IMMOKALEE | A Church building, dating from the ancient times, has been given the name — the Temple of the Lord. Because of this, a dedication of a new Parish Church permanently makes the building a sacred and holy place where the faithful come to hear the Word of God, pray together, celebrate and receive the Sacraments, and most precisely celebrate often the Eucharist at the Table of the Lord.
A Church, as a building, is destined solely and permanently for the gathering of the faithful to give glory and praise to God, Bishop Frank J. Dewane stressed when he dedicated the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church during a Mass July 20, in Immokalee.
A huge, joyous and enthusiastic assemblage of several thousand people witnessed the next chapter in the life of their beloved Parish. While the Church is a visible building, Bishop Dewane said it is nothing without the faith-filled people of Immokalee. “You are the ‘living stones.’ You are the why we build this Church — to come to gather a community to adore Christ… It fills my heart with joy to see so many here for this important moment.”
Fittingly, the dedication began in the old church, which was built in 30 years ago, in 1989. Present for the dedication were Our Lady of Guadalupe Pastor Scalabrinian Father Carlos Reyes-Ramirez (Missionaries of St. Charles), Parochial Vicars Scalabrinian Father Wilner Durosier and Missionary of Charity Father Thobias Sariar. Scalabrinian Father Moacir Balen, Regional Provincial Superior of the Scalabrinians, and priests from the Diocese, the religious order also were in attendance. A special concelebrant was Scalabrinian Father Isaia Birollo, who served at Our Lady of Guadalupe for four years and was present for the 1989 dedication of the old church. “It is amazing how this community has grown. Wonderful!”
Bishop Dewane began the rite by proclaiming: “Beloved brothers and sisters in Immokalee, we have gathered with joy to dedicate a new church by celebrating the Lord’s sacrifice. Let us take part in these sacred rites with loving devotion, listening to the word of God with faith, so that our community, reborn from the one font of Baptism and nourished at the same table, may grow into a spiritual temple and, brought together at one altar, may advance in the love from on high.”
Led by the cross bearer, the priests and Bishop then processed to the front doors of the new, but empty church. There the building was symbolically handed over to the Bishop and he said: “Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving, his courts with song and praise.” Father Reyes then opened the door and all entered.
During his homily, Bishop Dewane explained the different parts of the Rite of Dedication, but he also reemphasized the purpose behind the new church by citing the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-19), which was proclaimed during the Mass. In Matthew, Jesus questions the disciples about who other people say He is. When their answers are unsatisfactory, Jesus challenges Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” The Bishop said each one of those present answers that question by the life that they live.
“Here in Immokalee, we set about to build this new Church so that every one of you can answer that question,” Bishop Dewane continued. “It is not just for the fathers to answer it, or for those who are here often… We put up this Church so that no one will have the chance to say: ‘Let someone else enter there.’ Let it be – in this Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe – where everyone begins their response to the Lord of ‘Who do you say that I am?’ and they end with their response by carrying the Lord with them throughout their daily life.”
Yolanda Medina brought her young children, Daniela, 6, Elena, 4, and Jose, 3, Manuel, 2, into the new church following the dedication and pointed out the key interior features. These included the crucifix, the tabernacle, the baptismal font, the statue of St. Juan Diego, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a statue of St. Michael the Archangel.
The Medina family first knelt in the pews and prayed for a time before exploring their new Parish Church.
“They were in such awe of the whole dedication and wanted to see everything up close. It was amazing to have the Bishop here because we know he helped us build this beautiful place,” Medina said. “This is a day Immokalee won’t soon forget.”
This may be an understatement as the new nearly 15,000-square-foot church, which seats nearly 1,200 comfortable was overflowing out the doors and into the parking lot. Everyone wanted to be present for this historic moment in the life of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.
Tents were set up in a field on the back of the Parish property, seating 3,500 for a post-dedication fiesta complete with food, performances by musicians and dancers as well as a huge cake. There were so many people that some were content to participate standing up. Cooking of the food began about 6 a.m. and the menu include barbecue chicken, pork, rice and beans as well as cake. While it rained off and on during the Mass and the fiesta, no one complained as the celebration lasted well into the evening.
Following the opening procession and entrance into the empty church, the faithful followed and the next part of the Rite began with the Bishop blessing the water in the Baptismal Font, and then he, along with Father Reyes, blessed the people with holy water further as a symbol of the spiritual temple of the Lord so as to recall their Baptismal promises. This was followed by the sprinkling of the walls of the Church, marking the Church as a holy place from that day forward —before finally blessing the altar and the sanctuary.
The Mass then proceeded with some minor adjustments, such as the Litany of Saints replacing the general intercessions. Following the Litany, the rites of anointing, incensing, covering and lighting the altar followed. During the anointing, Bishop Dewane spread Sacred Chrism Oil — blessed at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week — first on the altar and then in the sign of the cross at four points on the walls of the Church. This is done to mark, through sacred designation, the altar and Church. Next was the incensation, symbolic of the “prayers rising up to the Lord, not just for today, but for generations to come” of the altar and then of the nave of the Church.
Next was the lighting of the altar and the Church. Bishop presented Father Reyes with a lighted candle, who then proceed to light the candles on the newly anointed altar while the lights of the building were turned on. With the Rite concluded, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass continued.
At the end of the Mass, Father Balen read a congratulatory letter from the Superior of the Order in Rome to the Parish which included his gratitude to the Bishop and faithful for their continued support to the religious order. Father Reyes also expressed his gratitude to Bishop Dewane for helping to make a reality the long-held dream for a new Church.
It was in January 2017 when Bishop Dewane and Father Reyes used an excavator to start the work of clearing space for the new Church. Unforeseen delays, plus Hurricane Irma made the project take much longer than anticipated.
Bishop Dewane thanked the faithful for their patience during the delays. “I know everyone would agree that it was worth the wait.” A large roar of approval and applause responded to this statement.
The new church doubles the size of the old building while utilizing masonry and metal in its design. Features include a drive-through porte-cochere and exterior fountain with a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Following Mass, Bishop Dewane blessed the neighboring 5,000-square-foot Father Richard Sanders Pastoral Center which features eight meeting rooms. The existing Church will eventually be converted into a Parish Hall.