By IMELDA RICHARD, Special to the Bulletin | Published January 7, 2023
BROOKHAVEN—On the afternoon of the fourth Sunday of Advent, Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer, OFM Conv., dedicated the newest church in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Divine Mercy Mission. More than 300 parishioners heard him knock three times at the door, as an invitation to the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and the Holy Spirit—to come in and guide the community that will gather there to worship.
The ritual of dedication of a church symbolizes the three sacraments of Christian initiation: the sprinkling, in memory of Baptism; the anointing of the altar and walls of the church represent the sacrament of Confirmation; and censing the altar, covering and lighting it, represents the Eucharist.
The rite of dedication has two significant rituals: the handing over of the church and the sprinkling of the church.
Before Archbishop Hartmayer knocked on the heavy wooden doors of the mission, members of Catholic Construction Services office handed over the building to him. When a church is built or remodeled with the intention of having the people of God assemble there in a permanent way and to administer the sacraments, the building is dedicated to God with a solemn rite according to the church’s ancient custom.
While the choir sang, “We are the Body of Christ,” Archbishop Hartmayer processed into the sanctuary, with concelebrants: Msgr. Frank McNamee, rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King; Father Peeter Pedroza, administrator of the Divine Mercy Mission, Father Gerardo Ceballos, Father Juan Carlos Villota, Father Robert Perez and Father Francesco Iacona. He then blessed water and sprinkled the people, who are the spiritual temple, then the walls and finally the altar.
The history of Divine Mercy Mission
The Divine Mercy Mission, while being the newest church in the archdiocese, has been home to the Hispanic community in the Buford Highway area for the past 30 years. In 1992 the Cathedral of Christ the King, opened the Hispanic Mission in an apartment complex on Lindbergh Drive.
For some 20 years the community gathered there weekly to celebrate Mass. Countless children were baptized there and many girls celebrated their Quinceañeras. Due to safety and maintenance issues, the Cathedral’s mission moved the celebration of Mass to the Knights of Columbus Hall on Buford Highway in late 2013. After gathering there for more than a year, the Cathedral signed a long-term lease at the Northeast Plaza shopping center. As word of the new location spread among the Hispanic community along the Buford Highway corridor, attendance at the new building soared.
When the former Clairmont Baptist Church on Clairmont Road in Brookhaven went up for sale in the spring of 2022, the Archdiocese of Atlanta bought the space and started construction to convert the facility for Catholic use. Randy Hood of Catholic Construction Services of the Archdiocese was project manager and Lusk Commercial Contractors undertook the renovations.
When the community moved into its new space, it reopened as the Divine Mercy Mission, a mission supporting not only the Hispanic community of the Cathedral, but other parishes. After overcoming many challenges, the Divine Mercy Mission celebrated the first Mass in the new location the first weekend of November 2022.
“The Cathedral has supported the mission for over 30 years. We are blessed they have found a new home and are excited about the Divine Mercy Mission,” said Msgr. McNamee.
In May 2021, Archbishop Hartmayer appointed Father Pedroza as administrator of the then-Cristo Rey Mission. Father Pedroza, a native of Colombia, was ordained in 2011. Prior to his appointment as the administrator, he served as a parochial vicar in other parishes in the archdiocese.
During the transition into the new mission, Father Pedroza invited the community to suggest their next name. From suggestions received, the top five names were selected. The community then chose the three they identified the most with, and these names were presented to the archbishop for his final selection.
“It is a great joy and a big responsibility to be the mission administrator,” Father Pedroza said. “To serve the Hispanic community has been a huge blessing for me. I have learned so much from their commitment to our church, from their immense faith. Their example makes my vocation stronger,” he added.
During the homily at the Mass of Dedication, Father Pedroza said: “For a long time this community of faith has been going from place to place, until finally they found a home. God saw your work, your efforts, and your faithfulness. It never mattered to you where you gathered or how the place looked like, the mission was always your spiritual home. You showed that the church is the people and not the building. You are the church!”
After the homily, Archbishop Hartmayer kneeled and led the community in the singing of the Litany of Saints. This is a prayer to the Triune God, which includes invocations for the intercession of Virgin Mary, all the angels and saints. The Litany concludes with a series of supplications to God to hear the prayers of his people.
After reciting the prayer of dedication, the archbishop, together with Msgr. McNamee and Father Pedroza, anointed the altar and the walls of the church. The anointing with chrism, a consecrated oil, makes the altar a symbol of Christ, ‘The Anointed One.’ The anointing of the church symbolizes it is forever dedicated to worship.
He then censed the altar to signify that Christ’s sacrifice ascends to God and that the people’s prayers rise up to reach God’s throne. He also censed the nave of the church indicating that the dedication made it a house of prayer; and the faithful because they are the living temple.
“I want to be in your presence, O Lord” sang the choir while the clergy lined the altar and lit candles around it and in the entire church. Lining the altar indicates it is a table of the Lord. The illumination of the altar, followed by the illumination of the church, reminds us that Christ is the “Light which reveals himself unto the nations” (Lk 2:32) and that the church shines with that light.
A faith home
Over 1,000 families call the Divine Mercy Mission home; the majority of them come from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. All services will be provided in Spanish, including the sacramental preparation programs.
Guadalupe Tornez and her family have been parishioners at the mission for the last eight years. She and her husband serve as eucharistic ministers at the mission and her three older children serve as altar servers, catechists and dance in the Aztec dances group for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“I feel at home here. This is a very welcoming community, you feel like you are part of a big family. I can’t put it in words but it is a beautiful feeling,” she said.
As the community grew over the past seven years while at the Northeast Plaza location, space became very tight.
“To see my children being able to attend their classes comfortably makes me very happy,” said Tornez.
María José Zavala, or “Doña Mary” as she is known in the community, has been part of the mission since they moved to the prior location.
“We started going to the mission a week after they moved to Northeast Plaza. I was looking for religious education programs in Spanish for my children and someone told me about the mission, I came to ask about them and I never left,” she said. “I help organize the Aztec dances group and coordinate the schedule for the image of Our Lady visiting homes every week. My daughter has been an altar server, a lector and just started volunteering as a catechist, my son used to be an altar server as well and my husband serves in the finance council.”
For the past two years Doña Mary has helped deliver meals to many mission families through Compassion Kitchen Project, a Cathedral ministry created as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides nutritious meals to families experiencing food insecurity using donated funds.
“This is my family. I love the fact that we all know each other and we are always there for each other,” she said.
Archbishop Hartmayer called the dedication a joyous day.
“I have consecrated this church to the Lord. This is a house where you will come to offer God your joys, your sorrows and your prayers. Thank you for your love to our church, to Our Lady of Guadalupe, to the Divine Mercy. You are always in my heart and in my prayers, and I ask that you pray for me always,” Archbishop Hartmayer said. “Father Peeter, you are now a shepherd. I now entrust this community to your care, serve everyone with faith and love.”