By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published March 15, 2007
Our Lady of the Assumption Church opened the wood doors of its elegant Gothic church for its first Spanish Mass on Feb. 18 to serve Hispanics in the area, fulfilling its mission to compassionately welcome and serve its community.
As worshippers departed from the OLA Indonesian Mass and Hispanics in the area and their supporters enthusiastically entered for the inaugural 3:30 p.m. liturgy, the narthex overflowed as members of both communities shook hands and greeted one another.
“That to me was the crowning moment right there” of Christian fellowship and solidarity, recalled Linda Javadi, director of stewardship and development who has helped to plan the new weekly Spanish Mass at OLA.
“Father Duffy walked out and had this huge smile on his face and he said, ‘I feel like I’m in the United Nations.’”
The parish, staffed by Marists and led by pastor Father Jim Duffy, SM, had been providing financial support to Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Doraville for years. After the all-Spanish speaking Doraville mission relocated last summer to Lawrenceville Highway in Lilburn, OLA stepped forward to explore how to serve those living in Chamblee, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Tucker, Doraville and Atlanta who are unable to commute to the new mission site.
“Father Duffy said he felt our obligation to do this for the community and he didn’t feel anybody should be left behind,” said Javadi. “We’ve always been involved. It wasn’t something we just came up with yesterday. We felt this was kind of a passing of the torch.”
Along with the parish school, Our Lady of the Assumption Church is located on 10 acres in a sylvan neighborhood tucked off of Ashford Dunwoody Road. The parish completed the construction of its new church which was dedicated in November 2005, realizing a long-awaited dream for the community founded in 1951. It has experienced rapid growth in the past year and now has 1,141 families, and began an Indonesian ministry six years ago. Reflecting that universal spirit, the new church features a rose window with people of all races and nations singing praise, including a few OLA School students in uniform, surrounded by a circle with a chalice, grapes, bread and wheat. A window behind the altar features angels playing instruments surrounding an eye encased in a triangle from which emanates rays of light, the all-seeing God.
The first Spanish Mass featured “los chinelos” wearing masks and colorful dress performing a traditional folkloric dance honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe. A children’s choir also sang. Father Charles Girard, SM, is celebrating the weekly liturgy held on Sundays at 3:30 p.m. Those attending were largely Mexican and Central American and mainly young or middle-aged adults and children, who had previously been attending the Doraville mission. Javadi said Father Girard has an engaging preaching style, and that she is pleased to see several Anglo parishioners stepping forward to assist at the Mass as greeters, ushers and acolytes and in other areas. Her first-grade son who studies Spanish is also enthusiastic and assisted at the reception, where he “had a smile from ear to ear.” She also appreciates how people from around the archdiocese came to the first Mass to show their support for the nascent ministry.
And among the newcomers “a lot of them are starting to register and asking what ministries they can be involved in and do for the church and are asking for a second collection once a month to help with the building campaign.”
Parish council member Ofelia Magid, a bilingual Cuban-American, chairs planning efforts and is working closely with Maria de Jesus Castro, a long-time member of the Doraville mission and now a leader of the OLA Hispanic outreach. Magid said that she and other Hispanics in the parish had been considering starting a ministry for years, but the Doraville mission’s relocation was the catalyst to finally act. She is proud to see her parish being proactively inclusive.
“It’s a wonderful way to do it since the theme for our church is ‘all are welcome’ since we opened the doors of the new church. And we want everyone to know they are truly all welcome to our church no matter what their race or language is,” said Magid. “It is a true outreach to everybody.”
She has found that those now coming are most grateful. “They felt they didn’t have a place to go, and they just love the church and being able to come to a sanctuary and have a place to worship. It’s just like their prayer has been answered.”
She said that Father Duffy “is just great” in supporting the outreach in the Marist spirit of simplicity, compassion and reconciliation. She is impressed by the volunteer leaders within the community from Doraville, including Castro who is “so kind and always thinking about others.”
“I feel very humbled because I have seen their faith and (the) dedication of some of the leaders in the Hispanic community. It amazes me how hard they work to bring the word of Jesus to the community. They do a lot of evangelizing and visit people in their homes, the ones who can’t come to church. They take the voice of Jesus to them. They do a lot with the little they have.”
She is also impressed with the Anglo support, including Brother Ernie Morasci, SM, and Ed Patterson.
“We’ve had the community helping a lot until the Hispanic community can be on its own. They are very cheerful helpers, and they always say call them anytime,” Magid continued.
On Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. Father Girard hears confessions, which are followed by a new prayer group at 7:30 p.m. And OLA parishioners now recite the Lenten meditations of the Stations of the Cross in Spanish and Indonesian as well as English every Friday during Lent.
Father Girard reports that the Mass is going smoothly and that they will offer Thursday and Friday liturgies at 7:30 p.m., as well as an 8:30 p.m. Saturday Easter Vigil for Holy Week in Spanish in Moylan Hall. He had studied Spanish in college, and in 1999 agreed to celebrate a Spanish Mass at St. Clement’s Church in Calhoun, which led him to increase his fluency and serve several other communities across North Georgia.
“Despite all my grammatical errors the people were most welcoming, and I lost all fears and ever since then I’ve been celebrating Mass across North Georgia.”
Although retired, he stays busy as a cleric and is glad to help OLA. He has found those attending the Spanish Mass to be “most gracious and loving” and that “it is a delight to celebrate the liturgy with them.”
Magid said that their next hurdle is transportation, “a big issue.” The ministry hopes to acquire a van or bus to provide transportation to those unable to get to the church, which is not located on a bus line. This summer they will begin offering religious education for children and youth in Spanish. The parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society for years has sent Spanish-speaking volunteers to serve clients as needed and will continue that outreach as well.
A native of Mexico, Castro said that she and a group from Our Lady of the Americas had been meeting every couple of weeks last year after the mission relocated, and discussed how to maintain a community for those unable to commute to Lilburn. They found that Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and Holy Cross Church already had overflowing Hispanic ministries, so they were heartened to learn of the OLA outreach. She and others are preparing packets of information on the new ministry to Hispanics in the area, she said, noting their concern that many Catholics are now going to non-Catholic churches. She also hopes to continue some of the mission’s tradition of offering a wide range of social services, from computer classes to clothing, through OLA’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. But for now this focus is on getting them to Mass.
“This church is so beautiful. All this is for the glory of God. We, as a community, are so grateful, and we want to participate,” she said in a phone interview in Spanish while heading to her cleaning job. “They have given us the gift of this opportunity. … Now we are going to work together with more heart because we are not without a church. The Lord has given us this church and welcomed us in this church, and we are already moving forward.”
Javadi said the parish is gladly working with them to develop the ministry as it embraces its evolving multicultural identity. Whether Anglo, Hispanic or Indonesian, “we reach out to our brothers and sisters when they are at our doorstep.”
For more information, the parish can be reached at www.olachurch.org or (404) 261-7181, ext. 132.