Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 6, 2006
Slavic saints thrive in Texas
Multicultural parish retains its Eastern European roots
Sts. Cyril and Methodius – February 14
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Corpus Christi, Texas
From their place high on the sanctuary wall, two stern-looking Slavic saints, parish patrons, stare stoically ahead as below them, their church is filled with unfamiliar activity and music.
They are experiencing the Sunday noon Mariachi Mass at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in coastal Corpus Christi. Beginning with the spirited Canta de Entrada, the wonderful sounds of voices raised in praise in the familiar Spanish language liturgy, merged with those of trumpets, violins and guitars would seemingly move even these two Eastern stalwarts to a more relaxed emotional and spiritual involvement in this New World Eucharistic celebration.
Hidden in this enthusiasm is an explanation for this seemingly cultural anomaly, a story of a parish's adaptation to change, reflected in ethnic transitions and renaming of the church patron.
Although a new parish established in 1906 on the city's west side was comprised of mainly German-speaking families and dedicated to popular St. Boniface, it happened that with time, most parishioners were of Czech origin. Thus, Bishop Emmanuel Boelslaus Ledvina formally identified the church as Bohemian and in 1939, the name was changed to honour ninth century Sts. Cyril and Methodius.
These brothers became priests in Constantinople and were soon sent as missionaries to Moravia.
At the request of the ruler there, they began translating the liturgy and Scriptures into the vernacular Slavonic language, a step that led later to the establishment of the Cyrillic alphabet.
As with other early Church fathers, these apostles of the Slavs became embroiled in disputes with Roman Catholic authorities who insisted that Latin be the language of the Church.
After Cyril's death, Methodius continued a seemingly endless series of trips to Rome to defend his orthodoxy, was made an archbishop, was imprisoned for a time and continued his translations of the Gospels until his death in 884.
Because of parish growth, a new church was built in 1948 on South Padre Island Drive, a modest Spanish mission style structure with one campanario or bell tower and a complementary dome-capped tower on the fa‡ade.
Physical changes in the church, beginning with restoration after damage by Hurricane Celia in 1970, and expansion of the building in 1986 and 1989 have produced the airy, open interior that exists today.
To the left as visitors enter the church, a small porch contains a little shrine and a collection of traditional saintly statues, pre-renovation occupants of the modernized church interior. Standing out among them is an impressive brown-robed St. Cyril, alone since someone must have greatly admired his brother's statue which disappeared years ago from the church. The plain interior beyond accents the simple altar with its crucifix above.
Five weekend Masses are celebrated as well as daily morning Eucharist in this most active multicultural parish. Pastor Msgr. Lawrence White and parochial vicar Father Ponnuswamy Victor are responsible for 15 active ministries and some 3,000 registered families here while promoting ongoing spiritual renewal of the parish, the legacy of a series of dedicated pastors.
Despite changing demographics, it's appropriate that Sts. Cyril and Methodius should be here, recognized as they are as the patrons of ecumenism, unity of the Eastern and Western churches.
In their church, as Mass concludes with another joyous hymn of praise at the Salida, some participants might be excused if they think they detect a subtle gleam of pleasure in the eyes of the iconic brothers.
Let's face it, they reside here on the sub-tropical Texas Coastal Bend in a sparkling city by the sea dedicated to that fundamental of Christianity, the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.