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God's personal envoy

Art at St. Gabriel Church, Pompano Beach

POMPANO BEACH | When you send the most important messages, you send the most important messenger. For God, that messenger seems to be St. Gabriel, whose feast day falls on Sept. 29.

Gabriel was chosen to reveal future history to Daniel toward the end of that prophet's life. He also appeared to Zacharias in the New Testament, to announce that Elizabeth would bear John the Baptist. Then he told Mary that she would become the mother of the Son of God.

Gabriel is mentioned first in Daniel, where he interprets the prophet's vision of battling goats as the warring kingdoms of the Middle East. Gabriel also gave a codified prediction of when the Jewish people would return from exile to Jerusalem.

He took a dim view of those who doubted his authority. When he said in the New Testament that Elizabeth would bear John the Baptist, her husband Zacharias replied with skepticism: "How am I to know this? I am an old man, and my wife too is advanced in age."

Gabriel announces the future birth of Jesus to a pensive Mary. Someone has placed a flower on her lap.

Photographer: Jim Davis

Gabriel announces the future birth of Jesus to a pensive Mary. Someone has placed a flower on her lap.

The reply: "I am Gabriel, who stand in attendance before God!" He then struck Zacharias mute until John was born.

Although Gabriel is named only twice in the New Testament, the Catholic Encyclopedia reports that Christian traditions make him the unnamed messenger to Joseph and to the shepherds. They also identify him as the angel who strengthened Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before the crucifixion.

Because of his role as a divine envoy, Gabriel is the patron saint of messengers and of workers in the postal and telecommunication fields. He's also the patron of diplomats and stamp collectors.

Gabriel is one of only three archangels mentioned in the Bible, along with Michael and Raphael. Those three, in fact, share the same feast day of Sept. 29.

Gabriel is honored also by Muslims, who know him as Jibril. It was Jibril, they say, who spoke for Allah in instructing Muhammad to "recite in the name of the Lord" —  starting a series of messages that built up into the Quran. Jibril is also said to have accompanied Muhammad in the Miraj, a nighttime journey to Jerusalem.

From the Byzantine era in the 15th century, Gabriel has been portrayed as the unnamed archangel in I Thessalonians 4:16, who will blow a trumpet to herald the return of Jesus to Earth. That trumpet is prominent in an expansive, wire-frame sculpture of Gabriel on the front of the church in Pompano Beach for which he is the patron saint.

St. Gabriel Church's roof of blue tile has served as a landmark for the beach area since its dedication in 1968. So admired was the roof that when it needed replacing, Msgr. Francis Fazzalaro, pastor for 20 years ending in 2003, put on another blue roof.

A gold-colored crucifix dominates the chancel area at St. Gabriel's, but the church has other artworks also. One is a shrine for the Annunciation, with Gabriel telling a somber Mary that she will become the mother of Jesus. Another is a wall behind the baptismal font spelling out religious phrases in faceted glasses.

Still another distinctive feature at St. Gabriel is its dozens of clerestory windows. They depict saints, sacraments, biblical events, even civic holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day.

Many of St. Gabriel's 1,000-plus members are seasonal, but the parish still runs in a range of ministries. The works include Serra and Knights of Columbus, and a Council of Catholic Women. The women's club sponsors social and fundraising events, with help from the men's club. And the church's Good Neighbors club serves elderly residents of neighboring condos.

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