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Guadalupe’s faithful: ‘Our pilgrimage is over’

New church, chapel, parish hall dedicated in Doral, a ‘miracle’ built in less than a yea

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DORAL | Olga Aguillon shed tears as the procession of 50 priests and four bishops entered the newly built church of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.

Aguillon was one of dozens of parishioners serving as ushers for the dedication Mass — a Mass that took place on the appointed day, the feast day of the Patroness of the Americas.

“It’s totally for love to them — God and the Virgin,” said the Venezuela native, a parishioner at the church for the past eight years, who also expressed “immeasurable love and eternal gratitude” to her pastor, Father Israel Mago.

“I never figured that it’s going to be like this. That Christ [would] show me so many things that I can’t explain in a few words,” said Aguillon, happy also that her family had come from Venezuela for the occasion.

Like the 1,200 others who filled the church for the dedication Mass — and thousands more who came to the other weekend Masses — Aguillon was moved by the miracle she was witnessing: A parish that spent 15 years wandering from school to school in Doral, transforming cafeterias into worship spaces weekend after weekend, now had a permanent church.

And not just a permanent church, but “over 30,000 square feet of church, chapels and parish facilities filled with meaning and beauty,” plus a marble sculpture and huge exterior mosaic of Guadalupe, a bell tower and an outdoor plaza, and Stations of the Cross adorned with 28 porcelain images of Mary as she is venerated in the various countries of the Americas.

All of it completed in less than a year.

Diego Planos, 13, impersonating St. Juan Diego, open his "tilma" and drops flowers on the sanctuary. His family is from Mexico but have been members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church since he was born.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Diego Planos, 13, impersonating St. Juan Diego, open his "tilma" and drops flowers on the sanctuary. His family is from Mexico but have been members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church since he was born.

View of the 26-foot tall mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe that is visible from the Turnpike.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

View of the 26-foot tall mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe that is visible from the Turnpike.

The bronze and wood crucifix that hangs on the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is accompanied by an image of the apparition that was touched to the original in Mexico.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

The bronze and wood crucifix that hangs on the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is accompanied by an image of the apparition that was touched to the original in Mexico.

Father Israel Mago, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, left, speaks with his predecessor and the parish's founding pastor, Msgr. Tomas Marin, who is now pastor of St. Timothy Church in Miami.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Father Israel Mago, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, left, speaks with his predecessor and the parish's founding pastor, Msgr. Tomas Marin, who is now pastor of St. Timothy Church in Miami.

It has never happened that way in the Archdiocese of Miami, where parish plants are usually built in stages — first a multipurpose building, then a permanent church, and later, perhaps, a separate chapel. But Our Lady of Guadalupe built all three at once, and the groundbreaking at the 13.5-acre site took place in January.

It was a miracle made possible by an anonymous benefactor: a Mexican Catholic devoted to “la Gaudalupana.” He matched parishioners’ contributions two-for-one, recharging the $12 million project after several false starts in prior years.

“It only happened because of his donation,” said Sister Elizabeth Worley, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine who serves as archdiocesan chancellor for administration. “A huge, huge donation.”

“It’s a miracle — or better yet, a miracle and a half,” said Father Mago’s mother, Margarita Mago, as the dedication Mass began.

“This construction has many heroes,” she added, deflecting praise from her son, who took over as the community’s pastor in June 2010.

Venezuelan like a vast majority of his parishioners, Father Mago succeeded Msgr. Tomás Marín, now pastor of St. Timothy in Miami. Msgr. Marín had been named administrator of the fledgling parish in August 2001, two years after it began as a mission of Blessed Trinity Church in Miami Springs.

Father Mago himself named several heroes of the day at the conclusion of the dedication Mass. They included not only the anonymous donor but David Prada, archdiocesan director of the Office of Building and Property, who shepherded the project from conception to completion; Juan Munilla, principal of MCM Construction and his project manager, Ruben Bravo; Zyscovich Architects and the project’s designer, Jose Murguido, as well as project manager Arnaldo Delgado; and Orlando Sharpe of Sharpe Project Developments.

All of them “poured their heart and soul into this project,” Father Mago said. He also thanked his parishioners, for “your joy and your tears, but especially your prayers that have built this beautiful parish.”

He called the new church “an answer of the Virgin Mary to those who put their trust in her,” and noted that throughout their 15-year pilgrimage “we never lost faith.”

“Everything happens in God’s time,” he said. He added that God wanted the faithful in Doral to build their church “with awareness of our limitations and dependence on his mercy.”

Indeed, it all began with prayer, according to founding parishioner Carmencita Romanach.

“This started with a small group of people who were taking the Virgin from house to house and praying the rosary for the success of the mission — so people would know there was a parish,” she said.

Leading that group were Abraham Embi and his wife, Diana, the parish’s first coordinator of religious education. Moved by a visit to Conyers, Ga., in October 1998, he recalled, “I took it as a sign that I had to return to the Church.”

He volunteered to go door to door in the community, making the rounds of 120 homes.

“I realize after 19 years that the Virgin used me as an instrument to announce that she wanted her house here in Doral,” he said, an allusion to the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, and the church she wanted built on the hill in Tepeyac.

The Embis now live closer to Our Lady of Lourdes in Kendall, where their daughter is assistant principal of the school. But they attend Our Lady of Guadalupe “because we started it," Diana Embi said. "How could we give it up?”

Other parishioners voiced their own thoughts and feelings about the dedication.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Jean Sun, a parishioner for 15 years and one of a group of women who clothed the altar after Archbishop Thomas Wenski anointed it with the oil of chrism.

“I was thanking God to see this day. With all the trials and patience we have endured, it’s a blessing,” she said. As for completing three buildings in one year: “That’s God’s work. God’s master plan for us.”

“It’s beautiful in its simplicity,” said Antonio Fernandez, a parishioner since 2000.

He was referring to the church’s design. As described by Prada, it's a “contemporary interpretation of the traditional Roman basilica form … softened by the interior curves of the ceilings and pews … The two chapels are centered in the ‘womb-shaped’ structure adjacent to the church. Cast into the exterior walls of the building are subtle references to the flowers and stars of Our Blessed Mother’s veil, meant to remind us that when we enter the building we are enveloped in her veil."

Said Fernandez: “To me, this church is beautiful because it emulates the simplicity of God. God is. This is."

He pointed to the 12 massive candles lined atop the nave, from the back entrance to the front sanctuary — “just like the apostles, giving light to the Church.”

For Barbara Romani, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s first lay minister, “This is such a joyous day. Our pilgrimage is over."

Assigned to the mission by the late Father Joseph Carney, at the time her pastor at Blessed Trinity, Romani watched the community grow from 49 people at the first Mass to more than 5,000 registered families this year.

Our Lady of Guadalupe did that differently, too, she said. “You build a building and then you have to get people to come to it. What we did is build a church over the last 15 years — because the church is us. So today we built the temple.”

Archbishop Wenski, for his part, reminded parishioners of their privileged location, next to Florida’s Turnpike along NW 25th Street.

“Think of how many people will see this church every day as they drive by on the turnpike,” he said, and how many will see her image in the mosaic that faces one of the most traveled roads in Florida.

“As they look at her image,” he said, “may they grow closer to the Church and her son, as the Mexican people did 500 years ago.”

FAST FACTS ABOUT OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE CHURCH

• It is one of the “greenest” churches in the Archdiocese of Miami, in keeping with Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ encyclical. Construction waste was diverted from landfills; building materials, including the pews, are high in recycled content; and LED lighting was used along with energy-efficient roofing and air-conditioning systems.

• The marble sculpture of Our Lady of Guadalupe that graces the plaza outside the church is 8 feet tall and weighs 2 tons. It was created by local artist Nilda Comas and produced in Pietrasanta, Italy.

• Comas also created the bronze corpus of Christ that hangs on the sanctuary cross. The corpus alone is 10 feet tall and weighs 600 pounds; the 20-foot cross is made of solid red oak and weighs 400 pounds. The process by which the corpus was created dates to Roman times and normally takes six months to a year. This one was finished in one month. Workers installed it a few hours before the dedication Mass — with the scaffolding removed at 6 a.m.

• Comas calls her work “Last Moments” and says it depicts Christ as both human and divine, one side tense and suffering, the other restful and almost smiling as he realizes he has fulfilled his salvific mission.

• The mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the exterior wall of the church is 26 feet tall and also made in the traditional Italian style. The artwork was constructed by hand, from the finest Venetian glass “smalti” mosaic tiles. It was created by the U.S.-based Paul Pickel of Conrad Pickel Studio, who also designed and built the two large stained glass windows in the church which depict key moments in the life of St. Juan Diego.

• Another local artist, Colombian-born Beatriz Ramirez, designed the 28 porcelain images of the patron virgins of nations in the Americas. These images — only 10 have been made thus far — flank the 14 outdoor Stations of the Cross, marble relief sculptures recovered and recycled from a now-closed Catholic church in Pennsylvania.

• The marble altar pieces were built by Moroneys’ Religious Art in Fort Lauderdale.