Immaculate Heartbreak

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After the fire, attending Mass at Immaculate Heart meant filing into a sweltering old gymnasium that bore no relation to the adjacent church: no tabernacle, no altar, no Italian marble statues, no stained-glass dome, no pews or kneelers. Some longtime parishioners were so overcome with grief that they couldn't bear to attend Mass at Immaculate Heart.

For Madrid, any attempt to rebuild unity at Immaculate Heart is undermined every time parishioners enter their dispiriting temporary surroundings. The brightly lighted room is more sterile than sacred. Clean peach-colored walls are adorned with cantaloupe-hued flourishes. A large white statue of Jesus hangs on a blanket on the front wall. Shiny white folding chairs are arranged in a U shape around the priest standing at a makeshift altar.

To the rear of the room, a Virgin of Guadalupe statue is decorated with flowers, but none of the candles or family photographs that were essential parts of traditional devotion in the church. Nearby a few pictures chronicling the church's history end with a tragic shot, the blackened core of Immaculate Heart.

Some say the spirit of the church has also darkened.

"When you go to a Mass, you try to separate [Madrid] the man and all the things he's done from the idea that the voice of God is coming through him," says Lourdes Soto, an Immaculate Heart parishioner and member of the Christian Faithful. "But when he starts saying things that you don't believe, you start getting angry."

Even supporters of Madrid acknowledge the underlying tension at the church. Armando Jenkins, who implores his fellow parishioners to have faith in Madrid, says since the fire, he cannot bring himself to attend Mass regularly. The fighting and bickering are just too much, he told a group at a recent church-restoration meeting.

"I am ashamed," Jenkins says. "I am sick and tired of the arguments, anger and accusations."

To Jenkins, such anger leads to hatred, and hatred can only lead to hell.

Saúl Madrid's rocky relationship with Immaculate Heart began in 1998, a full year before he was named pastor of the church.

At that time, Sotelo told parishioners that Madrid would come over from St. Anthony to deliver Mass for the next three weeks. He explained that it was part of an effort to build fellowship between St. Anthony and Immaculate Heart.

The first Sunday, Madrid barely made it in time for his noon Mass, parishioners say. The following week, Sotelo waited for Madrid to arrive before leaving the church. Madrid never came. He failed to show up the third week, too, church members say. Sotelo ended up celebrating the Masses.

Despite this discouraging omen, parishioners say it was not anti-Madrid sentiment that initially caused them to protest Bishop O'Brien's March 1999 announcement that Madrid would replace Sotelo, who was being assigned to prison ministry, as pastor at Immaculate Heart.

They say their resentment was directed more at the bishop, whom they felt had demeaned the parish's storied history by forcing it to share another church's pastor. About 1,200 parishioners attended Mass at St. Anthony every Sunday, and approximately 8,000 turned up at Immaculate Heart; the demands on any one pastor seemed overwhelming. But diocesan officials insisted that Phoenix's severe shortage of priests made the consolidation necessary.

Even such Madrid supporters as Jenkins, an Immaculate Heart parishioner for nearly 11 years, were concerned by what the move would mean to their parish.

"When we were bringing in Father Saúl, I told the bishop that there has been no recruitment effort by the diocese for priests, and that's why they have a shortage," Jenkins says. "I admire Father Saúl's efforts, but I think it's too much for one person to handle two parishes."

Shortly after the announcement was made, Immaculate Heart parishioners started hearing tales from St. Anthony that suggested Madrid was having a tough time handling even one parish.

Madrid had been named head pastor at St. Anthony in the summer of 1994. St. Anthony was the fourth church he had been assigned to in the Valley since being ordained on June 1, 1985. It was all part of what had been an impressive rise from humble beginnings in Mexico.

Although New Times was not able to verify Madrid's tale of his entry into the United States, he has told others he came here as an 18-year-old illegal immigrant from a small farming town in Chihuahua, Mexico. He talks of his father making the sign of the cross on Madrid's forehead and asking God to protect his son on his journey across the border. He says that he spent 32 hours walking across the desert in summer, praying for strength the entire time.

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