Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

  • Rafael Gaitan, center, joins hands with others as they pray the Our Father together at the new Divino Niño Jesus Mission. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • The new Divino Niño Jesus Mission is located on Abbotts Bridge Road in Duluth. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • Bishop Luis Zarama makes his way around the mission sprinkling the congregation with holy water. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • During the rite of dedication Bishop Zarama rubs down the altar with holy oil as an altar server and Deacon José G. Espinosa León, right, look on. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • (Foreground to background) Father Pedro Poloche, chief advocate at the Atlanta Metropolitan Tribunal, Bishop Luis Zarama and Father John Durkin Jr., pastor of St. Monica Church, Duluth, distribute holy Communion during the Nov. 14 Mass of dedication. Photo By Michael Alexander

Rafael Gaitan, center, joins hands with others as they pray the Our Father together at the new Divino Niño Jesus Mission. Photo By Michael Alexander


Growing Mission of Divino Niño Dedicated In Duluth

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special To The Bulletin | Published December 24, 2009

Driven by fire from its former strip shopping center home, the Divino Niño Jesús Mission in Duluth celebrates this Christmas the gift of its spacious new house of worship on a pine-shaded plot near the Chattahoochee River—reflecting how blessings can arise from the ashes of misfortune.

The Spanish mission, founded in 2001, first rented space in a strip mall on Buford Highway near Old Peachtree Road but the location was so overcrowded that candles were rarely lit for Mass.

Then in January 2007 an electrical fire devastated the strip mall and destroyed the mission. The congregation relocated to St. Monica Church in Duluth nearby during the search for a new house of worship. Finally, members moved into their new home at 4400 Abbotts Bridge Road in September, and the worship space was dedicated on Nov. 14.

“The community is very happy. They are participating, collaborating fully in addressing the needs of the church. They feel very good in this site. It’s a big building with the possibility to reach the community,” said Father Carlos Mario Bustamante, mission administrator and a parochial vicar at St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek.

The Mass of dedication was celebrated by Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama and concelebrated by Father Pedro Poloche, Father Jack Durkin and Father Eduardo Salazar, with the Knights of Columbus honor guard on hand from St. Monica. At the Mass, Franciscan Sister Martha Herrera, the religious education director, recounted the history of Divino Niño, which formed in June 2001 after Father Poloche began celebrating Mass in an apartment complex where posadas, a traditional Mexican Advent devotion, were being held.

From about 150 worshippers in 2001, the mission grew, in the former site, to about 1,200 members, mostly Mexican. Now it has grown to 1,400 members, about half from Colombia or other Latin and Central America nations.

Alejandrina Martinez prays with her fellow sisters and brothers during the Mass of dedication at the Divino Niño Jesus Mission. Photo By Michael Alexander

“We try to make sure that the community understands what the dedication means, that … it will be a sacred place,” said community leader Rafael Gaitan. “The community feels we are really part of our diocese.”

It is one of four all Spanish-speaking missions in the archdiocese. The others are Our Lady of the Americas in Lilburn, Centro Católico del Espíritu Santo in Sandy Springs and San Felipe de Jesús in Forest Park.

In addition, out of the 100 parishes and missions in the archdiocese, 62 have ministries to Spanish-speaking Catholics.

Gaitan, a social worker from Colombia, believes the mission plays a critical role in ministering to those who speak little English in Gwinnett County, as the Hispanic ministry at St. Benedict Church, about four miles away, is smaller and has more bilingual members.

Unlike most parishes, where Mass in languages other than English is offered in the afternoon or at night, the mission can offer Spanish-language Sunday Masses in the morning.

“Now we have many, many, many people because we are open,” said Gaitan, adding that he hopes the mission can eventually reach Spanish-speakers in Buford, Sugar Hill and Suwanee who don’t have a Catholic church to attend.

The new site is closer to deep pockets of Spanish-speakers along Buford Highway at the Highway 120 and Abbotts Bridge Road intersections, said Father Durkin, St. Monica pastor. He said their time together at St. Monica was a blessing. The parish benefited from experiencing the Hispanic community’s deep devotion, cultural traditions and hard work to get things done, whether planning a quinciñera for a girl reaching 15 or a celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“It was very crowded but very happy. There was a lot of fullness of life and celebration,” Father Durkin said.

He was glad to see the congregation grow there simply by having more space. And while the community was welcome to stay at St. Monica, they chose to relocate to be closer to the expanding Hispanic presence in Gwinnett.

Likewise, mission members are grateful for the southern Catholic hospitality shown by St. Monica’s during this time.

“This is the reason the mission is still alive,” said Gaitan.

“St. Monica’s opened its doors to us in every single way.”

Bishop Zarama invited Franciscan Sister of Our Lady of Refuge Martha Herrera to join him on the altar to publicly thank her. He likened her to a mother who takes care of her family as she worked tirelessly to hold the members of the mission together after its Jan. 18, 2007 fire. Photo By Michael Alexander

Divino Niño is a mission of St. Benedict Church but supported by the archdiocese, which purchased the $1.6 million building. The congregation, in turn, has united in taking charge of remodeling the 15,000 square-foot building by painting, cleaning and buying pews and holy vessels, Father Bustamante said.

Jairo Martinez, director of the archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry Office, referred to the area as the “hot spot” of Hispanic Catholics. And many feel more comfortable attending the all-Spanish mission, named after a Colombian devotion to the Holy Child Jesus.

“The Hispanic population is really big in that area and I believe that Mass is going to be full soon. It will serve all the needs of the Hispanic population in that area,” said Martinez.

The new building has 11 classrooms. Gaitan is eager to expand adult education, as he’s found that many members—who span all socioeconomic levels from teachers to construction workers—lack basic knowledge of their faith and parents need that foundation to teach their children. Family prayer and faith discussion in Spanish can also help unify families where parents speak only Spanish and children often respond in English, added Gaitan, whose son is 16 and whose wife teaches in the mission’s Christian initiation program for adults.

“We have too many people coming to the church with the initial sacraments but no real knowledge of the Catholic creed of faith,” he reflected. “The first real catechists are the parents. We try to help them, but the initial evangelization is their duty.”

Gaitan helped develop the Hispanic ministry at Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch and decided that he could best apply those pastoral skills at Divino Niño, joining in December 2001. He and others relish this new phase of growth.

“The mission has to continue to grow up so it will be a parish,” he said. “This is a good beginning for us.”