Conquistadora, a 300-year-old, 31-inch statue richly robed in blue, trimmed with gold fleurs-de-lis.

Traditional religious dancers called "matachines," wearing fringed masks and carrying rattles, were followed by a bagpiper leading a procession of more than 100 bishops, priests and deacons.

Bishop of Las Cruces Ricardo Ramirez and Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup were present, as were Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and retired Bishop Thomas O'Brien of Phoenix. Sheehan has been overseeing the Phoenix diocese since O'Brien's resignation following an alleged hit-and-run traffic incident for which O'Brien faces trial Nov. 10.

Sheehan's prayers were in both English and Spanish, and there was a balance between English and Spanish throughout the service.

In addition, an offertory hymn was sung by members of the Vietnamese community from Our Lady of La Vang Catholic Church in Albuquerque, and a liturgical reading was given in Tewa, a Pueblo Indian language.

Santa Clara Pueblo's Buffalo Dancers chanted and drummed for one processional.

A reading of a letter from Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, a papal representative, concluded the event with apostolic blessings on behalf of Pope John Paul II.

The congregation also sang an African American gospel song, "Wade in the Water," and a choir broke into the Halleluiah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" at the conclusion of Sunday's event.

"There's a sense of joy and celebration," said Deborah Martinez, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Cimarron who was lucky enough to get one of 1,200 tickets. Cathedral seating is limited to 1,200, but video monitors allow events to be observed outside.