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Feature News | Wednesday, April 03, 2024

It’s a sign!

Two pastors seek to answer the question: How many souls is a billboard worth?

MIAMI | Two local pastors turned to billboards this Lent to evangelize and advertise events at their parishes.

Father Ivan Rodriguez of Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes bought one along the Palmetto Expressway in the Hialeah/Miami Lakes area to announce a series of talks he’ll be giving for youth and young adults beginning April 8.

Father Gabriel Vigues of St. Louis in Pinecrest bought one along U.S. 1 and S.W. 104th Street to invite people to “come home” for Easter.

Here are the stories of why they turned to billboards to catch people’s attention – and of the “signs” that told them they were on the right path.

 

‘YOU CAN’T PUT A PRICE ON SAVING A SOUL’ 

Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Miami Lakes bought one billboard along the Palmetto Expressway in the Hialeah/Miami Lakes area to announce a series of talks for youth and young adults beginning April 8.

Photographer: Courtesy

Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Miami Lakes bought one billboard along the Palmetto Expressway in the Hialeah/Miami Lakes area to announce a series of talks for youth and young adults beginning April 8.

The math was simple for Father Rodriguez: 1 billboard along the Palmetto Expressway, traveled by approximately 40,000 people a day, times 30 days. 

“We’re talking, I don’t know, more than a million people that are going to see it,” he said. “And I told the parishioners, you can’t put a price on saving a soul.” 

That’s how the Miami Lakes parish and school wound up splitting the $7,000 cost of a billboard to announce a series of talks aimed at youth and young adults. The talks are set to take place Mondays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. beginning April 8 at the Miami Lakes church. 

The billboard, which went up in March, is located just north of the N.W. 122nd Street exit. It features the face of Christ and a question: “Are you suffering, sad, or anxious?” 

“It’s worth it. It’s worth it. Do you know why it’s worth it?” said an enthusiastic Father Rodriguez. “If one of those million people who see this, who is suffering, who is sad, who is anxious, who sees no way out, who perhaps is even at the point of taking his life because he’s hopeless – if he sees it because it shows the face of Jesus, and he comes, and he’s touched by the Word and we save his soul, that is priceless.”

So intent was he in getting the word out, that in addition to announcing it on the billboard, in the parish bulletin and on the church’s Facebook and Instagram pages, he placed an advertisement in the community newspaper, The Miami Laker.

The idea for the broad outreach came from a conversation he had with his brother. Back in their native Argentina a few months earlier, his brother and fellow parishioners had advertised a similar series of talks on bus benches throughout their city.

Father Rodríguez looked for that option in the Hialeah-Miami Lakes area but didn't find a way to do it. Then he saw the billboards as he was driving along the Palmetto Expressway.

“Look,” he thought, “there are people advertising ‘divorce in 5 minutes,’ another one plastic surgery, and a whole bunch of other things. So many things are being advertised, why not get a billboard to announce the Gospel, with the face of Jesus, which is a message completely opposed to everything that's up there.”

So he looked up ClearChannel Communications, the billboard's owner, submitted an online application and waited for a call back. The options were for a permanent billboard or one that gave way to other advertisements every 18 seconds. Father Rodriguez wanted the permanent one. The cost, of course, was higher: in the range of $11,000-$12,000.

But the grace of God intervened. It turned out the representative, Mayra Morales, was Catholic, a parishioner at St. Katharine Drexel in Weston, and on board with his desire “to announce the Gospel.” But she didn’t think she could drop the price more than $2,000.

After a few weeks of thinking it over, and then submitting the artwork, Father Rodriguez urged her to pray and “have faith when you speak” to your supervisor to get the price reduced.

Less than 30 minutes after their conversation, he said, Morales called him back “all excited.” It turned out her supervisor also was Catholic – something she had only then discovered.

The price of the billboard came down by almost 50%.

“It’s crazy to do this,” Father Rodriguez admitted. Then again, “people are already calling me.”

Among them, he said, was a man “who was crying,” suffering because he is alone, his wife has cancer, and he doesn’t know what to do. He’ll be attending the talks.

“He said he saw the face of Jesus. It touched him, the grace of God,” Father Rodriguez said. “Of course it’s worth it.”

St. Louis Church in Pinecrest bought one billboard along U.S. 1 and S.W. 104th Street to invite people to "come home" for Easter.

Photographer: Courtesy

St. Louis Church in Pinecrest bought one billboard along U.S. 1 and S.W. 104th Street to invite people to "come home" for Easter.

‘IT’S TIME TO COME HOME’

Father Vigues, pastor at St. Louis Church, credits his father, who was a journalist who “liked to get the word out,” with a late-night inspiration to invite people back to Church via billboard.

“After the pandemic, many parishes experienced a downturn in Mass attendance. We saw this busy intersection and thought it would be a good opportunity to invite people back. It’s a great spot near the parish,” Father Vigues said of the billboard located on U.S. 1 and S.W. 104th Street in Pinecrest.

The spot was suggested by a parishioner who experienced God’s providence after seeing a billboard on that very spot that encouraged cancer screenings. Thanks to that billboard, the parishioner got screened, the cancer was detected early, and he is now healthy and in remission.

Father Vigues said he was moved by the story and requested the same spot.

“An added benefit of the location is that it has a traffic light and many have to stop with the billboard right in front of them. It’s a win-win,” he said.

After choosing the spot, he needed to choose the message. He opted to keep it simple.

“It’s a simple message: It’s time to come home, Jesus Christ is Risen,” he explained. “Not just because it’s Easter, but St. Louis is ground zero for Emmaus. It was started here almost five decades ago so we decided to put the two messages together.”

He said the response has been “amazing.”

“People love it and have been spreading the message,” he said. “It’s a simple, straight forward, uplifting invitation: The pandemic is over, it’s time to come home.”

Ana Rodriguez-Soto contributed to this story.

   

IF YOU GO

  • WHAT: Talks for youth and young adults, in English with Spanish translation available
  • WHEN: Mondays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. beginning April 8
  • WHERE: Our Lady of the Lakes Church, 15801 N.W. 67 Ave., Miami Lakes.
  • FOR INFO: Call 305-558-2202 or email [email protected].
  • ALSO: St. Louis Church is located at 7270 S.W. 120 St., Pinecrest. Call 305-238-7562 for information or go to their website for Mass times: www.stlcatholic.org.

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Comments from readers

DB - 04/07/2024 01:29 PM
My teens noticed it while driving home & commented about seeing the billboard. It gave me the opportunity to explain the impact on mass attendance that Covid had had and although “virtual” was a good temporary solution, this board emphasizes the important of mass attendance, and the support of our church community‚Ķ and of course we discussed receiving communion. Travelling across the state and into neighboring states, there are billboards with Gospel messages and they are often a wonderful affirmation of hope.
Susan Cordell - 04/04/2024 07:18 AM
What a wonderful idea, to spread the Lord’s message through billboards!! Praise God!! Many blessings will come through this!!

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