By Joyce Coronel
With more than 6,000 registered families, growing by another 250 families each year, St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church is one of the more dynamic congregations in Chandler. It’s also the second largest Catholic parish in the greater Phoenix area.
The Rev. Robert Aliunzi, who became pastor of St. Andrew’s a little over a year ago, recently gave his State of the Parish address in which he laid out what he sees as the future of the faith community.
At its core, he said, that future is inextricably interwoven with evangelization and the formation of disciples. He also touched on one of the more painful topics for Catholics: the mass exodus of so many Millennials.
“I have heard over and over again as a pastor from many of our parishioners here … that, sadly, many of you carry the huge burden of children and grandchildren who have abandoned the faith,” Rev. Aliunzi said. Many parents, he said, blame themselves for their children’s lack of faith.
“But the fact is that the rules have all changed. We no longer have the cultural props we had before, and the social current has turned against us all,” Rev. Aliunzi said.
“The only solution going forward is to return to what Jesus asked us 2,000 years ago: To not just make believers, or ‘practicing Catholics,’ but to make disciples.”
In that vein, renovations—both spiritual and physical—are on the horizon for the West Chandler church. The parish, Rev. Aliunzi said, needs to work toward forming disciples who make devotion to the Eucharist the center of their lives.
St. Andrew’s, founded in 1985, was not designed with the classic Catholic tradition of placing the tabernacle that holds the Eucharist just behind the main altar. Instead, the parish has it off to the side, something Rev. Aliunzi said must change.
Bill Marcotte, pastoral associate at St. Andrew’s, pointed to the reasons why the tabernacle will be moved and a large crucifix will be installed.
“The Eucharist is central to our Catholic faith and it should be central to our parish,” Marcotte said.
Catholics believe that the bread consecrated by the priest during Mass becomes the body of Christ. “Where it is currently located makes it difficult to be reverent to Christ in the tabernacle. People don’t know which direction to genuflect, and as a result, many in our parish have stopped genuflecting altogether.”
It’s not uncommon, he added, to see someone leaning up against the tabernacle as they are waiting to find a seat.
For years, those who enter the sanctuary of the mission-style church have noted the large sculpture of the resurrected Christ mounted above the altar, an uncommon sight in a Catholic church.
One of the universals in a Catholic church over the centuries and across the world is the presence of a large crucifix front and center.
“The resurrection is mightily important, but without the crucifixion we do not have a resurrection,” Marcotte said. “As Catholics, we celebrate the paradox … Our faith is stronger because we recognize that through death we experience everlasting life.”
The parish, he noted, is one of the few Catholic churches around that does not have a crucifix.
All that will change soon. The parish will undergo renovation sometime this summer. Not everyone is happy though, and some have expressed their concerns to Rev. Aliunzi. They wonder if the funds spent on renovations might not be better utilized to feed the poor.
In a Jan. 8 letter to the parish, Rev. Aliunzi noted that the parish is already “doing a fantastic job of that in Haiti and in Africa.”
St. Andrew’s has an outreach program to both impoverished areas as well as robust outreach programs in Chandler.
“As an individual, I know what being poor means,” Rev. Aliunzi wrote. The Ugandan native was orphaned at an early age and was the youngest of 10 children who struggled to survive.
In his letter to parishioners, he also cited the biblical passage of the woman at Bethany whom the disciples criticized for anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume—perfume that could have been sold, with the proceeds going to the poor.
Citing the late pontiff John Paul II, the Rev. Aliunzi wrote, “The church fears no extravagance, devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration” for the Eucharist.