Traditionalist Catholic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre blessed a small, white Spanish-style church here today for the sacred use of a parish which, like Lefebvre, is defying its Pope.
The morning ceremony began to a low roll of thunder from a cloudy sky but brought hope and fulfillment to the hundreds of worshipers who filled the church, its vestibule and the steps out front on Highway 3. It is, according to pastor Hector L. Bolduc, the first church to be consecrated in the American traditionalist movement, on behalf of those who say they are trying to remain true to Catholic traditions as the official church moves away from them.
Lefebvre, who only recently ordained 14 priests trained in the church's traditional liturgy in defiance of the Pope, celebrated the old Tridentine (Latin) Catholic mass, outlawed since the mid-1960s, shortly after blessing the church and its altar. Then, despite having been stripped of his priestly duties by Pope Paul, the bishop conducted Holy Communion for the congregation, including First Communion for a group of young children.
"The Vatican and the bishops don't give the true Catholic fatih, don't conserve the true Catholic faith," Lefebvre told the congregation in English with a heavy French accent. This, he said, is "very, very tragic. How many bishops, now many priests, how many sisters have undone the Catholic faith?
"That we cannot accept. We want the Catholic faith," he said, adding that the Pope and the church's bishop offer a "second-hand faith."
The consecration of the Queen of Angels Church by such an internationally revered and criticized figure was a stunning capstone for the 600 to 800 parishioners, who since last November have been renovating and restoring a building that had been abandoned for three years.
It was, according to Bolduc, purchased from the Houston-Galveston diocese by a third party under the guise of wanting it for "commercial property."
But beyond that, Bolduc foresees the stucco building - beams exposed, windows stained in shades-of-blue geometric patterns - becoming "the center for the entire Southwest traditional movement," if not for the nation's.
"Now we have a real church to go to instead of a meeting hall," said Bolduc, whose 14 priests travel to cities across the South, Midwest, West and Mexico to teach traditions abandoned by liberalization.
The traditionalist movement, embodies in Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X, has about 100,000 followers in the United States and "several million" worldwide, according to Bolduc.
Lefebvre's presence at today's ceremonies was mandated, Bolduc said, because "a church has to be dedicated and consecrated by a bishop," and no American bishop would do so.
For Lefebvre, whom Pope Paul has threatened with excommunication, it was the first public appearance since his Swiss ordinations on June 29, which the Pope called "unlawful."
"We must fight against all things that destroy the . . . Catholic faith and the religion," the 71-year-old archbishop told the congregation.
Periodically, Lefebvre's celebration of the mass was punctuated by knocking and ratting from those bolted outside the church, the overflow faithful and curious for whom there was no room.
Dickinson is a middle-class suburb southeast of Houston. Many here today came from Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere. They were all ages, mostly white but some black and Hispanic.
The mass was a solemn display of the Catholic pageantry and symbolism that Bolduc said afterward brings "grace to the people." He said people "are fed up with mundance and humanistic services that take the mass and lower it to something common."
So it was for Teresa Brown, 27, mother of three. One of her children, Brandie, 7, has just received First Communion. "That was the way I was raised and that's the way I believe it," Mrs. Brown said after mass. "In my heart I feel this is the true Catholic faith."
A resident of nearby Pasadena, Tex., she and her husnand, Jim, a bricklayer, three years ago gave up their local church and its liberalized ways that sprang from the Vatican II Council of 1962-65, which sought a greater tolerance of religious differences. "We just didn't get our fulfillment."
Mrs. Brown said it wasn't so much the masses in English as the general relaxation of traditions in confessions, masses and religious training.
Did any one thing drive her from her church? "No," she said. "I say no, but the trumpets and guitars in mass had something to do with it."
Mrs. Brown said she was not worried about excommunication for defying the Pope or about the validity of her daughter's commission. "If it's a split of the Catholic Church, then I'll go with that," she said, looking at the Queen of Angels. "I think a person should go with their heart and their mind, whatever the individual wants."
Bolduc said he doubts the Pope will believe that they, practicing the reli-the numbers who would follow him. He said any healing of the divisions may have to await the next Pope.
Lefebvre, Bolduc, Mrs. Brown and others in the traditionalist movement believe that they, paracticing the religion as it had been for hundreds of years, are the true Catholics, that it is the Pope and others who have gone astray.
"We have no desire to be a sect within the church," Lefebvre told the congregation. "We are Catholic and we shall be Catholic . . . we are sure that God is with us."
After two hours of blessing, consecreation, mass and Commission, Lefebvre proceeded slowly, his face peaceful, out of the church and into the sacristy.
"Karel Sicner, a native Czech who lives in Houston, said: "I feel to come to this place, they are really Catholic Church, I no like something new in my church.