By Roberta Cianciosi
Over a thousand people joined Bishop Gerald Kicanas, Rev. Marcos Velásquez, Parochial Vicar George Kunnel, Deacon Mario Ortega and visiting priests from the Diocese of Tucson and Phoenix for the Solemn Rite of Dedication for the new Our Lady of Grace Church on Saturday.
The ceremony was a conclusion to a journey begun when the parish was originally known as the St. Francis De Sales Mission.
“My family came to see what stole their father’s heart, his lovely heart, Our Lady of Grace, this was his family too,” said Priscilla Santi, whose late husband Wayne Santi worked for the church and helped in the fund-raising as well as the planning of the new church.
The day began with a procession from the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace to the front entrance of the church where the builders and parish representatives turned the building over to the bishop, who called on Velásquez to open the doors of the new church.
The ceremonies began with Kicanas blessing the water, sprinkling everyone in attendance to remind them of their repentance, and their baptism as well as blessing the walls, and to purify the altar.
The two hour and 45 minute ceremony consisted of a solemn mass and anointing of the interior of the church
“The Cathedral of Maricopa,” Bishop Kicanas proclaimed to the parishioners, who filled every pew to capacity and those standing in the vestibule. “It’s a historic day for our church, and the Diocese.”
“It is a privilege and joy to dedicate our Lady to Our Lady of Grace. We can say, ‘Finally!’” Kicanas said. He praised Velásquez for staying the course, and in the words of St. Peter, on this rock, this church has been built, he said.
Kicanas spoke of the church’s history, beginning with the arrival of Father Fidelis who knocked on the door of Alma Farrell’s family home to bring the Catholic faith to the people of Maricopa.
After his talk, the “Deposit of the Relics” took place at the altar. It is customary for all new churches to have relics of martyred saints deposited beneath the altar. For the new Our Lady of Grace, the relics of three saints were deposited, and they are St. Maria Goretti, St. Dominic Savio and St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.
“We have waited so long for this day,” said Teresa Diaz, who, along with a few volunteers, held an all-night vigil at the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace, where the relics were placed during the vigil service Friday evening. “Our Youth Ministry was so on fire, passionate in their contribution, that it is an honor to have the relics of three young saints.”
For the anointing of the altar, Kicanas removed his ceremonial vestments, donned a white apron and proceeded to pour oil on the altar and used his hand to spread that oil along the altar’s surface. This makes the altar a symbol of Christ as the “Anointed One,” and the blessing of the walls in four places symbolizes the church as a house of Christian worship, according to Catholic belief.
The burning of incense at the altar, the lighting of the altar and church and the preparation of the altar and gifts completed the dedication.
The offertory gifts were presented to Kicanas by the youth of the parish representing the different ethnicities who attend Our Lady of Grace.
The service was broadcast on two large screens under the tent adjacent to the church. The tent was filled to capacity by those parishioners unable to get a seat inside the church.
“It was an amazing spiritual experience,” said Erica Mannlein, who attended the event with her husband Eric.
“We feel so blessed to be a part it and we wondered if we would see this day. With God all things are possible,” Eric Mannlein said.
“Very grateful for the opportunity the Lord gave me,” Velásquez said. “It confirms my faith, God’s love, mercy and kindness.”
Near the conclusion of the service, Kicanas’ assistant Master of Ceremonies Rev. Miguel Mariano called to the altar youth member Matthew Sabetta. In the weeks leading up to the dedication, Matthew sent an email to the bishop with the request to meet him as well as invite him to the ceremony.
Matthew and his grandmother Melanie Warthman have been at the site from the very beginning when the infrastructure and the lights were completed to the building of the new church. His enthusiasm for this whole project earned him his wish to meet the bishop.
“It was overly emotional, fabulous,” parishioner Amy Hunt said. “This was a fulfillment of all the hard work from the fish fries, the burritos sold on Sundays, the carnival to this moment.”
In his closing remarks, Pastor Velásquez expressed his thanks to all who helped make this day a reality.