Editor’s Note: In this article, Veronica Moreno reflects on her parish, run by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. For several years, due to the large number of Catholics who attend Mass at this parish, all celebrations have been held in a parking lot under a tent. Veronica calls this the “Holy Tent.”
HEN WE WERE YOUNG, my husband and I visited Barcelona and the Sagrada Familia. The story of its long construction, spanning decades and generations, is well known (“La Sagrada Familia nears completion after 141 years”). The persistence of Antonio Gaudí is legendary. And the construction site, now a Church, hosts weekly Masses like a parish.
Beautiful things take time to build.
The Sagrada Familia amazes us because things aren’t build like that any more. The beauty of our modern cathedrals isn’t easy to see sometimes. You have to squint and tilt your head, and often times, read the laminated descriptions to understand what the artists meant.
Beautiful things can also be destroyed in an instant. I’m glad to be part of a community that’s working to build beautiful things. While our parish is currently in a “Canvas Church Tent”, being exposed to the weather during Mass isn’t anything new. Here are some reflections on what we see and hear under the big top.
What We See Looking Forward • Looking up, you see the stitching of the canvas, where the roof section meets the back “wall”—a kind of APSE, if you will. Webbed straps hold the two pieces together from one side of the wall to the other, like a zipper. Throughout, the steel frame stretches the canvas. You can count the straps that tie the roof canvas to the steel beams. In this way we’re like Gaudí intended for his church, the weight and the wind means that there’s almost no straight lines. There’s a dip here and a parabola there, as these steel cables strain to be taut.
Looking around, there are construction lights that hang from the beams. The same ones we buy for our backyard pachangas (parties) when we have a baby shower or to light the mariachi’s performance for our tías 65th birthday celebration. I think my husband can tell which hardware store the neon yellow extension cord is from. The cable snakes around the steel pole, a strange vine with stranger produce hanging in the form of LED construction lights.
Then there’s the steel wire that stretches across the beams. Somehow, it strains taut, offering the canvas a place to rest so it doesn’t sag, so the water from the rain doesn’t pool and can drip down on our heads all winter. It worked. We survived the wettest winter in recent memory here.
What We See Looking at the Sides • All along the sides, are our neighbors: industrial shops and warehouses on the other side of the iron bars atop the cement block wall. In our time there, we’ve painted the wall and someone kindly added cloth along the length of both sides of the “aisles.” Before those cloths, whatever workers were working overtime on Sunday mornings could peer directly at us as we knelt. Well, actually, even after the cloths were put up they can still look directly at us today, but at least they have to strain their eyes to look past the cloth-veil or find the cracks between sections of it.
Oh, and we do have one thing that the Sagrada Familia does not have: flying buttresses! Someone purchased and installed sun shade canvases that hang in the space between the steel structure and the property wall. This “aisle” upgrade instantly gave us hundreds of covered square footage, a truly heroic mercy provided for those of us who had to sit there (with children!) during these scorching southern California summers.
We love this Tent.
We love this parish.
We love these people.
We love this archdiocese.
We love this faith.
Without any reservation, I compare this tent in a commercial zone of San Fernando to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Why? Because at every Mass something extraordinary happens. Because the bells ring. Because my children are starting to behave. Because there are old ladies and men who use walkers. Because the locals seem to outnumber those who commute.1
Extraordinary Masses • The web site of the Sagrada Familia lists two big Sunday Masses: the “International Masses” and the “International evening Masses.” There’s also three Masses in Catalan and two in Spanish. But at the bottom of the page, there’s another category, curiously named. It says, “Throughout the year the Sagrada Familia hosts extraordinary Masses . . . see the calendar of masses for the upcoming extraordinary events.”
With a cheeky grin I say, “We have those too! Four extraordinary Masses every Sunday. And extraordinary during the week.”
We’re a modern Church. We have our own web app and stream Masses! But you don’t have to squint and tilt your head and research the bulletin to locate and witness beauty. All you have to do is open your heart, close your eyes, and sit under a Holy Tent.
1 Our parish started with a congregation of “commuters” who would drive in from all over southern California. An influx of “commuters” during the pandemic lockdown swelled our numbers. But in the most recent months, our Spanish-speaking local community appears to outnumber the “commuters.” The parish is experiencing organic, local growth.