Catholics gather to mark 150th anniversary of Archdiocese of Seattle; they rejoice in its triumphs, lament its failings, dream of tomorrow.
That was how Iole Wood of St. John Bosco Church in Lakewood described the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, held Saturday at Saint Martin's College in Lacey.
"It's a joy to be together with (those) who believe the same way I do and celebrate this wonderful anniversary," Wood said.
Wood's friend and fellow parishioner, Angela Polance, agreed.
"For me, I feel like it's celebrating with the rest of the family."
The two joined an estimated 2,500 Catholics at Mass held during the celebration, called A Festival of Faith. The event marked the sesquicentennial of the archdiocese, which covers Western Washington.
Mirroring the archdiocese's community, the event was multigenerational and multicultural, with parishioners of all ages and varying ethnic backgrounds. There were readings in English, Spanish and the Tagalog language of the Philippines.
Joanne Gutierrez and her sister, Kasandra Gutierrez, were decked out in colorful Puyallup tribal "jingle dresses." The dresses shimmer and jingle when the young women move.
The two were among the faithful who carried rainbow-colored banners at the beginning of the historic Mass of Thanksgiving, celebrated by Archbishop Alex J. Brunett.
"It's pretty special," Joanne Gutierrez said. "It's a great honor to be part of this celebration."
Brunett spoke of the earliest days of the archdiocese, which began in 1850, when Catholic Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet moved from Walla Walla to start a new diocese in Vancouver, then a population and trading center for the region.
The first Catholics of the region "left to us a powerful legacy, a vision of church in which the ordained and lay faithful share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Jesus Christ," Brunett told those who gathered Saturday. "In the words of today's Gospel, 'Christ is the vine, we are the branches,'" he said.
He paid tribute to three dioceses in Mexico, which helped fund the beginnings of Western Washington's church. Brunett said part of the offerings collected during Saturday's services would be returned to the three Mexican dioceses, "In order to return the generous favor the Mexican people bestowed on us," he said.
Brunett also used the occasion to apologize for the role the archdiocese played in the early history of the area.
The Walla Walla Diocese had been plagued by hostilities between settlers and American Indians and between Catholic and Protestant missionaries. Then in 1853, six years after Cayuse Indians killed Presbyterian missionary Marcus Whitman and his family, church officials dismantled the Walla Walla Diocese.
Brunett apologized for the actions of white settlers who brought disease that devastated the Northwestern Indian tribes.
"As we celebrate 150 years of Catholic history, I reiterate the formal apology extended to the Native American peoples on Nov. 21, 1987, asking for both forgiveness and blessing as we celebrate the God of Abraham and Sarah and the Spirit who lies in both the Cedar and Salmon People we honor and celebrate," Brunett said.
He also apologized for the "destructive attitudes" that once existed between Catholics and Protestants in Walla Walla.
"I extend a formal apology to the first Protestant communities" living in the region of Fort Walla Walla, he said. Those attitudes, Brunett said, perpetuated an environment of violence and hostility against Protestants.
The archdiocese's actual anniversary is May 31, the date Pope Pius IX elevated the district of Nisqually to a diocese and transferred Blanchet from the Walla Walla Diocese. The celebration was held Saturday to avoid a conflict with Memorial Day. (The archdiocese also will hold a formal liturgical commemoration in July at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.)
A multitude of Catholic institutions have grown out of the church's earliest days, including schools, hospitals and social service agencies.
Today, the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle has 370,000 registered members and 171 parishes, missions and faith communities. But because many Catholics are not formally registered, the Seattle Archdiocese estimates that 508,900 people actually are involved with a parish.
When the number of registered Catholics in the Seattle Archdiocese is added to the total in the state's two other dioceses, Yakima and Spokane, the numbers swell to 515,250 registered Catholics in Washington, forming the state's largest religious group.
Although just a fraction of those members showed up for Saturday's event, it was still an awe-inspiring affair, several of the faithful said.
"I think it's a glorious thing," said Theresa Hettler, a member of St. Joseph Church in Chehalis.
"You need things like this to remind you of where you come from," said Hettler's friend and fellow parishioner, Maureen Spacciante.
It was a similar feeling for Rochelle Heye of Renton, who said the event was a chance "to come together in unity as Catholics."
Heye and her husband, Herman Heye, reveled in the opportunity "to celebrate with all the other people in the archdiocese. It's just a thrill for us," she said.
It was a lifetime chance for Marty Matney, a member of the Holy Family church in Kirkland. He is part of the church's bell choir, which got to perform during the sesquicentennial celebration.
"I feel honored and in awe," he said. "I feel really fortunate to be able to give something back to this whole (event); it really means a lot to me."
The daylong festival included live music, other entertainment and some 100 exhibits that explained the history of parishes, schools, hospitals and other Catholic institutions in Western Washington.
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* Reach staff writer Gestin Suttle at 253-597-8646 or gestin.suttle@ mail.tribnet.com