In the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, the growth in the Catholic Church has been so great that six new churches have been dedicated since 2013.
“On Saturday was our sixth new church dedication in the five-and-a-half years since the archbishop’s been here,” said Portland Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith.
“It’s just very interesting because most bishops in their lifetime probably only do one or two of them. Between us we’ve done six,” he told CNA.
The six churches have either been heavily renovated or newly built. The most recent was Saint Anne’s Catholic Church in Grants Pass, which was dedicated September 1.
Since Archbishop Alexander Sample was installed to head the Archdiocese of Portland in April 2013, five other churches have also been expanded: Shepherd of the Valley Church in Central Point, Saint Edward in Kaiser, Saint Andrew Dung-Lac Mission in Hillsboro, Saint Joseph the Worker in Portland, and Saint Alexander in Cornelius.
Bishop Smith said the expansion in the archdiocese is largely due to an increase in Catholic immigrants, including the Latino, Vietnamese, and Filipino communities.
In the last five years, he said, large groups of Latin Americans have moved to Portland, taking advantage of rural employment opportunities. He said parishes and seminaries have seen an influx of Latin American immigrants, now making up an estimated 40 percent of the archdiocese.
Saint Alexander Catholic Church, which was dedicated last year, was a small parish and the only Catholic Church in the city of Cornelius. Bishop Smith said the parishioners were not wealthy, but they dedicated their time and resources to building up the parish, which now welcomes 2,000 parishioners every weekend.
Likewise, the newest parish, Saint Anne’s, received an abundance of support, even when experts were pessimistic about the fundraising. He said the community has a reputation of generosity, offering not only cash but skilled labor, like hand-crafted doors.
“The experts said, I think, they could raise about $2.3 million or $2.5 million max, which wasn’t even close to what they needed,” he said. “[However,] they raised more than double.”
“The community has a reputation of being a giving community and, my heavens, did they come through,” he said. “It’s just one of these things where the people came through and it’s a stunning tribute to the people of their parish.”
Bishop Smith highlighted the importance of beautiful Catholic churches, saying that a well-crafted house of worship directs parishioners to God.
“For us as Catholics and also for the Orthodox, the Church is sacred space. When people walk into a church they need to feel this is different, this is sacred,” he said.
“When you walk into a place of worship, you want the person who walks into it to be drawn to something beyond just themselves…which is the Lord,” he added.
Churches are places for Christian fellowship, but are first and foremost houses of worship and prayer, he said. This has been a major focus of Archbishop Sample during his time leading the archdiocese.
“The archbishop, since he’s been here, his focus [has been that] churches need to look like [Catholic] churches, firstly, and…secondly, we need to have the tabernacle behind the altar – front and center.”