By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 6, 2018 | En Español
GAINESVILLE—The excitement was palpable at St. John Paul II Mission.
Festive music sung by bilingual voices greeted Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who dedicated the new church home for the mission of St. Michael Church Aug. 18. The enthusiastic congregation filled every seat, occupied every space along the walls and spilled out into the overflow area of the narthex.
The Mass began with the church in darkness as readings were offered in Spanish and English to this primarily Spanish-speaking crowd. Archbishop Gregory also welcomed the congregation and gave his homily in Spanish.
The new church, while impressive, must be more than just a building, the archbishop said. It must stand out as a place of great faith for the city.
“There are a great many sanctuaries in this Gainesville community. They represent various different faith traditions. They bring together people of deep religious convictions. What we bless and dedicate today must be more than simply another religious building or temple. We must bless more than bricks and mortar,” he said. “Above all, I have come to bless you and your families and neighbors whose goodness and generosity have made this project possible. I have come to praise God for the many wonderful gifts of this particular family of faith.”
Archbishop Gregory said the parishioners have every right to be excited about their new home.
“You are justifiably proud of the new worship site—as well you should be. I am even more proud of you for allowing your deep faith to shore up these walls and bring energy to this project,” he said, naming many of the priests who have led the community over the years. “I am also deeply grateful for their devotion to the people of Gainesville over these many years. I join you in thanking them for their zealous ministry in your midst.”
He ended his homily by asking for blessings upon all who enter the church.
“The buildings wherein people worship God are sacred spaces, but the people within those spaces are far more important. As we ask God to bless this new structure, let us also ask him to pour out his choicest blessings on all who gather today and those who will gather in the days that will follow and whose humble prayers within these walls will make them sacred and holy,” the archbishop said in Spanish.
New worship community for St. Michael
Six priests concelebrated the dedication Mass with Archbishop Gregory, including Father William Canales, administrator of St. John Paul II, and Father Hernán Quevedo, parochial vicar. Father Tim Hepburn, pastor of St. Michael Church, and Father Gerardo Ceballos, parochial vicar, also concelebrated. Msgr. Jaime Barona, who served as pastor of St. Michael for many years, was on hand to celebrate with the community, along with Father Jorge Carranza, parochial vicar of St. Andrew Church in Roswell.
During the rite of dedication, Archbishop Gregory anointed the altar with incense and holy oil, after the choir sang the Litany of Saints, asking in Spanish for the prayers of all holy men and women. The church was illuminated after the blessing of the candles.
Archbishop Gregory announced the elevation of St. John Paul II to a mission in 2015. The mission was a greatly needed new worship community for St. Michael, which has more than 6,500 registered families. St. John Paul II began in a shopping center and operated both a thrift store and a food bank on Shallowford Road in Gainesville.
The new 27,000-square-foot church sits on 18 acres on Browns Bridge Road and can hold 2,000 people. It also has four classrooms, a commercial kitchen, four offices, two reconciliation rooms, a cry room and chapel.
Father Canales said that while the church was a beautiful edification, it wasn’t his only wish.
“My dream is your salvation. My dream is you go to heaven. This is my dream,” he said.
Father Canales referred to Psalm 116, which asks how we can repay the Lord for his goodness.
“We will lift the cup of salvation at each and every one of our celebrations in the church. We will call on of the name of the Lord, giving him thanks for all the things he has done for us,” he said. “Lord, thank you for your unconditional love on behalf of the St. John Paul II mission community. I would like to thank Archbishop Wilton Gregory for his presence today, for his support and his prayers.”
A special project
The Special Projects Program of the archdiocese funded the construction of the mission church. St. John Paul II was one of the first three recipients of the innovative funding program, guided by the Special Projects Oversight Committee (SPOC).
The Special Projects Program is an outcome of the 2015 Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan.
Growth in some locations outran the physical space available. Some parishes and missions didn’t have enough church for the congregation and virtually no funds in the bank to remedy the situation.
Oversight committee members designed an application process, and the applicants had to demonstrate at least one year of overcrowding at Mass and in religious education programs with minimal funds to pay for expanding.
Parishes or missions approved for the Special Projects Program must raise 10 percent of the cost before the remainder is funded. Once projects are complete, the recipients pay back into the fund so that other projects can begin. A monthly rent payment to the archdiocese will lead to eventual ownership of the building.
The other initial recipients of SPOC funds were St. Bernadette Church, Cedartown, and Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn.
Many parishioners and staff members of St. John Paul II expressed their joy over having a new church.
“For me, having a new church is having the opportunity to share my faith more openly and without limitations,” said Laura Lomeli, school of religion director. “It is having a place worthy so that our community can gather as one, to give thanks and praise to our Lord.”
For Lorena Marceleno, secretary of the Finance Council, the new church is the fulfillment of God’s promise that nothing is impossible with him.
“We at the Mission St. John Paul II encourage one another to build one another in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform,” she said. “This is all part of our fellowship. (This) is our new temple that we’ve waited for more than 10 years.”
Francisca Pedra, a volunteer and evangelization co-leader, is particularly grateful to those who have led the mission
“It is a blessing to be able to celebrate in a new church. When Father (Canales) announced the plans of the new church, I wasn’t sure if my eyes were going to see such blessing—and to have been part of this, it’s truly a blessing,” she said. “This is a dream come true for our community. We are thankful for our priests, who are a Godsend—they are humble and hardworking, always worried about their sheep, working hard so that all the community can gather together in one same place, to worship our Lord. We are truly blessed.”