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Prince of Peace at 30: ‘a living community of faith’

Parish founded after papal visit renews its commitment to ‘put out into the deep’

MIAMI | For 24 intense hours, Miami had been the epicenter of world Catholicism due to Pope John Paul II's apostolic visit in September 1987. Three days after the pope’s farewell, residents of a middle-class neighborhood in the western edge of the city received a letter informing them about the founding of a new parish in the area.

"The visit of His Holiness John Paul II, representative of the Prince of Peace, has left us with the enthusiasm and satisfaction of our faith," wrote Father Luis Casabón. "Let us participate and help with our assistance and cooperation to bring this enthusiasm to fruition," he emphasized, inviting the community to collaborate "to make your Prince of Peace Parish a living community of faith."  

The façade of Prince of Peace Church, in West Miami-Dade, was inspired by California's colonial churches, architectural gems with small bell towers and arched structures.

Photographer: DANIEL SHOER ROTH | LVC

The façade of Prince of Peace Church, in West Miami-Dade, was inspired by California's colonial churches, architectural gems with small bell towers and arched structures.

The first families who responded to the call could not imagine that their obedience and generosity would result in a font of goodness and salvation that would welcome several generations of Catholic immigrants and their descendants to the heart of the Church. That seed of missionary irradiation has yielded endless spiritual results throughout 30 years of eucharistic adoration, practice of the sacraments and social commitment.

This June, parishioners of Prince of Peace celebrated this culture of solidarity, mercy and compassion on the 30th anniversary of their church, an ecclesial community in which all of them feel responsible for its development.  

Archbishop Thomas Wenski presided June 18 at the 30th anniversary Mass.

As a slogan for the event, parishioners chose an appropriate and sublime expression from St. John Paul II, "To remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence."

During the last year, current pastor Father Giovanni Peña has led the congregation with evangelical enthusiasm.

"It is a very dynamic community that has lent me all their cooperation. They have supported me greatly,” said the priest. “It is a community with many expectations and desire to grow, to receive. When I arrived, I told them, 'Each of you is the dream of God.'"

The Colombian priest maintained that the Prince of Peace flock aspires to broaden its observance "in pastoral activities, in new ministries, in going out into the neighborhood because the church is in the neighborhood, not on a main avenue."

“They just inform me, 'Father we are going to make a chapel for prayer; we are going to create this other ministry,’” he said.

Mexican Sisters Maria Cristina Vargas Sanchez (left), Guadalupe Moctezuma and Esther Samudio, of the Congregation of Theatine Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, live near the parish and participate in liturgical services.

Photographer: DANIEL SHOER ROTH | LVC

Mexican Sisters Maria Cristina Vargas Sanchez (left), Guadalupe Moctezuma and Esther Samudio, of the Congregation of Theatine Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, live near the parish and participate in liturgical services.

One of the projects in process of becoming a reality is the ministry of the sick. There is an abundance of nursing homes around the parish in need of a steady and permanent helping hand. In addition, many of the congregation’s founders are already of advanced age. For this reason, "we will try to make present the parish to which they belonged,” said the pastor.

The parish’s first two Masses were celebrated in Spanish and English Sept. 20, 1987, in spaces generously provided by Belen Jesuit Preparatory School. Most of the Hispanic attendees were Cubans, including Maggie and Carlos Pernas, who collected the offerings on the opening day and remain as active members.  

"At first we were all very close because we were a very small group. We would meet at the pastor’s house and order food, and when there was a party, it would be in the courtyard of his house," recalled Maggie Pernas, 68, former director of the parish’s religious education program.

Weekend Masses were celebrated at Belen, and daily Mass and baptisms at the rectory. They created a "traveling sacristy" in a vehicle that carried the liturgical items and clergy vestments for the eucharistic celebration in the Jesuit school, one of the intellectual pillars of Cuban Catholicism.

"Although it was inconvenient to move the tables and chairs in the cafeteria for Mass every Sunday, people did it with pleasure. We began to grow as more Cubans moved to this area. Now we come from everywhere; we are the United Nations," said Maggie Pernas.

In March 1999, a parish hall was dedicated at 12800 N.W. Sixth Street, where religious ceremonies, pastoral and cultural activities are now held. The structure was built following the architectural guidelines of Spanish colonial missions in California, said Carlos Pernas, a member of the former building committee. Designed to attract believers, it features a bell tower and round arches at the entrance doors.

The faithful overcame obstacles with creativity and human genius, such as opposition to the construction by a group of neighbors. "The county organized a zoning meeting with residents and parishioners, who designed T-shirts to support their parish," said Maria Alejandra Rivas, a 35-year-old Nicaraguan parishioner who echoed the testimony of other church members of that time.

A valuable keepsake for history: The handwritten invitation to the first Mass at Prince of Peace Church, Sept. 20, 1987.

Photographer: DANIEL SHOER ROTH | LVC

A valuable keepsake for history: The handwritten invitation to the first Mass at Prince of Peace Church, Sept. 20, 1987.

Rivas provided another interesting fact: The parish’s second pastor, Father Gerardo Díaz, who has “the gift of carpentry and working with his hands, built the church altar. When Father Juan Torres arrived in 2012, he added a marble cover to preserve the wooden altar."

On a recent evening, the altar was delicately illuminated with a red light and candles, on the occasion of the Pentecost Vigil, which was celebrated with song and praise by Adoremus music ministry. Guillermo Gallegos, a 21-year-old college student who plays guitar in the youth choir, said that music is experienced with intense charismatic force to proclaim the Gospel.

"During Mass, there is a very special spark traditional of Latinos, with a big influence of merengue and salsa, something that I had never experienced in another church," he said.

Gallegos’ religious influence came from home. He arrived from El Salvador with his parents and siblings in 2012. They arrived in Miami on a Sunday and, motivated by gratitude, immediately inquired which church was closest to their new home so they could attend Mass.

"We loved it from the beginning. During Communion, they sang, 'How long have I waited for this moment... how much have I waited for you to come to me.’ We turned around and said, 'The Lord wants us here,'" he remembered.

The young man praised the harmony between the faithful in a community of many nationalities, as well as the vocation of service to others shown in multiple ministries. Like his, 500 registered families have found in Prince of Peace a home with abundant love so they can receive faith formation and grow collectively.

As it celebrates with Christian joy a happy anniversary, the parish community keeps alive the memory of the historic foundational event and renews its firm willingness to “put out into the deep.”

Lea la versión en español de este artículo aquí; y la homilía del Arzobispo Thomas Wenski el día de la celebración, aquí

Prince of Peace's Emmaus women's group pose with their newly installed pastor, Father Giovanni Peña.

Photographer: ROBERTO AGUIRRE | FC

Prince of Peace's Emmaus women's group pose with their newly installed pastor, Father Giovanni Peña.





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