[Source: Amanda Chan, Arizona Republic] -- It sits in the middle of a dirt field, at 16th Street and Buckeye Road, just west of the always-bustling Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The Sacred Heart Church building is usually quiet with dusty plastic covers draped over the pews. It's a deserted area for much of the year. But every Christmas, the building transforms into a hub for reunion, laughter and tears. People fill the pews. Cars fill the lot. Former residents of the Golden Gate Barrio, the surrounding neighborhood that was cleared out by Phoenix in the 1970s and '80s, come to the church for a special Christmas Mass. Each year, people laugh and talk loudly with their old friends and former neighbors while others weep quietly and kneel in the dirt where their homes stood 30 years ago, said Abe Arvizu Jr., chairman of Braun-Sacred Heart Center Inc., the non-profit group that has organized the Christmas Mass for the past 20 years. Folks like Carmen Peralta, 81, used to live in the barrio and attend Sacred Heart, which was started in the 1950s by the Franciscan and former military chaplain Rev. Albert Braun.
She said that for her and her husband, Vincent, the Christmas Masses are like reunions. "We go every Christmas just to see our old friends, whoever is left, maybe the grandchildren or the people we used to know," Peralta said. "We just love to see somebody that we haven't seen for a long time." Peralta said that most of the original residents of the Golden Gate Barrio are gone, but that the older ones and their children still come to the church every year. Arvizu, 50, also lived in the neighborhood, bound roughly between 16th and 24th streets, before residents had to relocate to other parts of the Valley. His family helped to build the church structure in 1956, particularly with the electrical wiring. He said the Masses are like coming home to see family. "It's like a coming-home Mass . . . a jubilee Mass, because you get to come back home and you get to be with family and friends, people you haven't seen in years, or that you haven't seen since the last Mass," he said. The Christmas service is like a big celebration of everyone's life all over again, he said. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]