Father Rafael Bercasio pastors perhaps the smallest parish in America — and the most uniquely situated. A short walk away from the south rim of the Grand Canyon sits El Cristo Rey Chapel, a small wooden building that serves as the spiritual home of the Catholic families who work at the national park. El Cristo Rey has 26 registered families, who are “always outnumbered by the tourists,” Father Bercasio said. The chapel is located within the boundaries of Grand Canyon Village, a residential neighborhood of around 1,500 households that includes a school, a grocery store and a post office. Residents are employed as park rangers and naturalists, maintenance workers, and hotel, restaurant and retail staff. Some live there only six months out of the year, although the park is open year-round. “You cannot live here if you’re not working in the Grand Canyon,” the priest explained. Grand Canyon Village is perhaps more familiar to park visitors as the site of historic hotels such as El Tovar and the stopping point for the most photographed views of the canyon. Visitors can catch glimpses of the village’s less visited residential areas as they ride on the shuttle — a free bus that moves the park’s vast quantities of tourists throughout the south rim’s hotels and restaurants. El Cristo Rey Chapel is not on the park’s shuttle route. But its Mass schedule — along with directions for walking there — were posted near the registration desk of El Tovar when I visited the park at the end of March. It was not my first visit to the Grand Canyon, but never before had I noted the presence of a Catholic church.
Photo: Ana Rodriguez-Soto/Florida Catholic