Stephen Byzantine Catholic Cathedral, the cathedral for the Phoenix-based Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy, celebrated 50 years of serving the faithful with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy Sept. 30.

The liturgy, how Eastern Catholics refer to the Mass, marked the cathedral’s jubilee.

“It’s a feast day to remember,” said the eparchy’s Bishop John S. Pazak, CSsR, during his homily before over 250 worshippers who filled the cathedral to overflowing. “As we recollect, we’re all part of what God has blessed in this community in Phoenix.”

The occasion also reinforced the faith bond between the eparchy, which serves 13 western U.S. states, and the diocese, which is home to 1.8 million Roman-Rite Catholics. The Eparchy, whose members practice the Byzantine Rite, one of the Church’s Eastern Rites, has a population in the thousands. Joining the celebration were Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares.

“St. John Paul II said the Church breathes with two lungs: Eastern and Western,” noted Bishop Olmsted, who was appointed Aug. 1 by Pope Francis as Apostolic Administrator Sede Plena of the Eparchy. “To have an eparchy in Phoenix, as well as the diocese in the Latin Rite [shows] we’re breathing with both lungs. It shows a fuller Church that’s alive with the Holy Spirit — the breath of God.”

While young families and immigrants from the Middle East, notably Iraq, are helping fuel the cathedral’s current growth, a core of established members has sustained St. Stephen.

Thomas and Jennifer Hetrick of Phoenix, members for about a decade, embrace the sense of family as well as the worship style, which is highlighted by chanting the liturgy without musical instruments.

“Everyone gets involved. Even visitors can pick up the rhythms. It doesn’t take much if you come several times. It is a lot more like a prayer. It reminds me of all the heritage back East and you think more about what you are doing,” said Jennifer, who is originally from West Virginia, a state that is among many where the Byzantine heritage is more prevalent due to stronger ties with Eastern Europe.

The liturgical tradition also appeals to Chester and Dolores Sugent, parishioners for more than 20 years who moved here from central Pennsylvania. But Dolores cited other factors, too.

“It’s the fellowship, fun and camaraderie; the support. It’s very important. It’s God house and it is important to feel at home in God’s house,” she said.

Full story at The Catholic Sun.