VIERA | The dedication of St. John the Evangelist Church and altar in Viera Jan. 20 was perfectly planned and precisely orchestrated; all progressed with the dignity and joy of such a momentous occasion. Bishop John Noonan pronounced the final blessing, Holy Cross Father John Britto Antony, parochial vicar invited everyone to the reception and then an announcement eclipsed the celebration.
“I think Father John is beginning to sound like a pastor,” Bishop Noonan commented and there was a hushed pause as Bishop Noonan and Father Bradley Beaupré, St. John’s pastor who is soon to retire, conferred in a whispered huddle.
Father Beaupré stepped to the ambo and proclaimed, “We have a new pastor — Father John Britto Antony.”
Almost in one motion the parishioners rose to their feet with resounding applause and shouts of joy. The musicians broke into a cacophony of alleluia; the overwhelming love and joy could not be contained.
“It was a true celebration, the Church alive,” Bishop Noonan said in an interview with the Florida Catholic. “Father John is a real gift to the community. You could see that by their response. He is young and energetic and I hope he stays here a very long time.”
It was a most fitting conclusion and appropriate new beginning in the history of the parish. Thirty years have elapsed since the 1988 purchase of 20 acres of land that ultimately was too much wetland for building. The current property was procured in 2001, the same year the Congregation of Holy Cross offered to staff a growing Catholic community. Led by Holy Cross priests Father Laurence M. Olszewski, Father Robert A. Wiseman, Father Beaupré and Father Antony, the parishioners worshipped in temporary space until the parish life center was opened in 2007 for 300 families. The funds were raised to build this new formal basilica-style church for a community that has grown to more than 2,300 families. Hurricanes and storms caused what seemed like unrelenting problems and construction delays, but the dedication was flawless.
“It could not be more fulfilling,” said Father Beaupré, who has waited to complete the church before his retirement. “I’m in my 50th year of priesthood and it’s a great way to end my active ministry. It’s so exciting for the people.”
The new worship space holds 1,100 people, but the community came out in such numbers that the parish life center provided overflow seating while the events in the church were live-streamed to video screens.
“The first time we walked into our new church, it was breathtaking,” said Gerry Judge, president of the Council of Catholic Women with a membership of more than 200. “The women are here with our prayers, raising funds, at the beck and call of our priests. Today, this dedication, all I can pray is, ‘This is the day Our Lord has made.’”
More than 40 altar servers, masters of ceremonies, deacons, priests and two bishops — concelebrating with Bishop Noonan was Bishop Emeritus Bernard J. Harrington of Winona, Minnesota — served at the altar attended by a Knights of Columbus honor guard.
“I volunteered to serve,” said Ada who is 14 years old and has been an altar server for five years. “I will hold the book for Bishop Noonan and I feel so honored to be a part of this celebration of this community that I’m a part of.”
The traditions of the Rite of Dedication of a church and altar are resplendent with symbolism and sacrament, and in the homily Bishop Noonan provided both a brief history of the Congregation of Holy Cross founded by Blessed Basil Anthony Mary Moreau and explained the dedication rite.
“You who are the Church have become people of prayer who teach the light of Christ,” Bishop Noonan said. “All are welcome. All are part of the body of Christ. Despite what the world says, we are brothers and sisters and love one another. It is Christ who holds us together. What does it mean when we dedicate this sacred place? The Church touches all of us. We see beauty, the beauty of God. The altar is a sacred reminder of Christ’s sacrifice; the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; the cross is a symbol of hope; the baptismal font is where people are welcomed into the community and we remember our baptismal promises. From the ambo we proclaim the word of God to enrich our lives. We touch the water of life, the body and blood of Christ, the cold hard wood of the pew reminding us of the cross of Christ. We shake the hands of our brothers and sisters reminding us of community. We receive the gift of everlasting life. I pray today you remember the prayer of Blessed Moreau, ‘O Holy Cross — our only hope.’”
A relic of Blessed Moreau as well as one of St. André Bessette, the first Holy Cross saint, was installed in the altar which Bishop Noonan anointed with chrism. The walls of the church were anointed. The altar, the church and the community were censed as prayer rising to the Lord. To the refrain of “We are the light of the world” the altar and church were lit. A continuous procession of couples and families dressed the altar with linens and candles, carried flowers and ciboria, cups and purificators.
“We were blessed to have witnessed a wonderful, faith-filled event, lifted by the presence of the Holy Spirit,” said Jim Fiandaca who serves as a ministry leader for the parish’s small Christian communities, Christ Renews His Parish retreats and Live For More men’s group. He and his wife, Judy, who is active in the Council of Catholic Women and parish life ministry, presented the gift of wine for consecration. “We believe we echo the sentiments of our entire St. John’s community in saying we have been specially blessed by Our Lord.”