By Joel Davidson, Catholic Anchor editor
What has occurred at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage over the past several months is deeply disturbing for both believers and unbelievers alike.
It gives one pause that vandals would attempt to burn down an outdoor shrine to the Blessed Virgin, smash the windows of the Dominican priests’ vehicle, barge into the sanctuary and throw down statues of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, while stripping the holy altar and overturning the archbishop’s chair and other furnishings. Add to this that at least one Dominican friar has also been punched in the face and attempts have been made to break into the priests’ residence.
Regardless of one’s beliefs, attacks on a sacred house of worship and the oldest church in Anchorage leave one feeling less secure about our community and what we can expect from it.
In recent years, Holy Family Cathedral has had to hire security guards and establish a parish safety committee to ensure the well-being of parishioners and the integrity of the physical property. After the most recent trashing of the sanctuary, the parish is now considering whether to install security cameras.
The days of leaving the doors open for visitors to duck into the historic downtown cathedral for a moment of quiet prayer and reflection seem to be slipping away.
Increasing vandalism has forced the church to rethink its daylong open-door policy.
For now, it has initiated a temporary plan to remain closed for more hours during the weekdays. This includes the cancellation of evening prayer and Friday eucharistic adoration until further notice.
These decisions are not made lightly. The Dominicans, under whose care the Anchorage Archdiocese has placed the cathedral for more than 40 years, have expressed serious concern about having to limit access to the church and opportunities for prayer.
When the vandalism was first reported on the Catholic Anchor website, disheartened readers expressed hope that the cathedral would not close her doors, but remain open despite the risks.
“Please do not lock the church during the day. Christ made himself vulnerable, and continues to do so in modern times. And so must we,” one reader wrote.
Pope Francis, too, has called churches to keep their doors open whenever possible as a concrete sign that the church is the prodigal son’s welcoming father “who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns he can readily pass through it” and “so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door.”
It is ironic that these recent attacks have occurred against Holy Family Cathedral, arguably a church that has done more than any other in Anchorage for those who suffer from homelessness, mental illness and the debilitating consequences of poverty and crime. The cathedral has long offered food, counsel and spiritual renewal for those most in need. And as the historic cathedral — that stands prominently in downtown — it is the flagship of the Anchorage Archdiocese that runs shelters, food banks and myriad outreaches for desperate families, children and teens.
This year, the cathedral marks her 100th anniversary. Let us pray and support the church and her leadership as it discerns the balance between remaining vulnerable and open to the world while safeguarding her sheep and her mission to share the light of Christ to a dying and broken world.
It is truly a matter of finding that fine line which Christ spoke of when sending his beloved disciples to proclaim the Gospel to a hostile world: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”