On May 31, 2019, the parish community of St. Francis of Assisi in Gallup formally celebrated the opening of their long-awaited parish hall.
The celebration began with a Mass celebrated by Bishop James Wall, who noted during his homily that the parish had been working towards the construction of the hall for at least ten years – as long as his tenure as bishop of the diocese.
“That might seem like a long period, at least in our life,” the bishop said. “But if you think about in the ancient times, when they would build these great churches, these great edifices. Think about a place like the Cathedral in Florence, in Italy. It took 175 years to build that building.”
Builders of great medieval churches often gave their time and efforts to a structure that only future generations would see. And in Gallup, many individuals and organizations helped to fund the long-term project through donations, volunteer work, and by sponsoring bricks that now decorate the outside of the new hall.
Friars from around the diocese concelebrated the Mass, including Fr. Jack Clark Robinson, the provincial leader of the Franciscan Friars of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose territory includes New Mexico and Arizona.
The celebratory Mass fell during the Feast of the Visitation, which commemorates the reunion between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, both in the early stages of pregnancy – Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. During his homily, Bishop Wall drew parallels between the virtues of the two women and the intended purpose of the parish hall, especially the virtues of charity, humility and hospitality.
“We see hospitality in the Gospel in the beautiful welcoming of St. Elizabeth, when she sings that she is glorifying God that the mother of her Lord should come to visit her. And so we pray today as we bless our new building that our new building might always be a place of hospitality. Hospitality where we welcome all. We welcome the stranger, we welcome those whom we know, and in doing so, we are always practicing the virtue of humility as our Lady shows us, and most especially the virtue of charity.”
Bishop Wall concluded by asking the parishioners of St. Francis to always seek the protection and aid of Mary.
“And so let us ask for her intercession as we call her blessed, that she will intercede on our behalf, so that we might be a hospitable people, we might be a people who are deeply rooted and grounded in humility, and we might be a people – especially this community – one of charity, in imitation of our Lady.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, the bishop, priests and parishioners processed from the church to the new hall, where Bishop Wall blessed each room and the people in attendance. At the head of the procession and later placed prominently inside the hall was a replica of the San Damiano cross, from which the new hall takes its name.
Fr. Abel Olivas, pastor at St. Francis, explained first in English and then in Spanish to those in attendance that the name San Damiano was chosen because of the significance of the cross to St. Francis, founder of the Franciscan order.
Church history famously teaches that it was when he was praying in front of the San Damiano cross that St. Francis received the command from God to “rebuild the Church”. The San Damiano cross remains a popular symbol for Franciscans as a reminder of their service to the Church.
“Each of us are called to do the same, to rebuild our church” Fr. Olivas said. “And because of that, the name of the hall is beautiful.”